Protein hype and muscle growth
Protein is one of the nutrients that deserve specific attention if it comes to muscle growth, but some put too much emphasis on it. Why is protein so important? Our muscles are build up with proteins! When you work out you will sometimes damage muscle fibres. These fibres have to be repaired and this will require protein. But even if our muscles will not get damaged by working out, the cells our muscles are made out of still need to be replaced. By working out you stimulate your muscles to make the muscle cells bigger.
You see, your body is constantly working. It replaces body cells and a great example is the cells of your bones. Your whole skeleton will be replaced entirely every 9-10 years or so. Of course this does not happen from one day on the other, but rather gradually.
The same thing happens with our muscles. They do not grow huge with just one workout, but it takes years before the muscles get bigger. In the section ‘muscle physiology’ you can read more about how that exactly goes.
Now you might think that if an adequate amount of protein will help you grow, an even bigger amount of protein that exceeds one’s needs will be even better! Wrong! (Wow… that is a strong argument). Your body will not make more muscle cells, let alone that it will make more with extra protein. There is a certain amount of muscles cells in your muscles that can be replaced and increased in volume, but they can not increase in quantity. What happens with the excessive amount of protein is like with all excessive energy. It will be saved as reserves and this means: fat reserves and therefore, increase in body fat! So what you need to remember:
An excessive amount of protein makes you fat!
A general guideline for a regular athlete (with that I mean someone who does not specifically train for increase in muscle mass or strength) will only need about 0, 8 – 1, 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight (or per 2 pounds of body weight).
So for an average sized male person weighing 80 kg this means:
80 x 0,8 = 64 grams of protein or 80 x 1,2 = 96 grams of protein
For someone who is into weightlifting or other strength / muscle mass training could use slightly more. Think about 1, 5 to 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight (or per 2 pounds of body weight).
Almost never does one need more than 2 grams of protein kilogram body weight. The excessive protein can also put some strain on the organs leading to health problems, although this might not be the case for everyone. Again, try out some different things and see how much protein you need to feel on your best and strongest!
Calorie-burning muscle mass
More important is probably the amount of energy (in kilo calories or kilo joules) that one takes in each day. To increase body weight (regardless of what kind of tissue increase you speak of) you need to increase energy intake. If you eat more than you need, you will gain weight and if you eat less than you need, you will lose the weight.
This might sound a bit weird, because eating more than you need can also result in gaining fat. To avoid this, one must make sure the increase in energy is gradual and limited. 500 kcal extra each day will result in a weight gain of 0, 5 kilograms / 1 pound each week!
Now the interesting and explaining part is that exercises that lead to hypertrophy will make your muscles grow. Growth of muscle will increase the energy requirement. The more muscle mass you have, the more energy you consume. If you do not take in enough energy and combined with that, also try to gain muscle you will lose weight (hopefully for you it will be fat).
That is why the amount of calories you take is very important and probably more crucial than eating a lot of protein.
How to know how much calories you need to gain weight? This is quite a simple question to answer, although you will need to know the amount of calories you require to maintain your weight first.
Basal Metabolic Rate
There are a lot of websites that will help you to calculate the amount of calories you need to take. You fill in your age, gender, length, weight and activity level and the calorie counter will do the rest for you. Google ‘BMR’ or ‘how many calories do I need?’ and use some websites and get the average from the results you get! Make sure you can also fill in your ‘activity level’ somewhere to get the right amount of calories needed to maintain weight!
There are formulas you can use as well:
Men: BMR = 66 + (13, 7 x weight in kg) + (5 x length in cm) – (6, 8 x age in years)
Women: BMR = 655 + (9, 6 x weight in kg) + 1, 8 x length in cm) – (4, 7 x age in years)
When you have calculated that number you know your basal metabolic rate (BMR). This does not include the amount of calories burned with activities. For that you need to multiply the calories by a certain number.
Physical Activity Level (PAL)
- Little or no training, office work – x 1, 2
- Light training / sport a 1-3 days a week – x 1,375
- Average training or fairly heavy work – x 1.55
- Heavy training 6-7 days weekly or heavy duty job – x 1, 8
- Very Heavy daily training + physical job, training 2x a day – x 2
After you have calculated the BMR and PAL you need to add somewhere around 200-500 kcal a day to make sure your body has enough calories to work with and to gain muscle mass.
It is quite complicated to see if you make any progress with gaining muscle and using a scale will not do it for you. For the amateur bodybuilder it comes down to patience and some experience to feel the progress.
What definitely should not happen is that you lose weight while you want to gain muscle mass. This is usually not a good sign and you will need to increase your calorie intake again. Add another 100 kcal and see if you will gain weight after that. If not, add another 100 kcal, etc. Do this until you feel satisfied with the progress you are making!
Mathematics on this level will not be able to accurately calculate your exact needs, so it comes down to common sense and some experience to know if you are doing things right.