Protein is probably the most important part of diet for bodybuilders.
Yeah vegetables and carbohydrates, and “healthy” fats are also important but it’s protein that can decide whether you build big muscles or stay small forever. But how much protein should you be taking?
Most Bro Bodybuilders don’t worry about this, they just eat as much protein as they can get their hands on, while drinking 5 protein shakes per day.
It may work for them because protein will a) fill you up more than any other macro – making it difficult to overeat, and b) protein raises your metabolism more than any other macro – due to it being the most difficult for the body to break down.
But aren’t there issues with overeating protein? Many people will tell you that too much protein can damage your kidneys, plus if you are following a calorie controlled diet, then wouldn’t too much protein lead to fat gain?
In this article we will attempt to answer these questions, before giving you an effective and realistic target to aim for.
The Myth of Too Much Protein
If you have a kidney problem, then you are advised to avoid high protein diets as your damaged kidneys find it difficult to process it.
Because of this many people have concluded that protein can damage your kidneys. It can’t. You can’t wear gloves if you’ve had your hands cut off, but wearing gloves doesn’t cause damage to your hands.
Other myths include the belief that there is an upper limit to how much protein your body can process during a meal, with some people saying that anything over 30g is immediately removed from the body. Again, this is wrong.
Now that we’ve got the myths out of the way, let’s take a look at what protein intake you should be taking.
Natural Versus Enhanced
If you follow bodybuilders you’ll notice that they eat a TONNE of protein every day, this is partly because they exercise so much, and partly because their metabolisms are so high that their calorie intake is much higher than a regular persons.
The reason that bodybuilders need more protein is that due to the high levels of testosterone that they ingest, they are able to train harder, and build more muscle.
If a non enhanced lifter tried to recreate the same workout and diet they would not build the same amount of muscle, and would be in danger of overtraining.
So the truth is that you do not need as much protein as a professional bodybuilder.
Because of this, we will be looking at a journal article by Helms, Aragon, & Fitschen (2013) that advices natural lifters .
Evidence-based Recommendations for Natural Bodybuilding
Eric Helms, Alan Aragon, and Peter Fitschen are probably three of the most well respected men in the field of nutrition and exercise science.
In 2013 they published a paper that looked to answer the question of what diet a natural bodybuilder should be following while preparing for a competition.
Now you might be reading this thinking “I’m never planning on competing” which is a fair point, but it would be fair to say that the macronutrient ratios could be used by anyone, with contest prep bodybuilders making changes to the calorie amount.
According to the study, natural bodybuilders will get the best results from 2.3-3.1g of protein per kg of lean body mass.
This does not mean that a 100kg person should be consuming 230-310 grams of protein though.
Lean body mass is a measure of your body’s weight MINUS your body fat. So if you are a 100kg person who is around 20% body fat your lean body mass would be 80kg rather than 100kg. So that means that your protein target would be between 184g and 248g (depending on whether you used 2.3g or 3.1g per kg).
As you might have noticed, the amount of protein you decide to take can vary by quite a bit and you’ll still get good results.
A 100kg person with 20% body fat could eat amounts that are 64g apart! Just make sure that your overall calorie intake is either hitting your target if you are looking for weight maintenance, above your target if you are looking to build muscle, or below your target if you are aiming for fat loss.
At least some of your decision making should be based around the financial implications, if you are struggling to make ends meet, then half a tub of protein powder and a sirloin steak every day is not going to end well for you!
You can get amazing results with a ratio of 2.1g of protein per kg so don’t feel that you have to hit 3.1g. More isn’t always better!
 Helms, E., Aragon, A., Fitschen, P. 2013. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition11(20)