Consuming enough protein for muscle growth remains the number one priority for all bodybuilders from the beginner to an Olympia contender.
Every pro knows that protein is an essential bodybuilding nutrient. It’s basically the first real lesson every dedicated lifter learns on their quest for head-turning size and shape.
So why is it that so many dedicated trainees fail to consistently get enough of this second-to-none mass builder? There are several reasons:
- The kind of basic nutrition that gets results is usually the first casualty once the novelty of a new training program has worn off.
- Life gets in the way and you begin to wonder if getting your one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is really all that important when faced with the task of weekly meal prep. Lifters lose sight of the bodybuilding fundamentals that got them where they are in the first place.
- Consuming enough protein can be tiring and all-consuming; pounding down six full-fledged protein-rich meals per day takes time, effort, and dedication.
It’s easy for many iron devotees to miss one or more of these meals – one of the biggest mistakes a gains-focused lifter can make.
Fortunately an increasing emphasis on protein supplementation has made life a lot easier for today’s muscle-hungry bodybuilders. With an array of protein products to offer, reputable companies are keeping bodybuilders well-nourished, anabolic, and less likely to deviate from their recommended protein intake.
Whether whole foods dominant, supplement-heavy, or a combination of both, a protein rich diet is a non-negotiable bodybuilding requirement.
If a bodybuilder begins slipping on their protein intake for any of the above reasons, you can be sure that limited gains will shortly follow. Here are three major reasons why serious iron athletes must get their daily protein quota.
1. Essential for muscle building
Protein is simply a long chain of amino acids all connected together. Once digested, these muscle-enriching amino acids flood the body. The body then reassembles these amino acids into the specific proteins that build muscle.
Given the body can only process a certain amount of dietary protein at a time (30-50 grams every 2.5 to 3 hours depending on an individual’s size and activity level) the protein needed for muscle repair must be of the highest quality. Vegetable and soy proteins, for example, cannot replace those of a higher biological value such as eggs, chicken, fish and whey protein isolate.
The muscles are in a constant state of reinvention; either shrinking or growing depending on the degree of stimulation during resistance training. Enough aminos from digested protein will result in protein synthesis and muscle growth. Protein synthesis is enhanced whenever a protein-rich meal is consumed. But, not just any old protein source will do.
Of the 20 aminos needed for protein synthesis (9 essential, which must be ingested, and 11 non-essential, which can be synthesized in the body), the branched-chain amino acid leucine is most anabolic of all 5.
To fully enhance muscle anabolism, a recommended 2-3 grams of leucine per meal must be included. While a 300 gram serving of chicken provides 2 grams of leucine, a scoop of whey protein provides the full 3 grams 5. Even though both protein sources are of a high biological nature, it is clear that not all quality proteins are created equal.
The muscle amino leucine is so important that many bodybuilders supplement with\ leucine to stay anabolic for even longer.
What most bodybuilders don’t know is protein can be broken down by the body and used for energy just like carbohydrates and fats. However, carbs and fats cannot be converted to protein. As a result, no matter how well-nourished a bodybuilder may think he is, sufficient quality protein for muscle-building must be distributed across multiple daily meals 4.
2. Keeps the cellular machinery running
Protein is essential for much more besides building muscle. Up to 20 percent of the human body is comprised of protein. Protein is instrumental in ensuring biological processes and all bodily tissues are optimally maintained and strengthened.
Protein is needed for bone development, the formation of the 75,000 unique enzymes needed for various functions including the body’s metabolism, and the digestion of food. Without enough protein, not only is muscle tissue likely to rapidly regress, but general health will also be compromised.
Bodybuilders trying to get on the gain train to build big biceps become excessively gym-focused to the detriment of their overall health and wellbeing. Arguably, the most important message that can be put across to all serious bodybuilders is that the muscles will not grow to their full potential while health is compromised in other areas.
For example, without an optimal ratio of digestive enzymes, protein-rich foods cannot be properly digested. Without the neurotransmitters needed to commence muscle movement, adequate stimulation cannot be placed on these muscles. And neurotransmitters are comprised of, you guessed it, proteins.
In short, proteins play an essential role in the creation of every new cell of the body. Knowing this provides yet another reason to pump up the protein.
3. Reduces appetite
We are all creatures of habit and one habit many of us have acquired is a taste for fatty and sugary foods. Biologically-driven, a taste for high-calorie foods is hardwired into human DNA. This reason alone makes it difficult to stick to a diet.
Many studies have concluded that protein is the most satiating of the macronutrients 1, 2, 6. In fact, for non-bodybuilding folk, doubling protein intake while keeping carbohydrates and fats consistent has been shown to automatically reduce cravings for and the spontaneous intake of off-limits foods 2. This is likely due to an increase in the appetite-regulating protein peptide YY (PYY).
By going a step further and replacing excessive carbs with clean proteins, insulin levels are stabilized, blood sugars are lowered, and fat storage is less likely to occur. Bodybuilders, on the other hand, are more likely to consume enough protein to reduce such excessive cravings.
While it is a well-known fact that protein in general will reduce appetite to promote the shredded appearance, it is whey protein in particular that really delivers on the cutting front 1, 2.
Related: The Foods that Keep You Full Longer
Considering its effects on satiety-related (keeping you feeling full) hormones, specifically cholecystokinin (which slows gastric emptying and suppresses energy intake 3), whey protein isolate trumps all other protein sources in its ability to suppress caloric intake.
Your number one training partner
It does not take an article like this to inform most bodybuilders of protein’s crucial role in muscle building. However, knowing what one must do to achieve a goal and being committed enough to follow through are difficult areas to reconcile when the going gets tough.
Though the occasional missed workout or lowering of training intensity is unlikely to significantly derail a bodybuilder’s efforts, too many missed protein meals will undoubtedly curtail protein synthesis and limit muscle growth. Furthermore, poor protein choices may result in lowered leucine levels and less muscle anabolism.
For muscle to grow, all of the cells of the body must be functioning at full-throttle. Protein is needed to nourish these cells too. To grow muscle, your diet must feature an abundance of quality nutrients. Optimal proteins, in particular whey, will help to ward off hunger that leads to food cravings and reckless eating.
Indeed the manner in which protein aids muscle building is far-reaching and indisputable.
1. Brink, W. How Whey Promotes Weight Loss. [Online] http://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2006/3/report_whey/page-01 retrieved on 20.12.15
2. Hopkin, M. High-Protein Diet Reduces Appetite. [Online] http://www.nature.com/news/2006/060904/full/news060904-3.html retrieved on 20.12.15
3. Little, T., J. et al. Role of cholecystokinin in appetite control and body weight regulation. Obes Rev. 2005 Nov; 6(4):297-306
4. Madonna, M., et al. Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. January 29, 2014, doi: 10.3945/ Journal of Nutrition. 113.185280
5. Schuler, L. Workout Nutrition: What and When You Should Eat to Building Muscle. [Online] http://www.menshealth.com/nutrition/workout-nutrition-muscle-building retrieved on 20.12.15
6. Weigle, D. et al. A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations Am J Clin Nutr July 2005 vol. 82 no. 1 41-48