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Practically everybody knows the key importance of protein for boosting muscle growth and recovery.
While there are some common myths around a high protein diet causing certain health issues and kidney damage, this is unproven in research.
In fact, for your physique there is some new breaking research that may show an extremely high protein diet can yield greater results.
Even if you are on a “high” protein diet, this new research suggests you can basically eat unlimited amounts of protein and just keep adding new lean muscle, without the fat.
If you want an excuse to eat more protein and grow more lean muscle without the fat then this article is for you!
Some new research has found benefit from a very high protein intake, depending on bodyweight; these studies have used around 300 - 400 grams per day!!
Leading researcher Dr. Antonio has pioneered this, finding benefits even if you aren’t training. Here’s a breakdown of his latest study where they actually combined it with resistance training.
He recruited 48 well-trained men and women, with the average of 2.5 years of consistent weight training. They were then split into 2 groups, consuming either:
- A high protein diet (consuming 2grams/kg/bodyweight - around 150 - 200 grams per day).
- A super high protein diet (consuming > 3grams/kg/bodyweight - around 220 - 300 grams per day).
After the study they assessed various changes in body composition (fat tissue / muscle tissue) and strength. They found that both the high and super high protein groups added a significant amount of lean muscle tissue; however, the most surprising finding is in the changes for body fat.
Although the super high protein group were eating more total calories per day, they actually lost more total body fat! Here’s a plot from the study showing each individual and the average for each group.
It’s also important to consider, while they found no difference in muscle growth between groups, for the advanced trainers reading this article who may trainer harder, with more volume, intensity and more days per week, your protein needs are increased.
Therefore, while it didn’t find a greater benefit in these well-trained individuals, an even higher protein intake may be more beneficial long term for those who are really training like a pro.
Furthermore, they dropped MORE fat while eating more calories! As we know, more calories = greater recovery and therefore, greater growth in the long term.
Whether you are trying to drop fat or lean bulk, this study really supports a high protein intake. But, how does this occur? Well, there are several key mechanisms that help us explain these magical findings. They include:
“All calories are created equal” is a common statement when it comes to nutrition. While it holds true for the most part, the metabolic process of digesting protein may not be so straightforward.
It is well known that protein has a higher thermic effect of food (TEF), which is the amount of calories it takes to burn the food that you eat1,2,3,4. Besides your resting metabolic rate, and physical activity levels, this is the last component that contributes to the amount of calories your body burns throughout the day.
For every calorie consumed, there is a greater percentage of calories burned from protein than from both carbohydrate and fat3,5.
|Nutrient||Percent of Calories Burned (%)|
For example, if you were to drink a scoop of whey isolate for an afternoon snack, one large scoop provides roughly 120 calories. Given the thermic effect of protein, this equates to a 24 – 42 calorie (20 – 35%) increase in energy expenditure to accommodate digestion and absorption purposes.
In other words, even though you’ve consumed 120 calories, 24 - 42 are burnt during digestion, meaning your body only absorbs or uses around 80 - 100.
Compare that to snacking on a low fat 120 calorie granola bar, you would increase energy expenditure by a smaller 6 – 18 calories. So, while you are putting the same amount of calories in your mouth, it doesn’t mean your body actually gets the same amount of energy / calories AFTER digestion.
Long-term research supports this, showing a long-term higher protein diet can boost your energy expenditure and promote weight loss, even when the amount of calories per day are the same4,6,7,8.
For example, healthy female volunteers were fed a high-protein/high-carbohydrate diet (30% protein, 60% carbs and 10% fat) and a high-fat diet (10% protein, 30% carbs and 60% fat).
The subjects each spent two 36-hour periods in a respiration chamber (a locked room in a lab that monitors how much energy you burn) consuming both test diets. They found energy expenditure was about 10% higher in all subjects while on the high-protein diet, compared to the lower protein group4.
