These are by far two of the most common nutrition questions that I receive both in and out of the gym. These questions come most frequently from young athletes and young body builders. These guys and gals are either looking to gain a competitive edge and/or get bigger and stronger–most of the time both.
Here’s a little science before we get things rolling. There are 20 amino acids. There are two different types of Amino Acids that the body uses to form muscle: 10 dispensable (a.k.a. non-essential) and 10 indispensable (a.k.a. essential). Dispensable amino acids can be synthesized by the body while indispensable amino acids must be consumed from outside sources. Muscle protein synthesis is stimulated by the presence of amino acids, especially the indispensable amino acids.
Whey protein isolate, which is often used in protein supplements, is a milk-based protein that has been stripped of lactose and carbohydrates. Whey protein isolate is comprised of indispensable branched chain amino acids such as leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These are fast acting or quickly absorbed into the amino acid pool, which makes them great for right before or right after resistance training. However, there is no evidence to support an increase in muscle size with high levels of indispensable amino acids. Other sources of protein seem to be just as beneficial to strength gain and muscle size as whey protein. Casein, also derived from milk, is high in glutamine and other dispensable amino acids. Glutamine and the other dispensable amino acids are absorbed more slowly and help sustain the amino acid pool over longer periods of time. This is why casein tends to be more popular with endurance athletes. Consuming whey and/or casein protein after exercise has been proven to increase muscular protein synthesis.
So then, how much protein should an endurance athlete or strength training athlete consume per day versus a non-athlete? Below are the recommended daily protein intakes as determined by the American Dietetic Association, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine:
Sedentary Adults (non – athlete): .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
Endurance Athletes: 1.2 to 1.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
Strength Athletes: 1.6-1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
Recreational Athletes: .8-1.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
Ultra endurance Athletes: 1.2 to up to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
There are some “hardcore body builders” that consume upwards of 3.0+ grams of protein per kilogram of body weight but there is no scientific evidence to either prove or disprove the effectiveness of these quantities. No human studies have been conducted, because it is considered unethical to make a test subject consume such high quantities of protein.
I repeat it is unethical to give a HUMAN test subject 3.0+grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. So it’s not going to kill you if you have 20 more grams of protein than recommended, but protein shakes and weight gainers promising 150+ grams per serving just might.
With protein it’s not necessarily how much, but when. There is an anabolic window which occurs about 1-2 hours after you exercise, which is the best time for your body to replenish its energy and protein stores. Having your protein and/or amino acid supplement or meal high in protein during this time will help increase your body’s protein synthesis.
Time for a little math
I weigh 200 pounds. Divided by 2.2 to find my weight in kilograms is 90.9kg. 90.9kg times 1.2 and 1.7 gives me a protein consumption range of 109.8g – 154.53g.
Now track your calories for a week on a website like myfitnesspal.com and see how many grams of protein you eat without a shake. Actually try to get all of your protein from food. If you do have a shake, oh well. I’m not saying that protein shakes are bad, just that most of the time they are unnecessary, and tend to contain a lot of extra sugar—they have to taste good somehow. Protein and amino acid supplements have not been proven to be any more or less effective than food but they have been proven to be more expensive than food. As long as you are eating things like chicken, lean beef, and fish, you should be getting all of the protein and amino acids that your body needs.
How to Gain Weight
Since, you all want to know the secret of conquering youth and/or a fast metabolism… here it is… ready for it…. EAT. Then when you’re sick of trying that…. EAT MORE. There is no magic supplement or fancy formula. You have to eat more Calories than you can burn. You want to focus on increasing your caloric intake, not just your protein intake. I almost guarantee that if you are eating a lot and not gaining weight, then you are simply overestimating your ability to crush food.
About 2,300 Calories are needed to support the growth of 1 pound of muscle. Let’s assume that a male can gain about 1 pound of muscle per week (less for a typical female). That would be about an extra 330 Calories per day. Since there is very little research in this area, the general recommendation is to increase daily caloric intake by 400-500 Calories per day in order to promote the growth of muscle tissue. Approximately 22% of muscle tissue is protein so 1 pound of muscle would require about 100g of additional protein per week or about 14g per day.
STEP 1. Track your calories on myfitnesspal.com or any other calorie tracking site. This site will show you your RMR, or Resting Metabolic Rate, which is a very close estimate of how many Calories your body needs to maintain its current weight plus your daily activity level. More importantly, actually seeing everything you have eaten and learning how many Calories are really in each food item can help you better plan your meals.
STEP 2. Choose your goal of gaining one pound per week. Gaining one pound per week means adding 400-500 Calories a day to your RMR which myfitnesspal.com will automatically do for you.
I am 26 years old, 6’3’’ tall, weight 200lbs, and my daily activity level is very active. Based on all of these factors, to maintain my current weight I should consume 3,060 Calories per day. To gain 1 pound per week I will need to consume 3,560 Calories per day!
Remember that this is not an exact science as everyone is different, but I hope this puts things into perspective and gives everyone some guidelines to how to gain lean tissue in a healthy sustainable way.
Now GO! Eat like you’ve never eaten before… then eat some more.