Protein. It’s always about the protein.
I mean, sometimes it’s about carbs…
“Carbs make you fat.”
Do they? We’ll see.
“Low carb diets are better than high carb diets.”
Are they? We’ll see.
But carb conversations are for later. Right now we’re on protein, because there’s always a lot of:
“How do I get enough protein?”
“Am I getting enough protein?”
“Is plant protein as good as animal protein?”
I almost never hear anyone asking if they’re getting TOO MUCH protein, as if that’s an impossible concept, as if TOO MUCH protein could never be a thing.
To be fair, the field of nutrition is confusing, controversial, and full of disagreement, so all of these questions are valid.
But let’s drill down to protein’s relationship with something I’ve been talking about for the last few weeks; strength and muscle gains.
Over the last couple of emails I’ve talked about how much weight you should lift to gain strength and muscle, how many reps to do, and how close you need to lift to failure.
Now, let’s talk about how much protein you should be eating to optimize strength and muscle increases!!!
Some people think we need massive amounts of protein to gain strength and muscle.
Some people scoff at that and insist we don’t really need that much.
I’m not interested in ideas, I’m interested in data, so let’s see what the research says!!!!
– “Protein intake results in increases in muscle strength only when combined with resistance training.”
– “Around 1.5 g/kg of body weight of protein consumed daily was the amount of protein required for optimal increases in strength.”
– “Previous literature has also found that the optimal range for protein intake and hypertrophy may be closer to 1.6g per kg of bodyweight per day with higher intakes not really providing much more benefit.”
– “A relatively recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that high protein plant-based diets (at around 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day) were as good as omnivorous diets of the same protein intake in increasing muscle mass and strength.”
This is great stuff, let’s summarize what this research is saying!
1. If you want to gain strength, you have to do strength training. Protein alone won’t make you strong. Seems kind of obvious, but important to clarify.
2. If you want to OPTIMIZE muscle gains and strength, consuming 1.5g to 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day should be your target. Consuming less than this suggests that your hard work won’t produce as much return as if you hit this protein target. Consuming MORE won’t produce increased gains beyond this range.
3. Plant proteins are as effective at 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day as the same amount of animal proteins at producing strength and muscle gains. So, if you don’t eat meat but you want to get strong and add or maintain muscle, you’re good to go as long as you hit this threshold.
This is awesome!!! Why???
Because if you’re going to invest time in the gym (or at home, or wherever) to build strength and muscle, it makes sense to do it as intelligently and efficiently as possible!!!
If you’re working hard but eating only 1.0g of protein per kg of body weight daily, you’re leaving gains on the table! That’s like rowing a boat with one arm!!!
If you’re working hard and OVEREATING protein beyond the 1.5g to 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day, you may be overconsuming calories in a way that won’t result in added strength and muscle gains, but may very well explain why you have more fat than you think you should have!
And if you’re plant-based, as long as you’re eating 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day, you’re good to go for gains!
WORK SMART!!! Optimize your efforts and progress!
Now, how do we sort out the math on this? Well, if you want to figure out your protein targets, it goes like this:
Take your body weight and divide it by 2.2 (for the kilograms).
Take that number and multiply it by 1.5 or 1.6, whichever you want (and I think the difference at that point isn’t really worth worrying about).
So, for someone who weighs 200 pounds…
200 divided by 2.2 = 90.9 kg
90.9 kg x 1.5g = 136.35
So, if a 200 pound person wants to target 1.5g of protein per kg of body weight, they need to aim for 136g of protein per day.
My personal goal is 1.5g of protein per kg of body weight per day and I track it to make sure I’m close to hitting it every day.
So, the moral of the story, when it comes to building strength and muscle is:
Lift enough weight to reach failure or near failure (within 1 to 3 reps of failure) each set.
You don’t have to lift super heavy weights, but you should lift enough to reach failure in around 12 to 25 reps or so. This isn’t an absolute, but it’s close enough.
Aim for 1.5g to 1.6g of protein per kg of body weight per day.
It can be animal protein, plant protein, or a mixture.
Do your research. Hire a coach. Be smart in how you approach your health and fitness.
Jonathan Aluzas, Membership Director, NBHWC Board Certified Health and Wellness Coach