While 10% may not sound like much, if you consume 3000 calories a day this equals a whopping 300 calories, about the same as 30 minutes of exercise! Now, over 1 month, this equals 9000 calories or 3 pounds of weight! You can see how that small change quickly adds up…
One of the main reasons this occurs is because the body has no storage capacity to cope with high intakes of protein. Unlike carbs or fat that can be stored in the muscle or fat cells, the body basically has to use or burn off any extra protein5.
A large problem with dieting in general is that weight losses normally result in both lean muscle mass and fat loss9,10.
For nearly everyone, from the average guy or girl trying to keep fit to the advanced bodybuilder, retention of lean body mass during weight loss may be important in maintaining physical performance, strength, higher metabolic rates, and our muscular appearance / physique.
A recent study at the world famous McMaster University in Canada explored what would happen if people who were on a very low-calorie diet (about 40% below maintenance), ate a lot of protein and combined that with a high intense workout plan, like many of you dieting would do11.
For 4 weeks, a group of young men in their 20s were put on a low calorie, high protein diet. Although you are often told you can’t lose fat and build muscle at the same time, those on the higher protein diet gained about 1.2 kg (2.6 lb) of lean body mass (LBM), while losing about 4.8 kg (10.5 lb) of fat.
As shown below, the lower protein group gained no muscle and lost less fat (3.5 kg or 7.7lb).
While this may come as some surprise, these results are not new. Multiple studies have shown that a higher protein diet is beneficial for retaining lean muscle mass during weight loss12,13,14,15.
What happens when you eat just a piece of pizza, a bar of candy, or any other sweet treat? Although you are intaking 300 - 600 calories, you hardly felt like you’ve eaten.
Now compare this to a large 300 calorie bowl of chicken salad. Different feeling, right?
This example highlights the effect of protein on satiety and hunger. In general, a higher protein diet can rapidly increase satiety or the feeling of fullness, while also reducing your hunger cravings. If you’ve ever been on a diet, you will know how important this is.
This has been found in studies examining both short-term and long-term feeling of fullness and perceived appetite.
In several high protein diet studies, lasting from 24 hours and up to 5 days, a continuously higher satiety / feeling of fullness has been found when compared to a lower or normal protein diet.
For example, in two experiments conducted in a controlled respiration chamber, satiety and metabolic rate were assessed over a 4 day period. Both studies compared diets containing either 10% or 30% of energy intake from protein, which was roughly ~ 60 g vs ~ 180 g of protein16,17.
Results showed that the high protein diet increased satiety over the 4 days and decreased hunger compared with the adequate protein diet, despite there being no difference in calorie intake16,17,18.
Along with just being able to eat more food, protein helps make you less hungry and increases your feelings of fullness because it has a positive impact on the key hunger hormones found in your gut.17,18,19,20,21,22,23
Increased release of some of these hormones helps you by encouraging you to eat less and signals your brain that you are full. Examples of these hormones include GLP-1, CCK, insulin and PYY.
On the other hand, protein also can decrease the release of hormones that can encourage you to eat more. Most notably, higher protein diets can reduce the amount of the key hunger hormone called ‘Ghrelin’, which results in decreased temptations or cravings20,24,25.
Let’s face it; the general recommendations for the average population of 0.8g/kilogram of protein are not optimal for anyone who is interested in improving their health and body composition.
After reading this article you can clearly see the amazing benefits of a high protein diet.
Here are a few suggestions on finding the sweet spot with your protein intake.
- Consume a minimum of around 1 g/lb. (2.2g/kg) of bodyweight in protein per day.
While it is a shift in the right direction, protein intake between 1.3and 2.0 g protein/kg/day is still being recommended by some experts in the field26,27.
However, a meta-analysis found that the range of 2.3–3.1g/kg is a more optimal dose for those working out or bodybuilders15.
Anyone with a lower body fat percentage or with a goal of retaining the most muscle mass possible when dieting (and even adding it) should definitely aim for the higher end of these recommendations28,29.
