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How much protein do you really NEED?

Posted by Joel Marion

After a day of flying across the country, I’m finally getting the opportunity to write this newsletter.

Straight from…what’s this place called?  Ah yes, the Gibson Guitar Lounge in Orange County airport.

I was actually planning on sending this during my last flight, because, that plane was COOL and had the internet, but alas, my middle seating assignment amongst two individuals even larger than I made that an impossibility.

But here I am, making it a point to deliver on my promise to you, my loyal subscriber, even before I check in to my hotel.

Alright, enough of that…moving on to what you really want to know:  How much protein do you really NEED?

Ha!  Trick question, because that’s actually not the question you should be asking anyway.  You see, when you ask the question about “need”, one needs to examine the context of the question.

How much protein do you need for what?

To build muscle?  To improve body composition?  To improve performance?  To enhance recovery?  To live?

In most cases, people are asking how much protein should I intake to enhance my body composition and performance related goals.

And with that question, it’s important to take a look at things not from a “need” standpoint, but from an “optimization” standpoint.

And because my very good friend and nutritional biochemist and all around bad ass Dr. John Berardi already covered this in another article, I’ll just quote him here:

“Asking ‘How much protein does an athlete need?’ is much like asking the question ‘How much does a student need to study for an exam?’ Since a student only needs to pass their exam to remain a student, the proper answer would be ‘however much it takes to score a 60%.’  However, very few students want to earn only a 60%. Therefore the best question would be ‘How much does a student need to study to get an A on their exam?’

Now, the truth is, there are MANY reasons beyond “need” to increase protein intake to boost body composition and performance related results, here are just a few:

Reason #1

Increased Thermic Effect of Feeding — While all macronutrients require metabolic processing for digestion, absorption, and storage or oxidation, the thermic effect of protein is significantly higher than that of carbohydrates and fat. In fact, protein requires 25-30% of the energy it provides just for digestion, absorption, and assimilation while carbs only require 6-8% and fat requires 2-3%. That means that eating protein is actually thermogenic and can lead to a higher metabolic rate. This means greater fat loss when dieting and less fat gain during hypercaloric diets.

Reason #2

Increased Glucagon — Protein consumption increases plasma concentrations of the hormone glucagon. Glucagon is responsible for antagonizing the effects of insulin in adipose tissue, leading to greater fat mobilization. In addition, glucagon also decreases the amounts and activities of the enzymes responsible for making and storing fat in adipose and liver cells. Again, this leads to greater fat loss during dieting and less fat gain during overfeeding.

Reason #3

Increased IGF-1 — Protein and amino-acid supplementation has been shown to increase the IGF-1 response to both exercise and feeding. Since IGF-1 is an anabolic hormone that’s related to muscle growth, another advantage associated with consuming more protein is more muscle growth when overfeeding and/or muscle sparing when dieting.

Reason #4

Reduction in Cardiovascular Risk — Several studies have shown that increasing the percentage of protein in the diet (from 11% to 23%) while decreasing the percentage of carbohydrate (from 63% to 48%) lowers LDL cholesterol and triglyceride concentrations with concomitant increases in HDL cholesterol concentrations.

Reason #5

Improved Weight-Loss Profile — Research from Layman and colleagues has demonstrated that reducing the carbohydrate ratio from 3.5 – 1 to 1.4 – 1 increases body fat loss, spares muscle mass, reduces triglyceride concentrations, improves satiety, and improves blood glucose management.

Reason #6

Increased Protein Turnover — All tissues of the body, including muscle, go through a regular program of turnover. Since the balance between protein breakdown and protein synthesis governs muscle protein turnover, you need to increase your protein turnover rates in order to best improve your muscle quality. A high protein diet does just this. By increasing both protein synthesis and protein breakdown, a high protein diet helps you get rid of the old muscle more quickly and build up new, more functional muscle to take its place.

Reason #7

Increased Nitrogen Status — Earlier I indicated that a positive nitrogen status means that more protein is entering the body than is leaving the body. High protein diets cause a strong positive protein status and when this increased protein availability is coupled with an exercise program that increases the body’s anabolic efficiency, the growth process may be accelerated.

Reason #8

Increased Provision of Auxiliary Nutrients — Although the benefits mentioned above have related specifically to protein and amino acids, it’s important to recognize that we don’t just eat protein and amino acids — we eat food. Therefore, high protein diets often provide auxiliary nutrients that could enhance performance and/or muscle growth. These nutrients include creatine, branched chain amino acids, conjugated linoleic acids, and/or additional nutrients that are important but remain to be discovered. This illustrates the need to get most of your protein from food, rather than supplements alone.

So, looking over this list of benefits, isn’t it clear that for many individuals, an increase in protein intake would be advantageous for most people’s training goals?”

Hmmmm, indeed it does, Johnny boy, indeed it does.

So rather than looking at “need”, when talking about protein intake, let’s talk optimization.

Based on my experiences (and many others), that level is around 1 g per pound of lean body mass in most cases.

In some situations, for very specific purposes (like the protein depletion day of the XFLD), higher protein intake may be warranted.

Regardless, the bottom line is this:  protein is the most under-rated nutrient, or at least the nutrient that most people under-consume.  If you’re looking to boost your body composition results, make sure you’re getting enough.

Comments?  Post ’em below!

But, only after you hit the facebook LIKE button below to share this with your friends.

Talk to you in the comments section!