While the two studies by Dr. Antonio (discussed earlier) did not find there to be large differences in muscle gains or performance once protein was above 2 g/kg/day, it did find that the high protein group could eat up to 400 more calories per day and even drop body fat29.
This may make a very high protein diet (> 3 g/kg/day) suitable for higher calorie periods or bulks, when still trying to minimize fat gain. It’s also a great tool to use after a contest or long diet when trying to build calories back up whilst minimizing fat gains.
Finally, if you have very high hormone levels or are on testosterone replacement therapy or similar protocols, you actually have an increased protein turnover. This means your body becomes more efficient at metabolizing and building new proteins.
This is one reason that anabolic steroids boost muscle growth. Therefore, those people with super high testosterone levels could also need and gain more on a very high protein diet.
Remember, plenty of research has now put the incorrect “health risks of a high protein diet” to rest, showing that consuming a higher than normal protein intake does not negatively affect kidney, liver or other health markers in healthy individuals28,29,30,31.
The simplest and best recommendation is that you eat a protein-rich meal every 3-4 hours. Aim for 25-50 grams of protein with each “meal” or “snack” to stimulate muscle protein synthesis, the key biological mechanism behind building new muscle tissue.
Every time you eat a protein rich meal, with 2-3 grams of the amino acid leucine, muscle protein synthesis is elevated. Over the course of the next couple of hours, rates of protein synthesis fall, as seen in the diagram below.
Multiple studies have shown that consuming a balanced distribution of daily protein leads to higher muscle protein synthesis rates than a skewed distribution of the same amount of protein. In other words, don’t eat 2 very low protein meals followed by 2 extremely high protein meals. Try to balance it somewhat evenly into 4 - 6 meals per day32,33,34.
Some of the most recent research suggests that protein ingestion prior to sleep is another effective dietary strategy to increase muscle mass and strength gains35.
As shown below, one study found increases in both muscle strength and size in the group consuming a 30-gram protein drink before bed.
A final dose of protein before bed will not only help you reach your protein goal for the day, but also provides a large bolus of protein to keep your muscles growing overnight.
The best sources of protein include:
- Eggs (Whites and yolks)
- Dairy (Greek Yogurt, milk, cheese)
- Fish (Salmon, tuna, cod, shrimp, etc.)
- Poultry (Chicken and turkey)
- Beef (Ground beef, steak, etc.)
- Pork (Tenderloin, loin, Canadian bacon, etc.)
- Deli Meat
- Beef Jerky
- Protein Bars
- Plant Based Proteins if you are vegan or vegetarian (Tofu, beans and legumes)
- Eggs are an “egg-cellent” way to start the day!
- Make a protein smoothie with whey protein or Greek yogurt
- Add Greek yogurt or protein powder to your oatmeal or hot cereal
- Use leftovers from the previous night’s dinner (poultry, beef, pork, etc.)
- Protein powder (whey or casein) mixed in milk or water
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Protein bars
- Beef Jerky
- Deli meat and string cheese
- Canned tuna
- Include at least a palm-sized portion of meat or poultry with each meal.
- Add an egg with your meal for a bump in protein and healthy fats.
- Choose quinoa or beans as your carb source instead of rice, pasta, or potatoes.
- Have a glass of milk alongside your meal.
- Have a bowl of cottage cheese or Greek yogurt.
- Make a bowl of pro-oats (protein mixed into oatmeal).
- Make a protein pudding or protein fluff.
- Have a glass of milk before bed each night.
As you can see, there are so many physique-friendly benefits to be had from increasing your protein intake.
If you want to join the high protein club, remember to aim for around 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per LB bodyweight as a minimum per day.
This normally requires eating a lot of meat, fish, eggs, milk and using protein supplements. Of course, if your goal is fat loss, leaner sources such as chicken and whey protein are best.
Start tracking your protein intake today to see where you are currently at. A simple change such as eating an extra 50 grams of protein per day can quickly boost your fat loss, improve recovery and help you pack on pounds of lean muscle!