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71 comments - add yours
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Mathematically, If I am 200 with 20% BF you say that means 40 lbs BF and 160 Of LBM. BUT what about water weight, bone mass weight, all the other parts that may not be muscle nor fat? I do not understand how the LBM can just be everything that is not Fat. ?????? Previous to buying the FBF program I had always found it difficult to get up to 90 grams of protien in a day, I am not sure if I am getting much over that yet, but I will try to gradually adjust it higher.

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@ John Romaniello:

Problems for vegearians,John?
So how do they bulk up? yes, im a veggie-poggy myself ;P so i REALLY need to know!! :)

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I do not agree at all – protein is neither underrated nor under consumed.

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i m waiting to loss fat for past 5yrs now but nothing happen i eat from 6 to 7pm
but nothing can u tell what to do.

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Hello Joel I was wondering if you read “How much protein” – Brad Pilon and what are your thoughts on it?

Uhmm what da heck did I want to ask…oh yeah

Have you ever tried protein deprivation days = 30g a day only? I heard big amounts of muscle building hormones are secreted because of protein deprivation and that you can use this to build muscle once you start eating proteins again?

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@ Joel Marion:

Broccoli (100g or 3½oz) 3.1g of protein

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@ Flo:

1 oz of steak has roughly 7g of protein.

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@ Zack:

protein can come from a wide variety of foods, such as, beans, eggs and dairy, meats “fish, chicken, beef”, nuts and seeds, and also from whey. There are probably others but those are the main ones. Goji berries also have a more complete protein. Chia seeds are also high in protein.

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Hi Joel

I have struggled with my weight since developing thyroid problems 20 years ago. I was told once thyroxine levels were ‘normal’ my weight would return to the previous slim level, it never did. My contribution to this argument is this: About 2 years ago I discovered your programme and realised that my protein intake was extremely low (I am a lifelong vegetarian with a nut allergy, and have always eaten lots of fresh fruit and raw vegetables). I increased my protein intake by using whey protein powder mixed with a yoghurt every morning for breakfast. At that point I made no other changes to my diet or lifestyle. After a few months I noticed that my clothes were very loose and weighed myself, I had lost 20lbs, and since nothing else had changed, I could only attribute it to the increased protein intake. After that I paid much more attention to the composition of my diet and followed the principles in the cywt programme. To date I have lost 60lbs and counting……….

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Love me some protein shakes! Really, a high protein, low carb, and moderate fat diet is where I’ve been gravitating. Anything that takes flour and sugar to create I steer away from…

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@ Debi:

Find out your body fat percentage, then subtract that percentage of your total weight to find your lean mass.

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Just been reading through the comments and it seems that there is a wide range of opinions out there on the intake of protein. Personally, I do believe that it is very nessicary for our body to function properly. Thanks for the article Joel and thanks to everyone else for their comments. It was great to read about the goji berries since i’m growing them myself in my garden and also the chia seeds which I add to my breads when I make them. Thanks James for that information. One question to Joel, how does duck meat and eggs rate on the protein chart? I raise my own ducks for both? Any ideas?

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@ Debi: i think you need to know your boddy fat first (%), if you know that you multiply it by your weight.. so 190*(100% – %boddy fat) and there you go that is what you have of lean muscle.

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Whats your opinion on Hemp protein in the form of Hemp hearts/seed or Hemp protein powder.

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Joe, I’ve read hundreds of fitness blogs and I have to tell you, I enjoy your responses the most.. The information you share is top notch as well. I’ve learned a lot from several of your posts.. The best part however is your comments back..

Classic !

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Once again I like your scientific accuracy and your balanced opinions. let us know about the latest research,please.

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I usually don’t post much on various forums, but came across this article and felt the need to respond. I am a RD (Registered Dietitian) and a competitive bodybuilder in the superheavyweight class. Everything Joel is saying is 100% correct. When I diet for a competition, I’m eating well over a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight due to increased thermogenesis and the muscle sparing effects. This is in the area of 370-400 grams per day spaced evenly through 6-7 meals. It’s a lot of meat to be eating with only an occasional protein shake. Yes, it’s also expensive, but it works well at burning bodyfat and sparing lean muscle when carbohydrates are decreased or cycled. I also increase healthy fats like omega-3’s and supplement with BCAAs and glutamine.

I also often hear cancerns about the risks of kidney damage with high protein. Nothing in research supports a high protein diet causing kidney damage. A person with Chronic Kidney Disease must decrease protein consumption, but it is again increased after the person is placed on dialysis… just to the RDA. If you are concerned, research it for yourself from legitimate medical websites and peer reviewed journals. If you’re active, you are going to need more protein. If you carry more muscle mass, you need more protein.

And Flo,
You can go to numerous websites to find nutrient composition of foods. I’m afraid you’ve been terribly misinformed about the protein content in broccoli and beef:
Broccoli (raw) 1 oz- 8 kcal, 0g Fat, 1g Carb, 1g Pro
Beef (top round broiled) 1 oz- 56 kcal, 2g Fat, 0 Carb, 9g Pro

I’ve read several of your articles and I appreciate all you do to inform people and dispel all the misinformation circulating in today’s media.

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@ Flo,

Sure, a cow is bigger, therefore it requires more muscle to move around. But that’s like saying a 200lb vegetarian man has more muscle then his 8 year old carnivorous daughter. The REAL question is, have you ever seen a cow with a six pack? Didn’t think so =p

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