One of the most common questions I get as a dietitian is about protein. How much do you need when you’re trying to build muscle ? And are all the high protein bars and protein powders worth it? Should you be eating a “high protein diet “? How high is “high protein”? Well, good question.
I will tell you what I, myself through research, talking to other dietitians and experience have learned. The thing about dietitians is you can ask 5 of them the same question and, on a lot of topics, you may get 5 pretty different answers. Of course there are things we pretty much all agree on. Facts that are well…facts. But just like any other profession, everyone has their own opinion. So here’s mine. Hopefully it will at least point you in the right direction.
As for your diet. That’s what we’re here to talk about right? If you are increasing your workouts and trying to build muscle (and if you’re tracking your calories) you will need to add an additional 200-300 calories to your daily intake. If you don’t track calories , no worries. I would recommend just adding in an additional snack or two per day to fuel you body and muscles for the extra work they are doing. If you want to get really specific and actually keep track of grams of protein then…to maintain muscle mass most people need an average of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. In pounds that’s about 0.4 grams per pound of body weight. So just times your weight by 0.4 and that’s how many grams you would need per day. (Example 150 lb person: 150 x .04 = 60 grams) However, when you are trying to build muscle your needs do go up a little, but not nearly as much as many people believe. The American Dietetic Association (and others) have said: “When building muscle, protein needs go up to 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight per day (or 15 -20% of your daily calories). But research shows eating more protein than this amount doesn’t have a benefit.”
Or as my professors used to say about people who consume a lot protein powder and high protein bars “That’s some really expensive pee”. You see, when you give your body more protein than it needs or can use it processes it through your kidney’s and the excess protein goes out in your urine. Yep. When people go really overboard on protein it can actually cause kidney damage and failure. This isn’t common in most people just from eating a high protein diet so I’m not trying to freak you out, just make you aware. When you do increase your protein intake, increase how much water you are drinking daily; this will help keep you from putting a strain on your kidney’s.
So if you’re trying to build muscle you would want to increase you’re protein intake to 1.4 to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight or .6 to .8 grams per pound of body weight.
Here’s the thing though. Most people, without trying to eat a high protein diet , get at least that much. I tracked my intake for a few days – just eating like I normally do. I don’t try to eat a particularly high protein diet . I mean, I eat greek yogurt and try to include lean meats and nuts/nut butters (hello, peanut butter!) but I never add protein powders or any kind of protein supplements to my diet . After tracking for a few days I found that I was getting on average 1.2-1.6 grams per kilogram (0.56-73 grams per pound) without even trying. And that’s pretty normal.
I guess what I’m trying to say is – Bottom line: you don’t need to be spending money on protein powders, protein drinks and protein supplements. Just eat a healthy diet that includes a decent amount of protein containing foods like those lean meats, nuts, nut butters, beans, eggs, low fat dairy products and you’ll most likely be getting plenty of protein.
Lastly, guess what. Carbs are actually important in building muscle too. No, I did not just tell you to go eat an entire plate of fettuccine alfredo at Olive Garden (I wish!), BUT high fiber, complex carbs are important and needed when building muscle. Sports dietitian Sara Dacres-Mannings stated:
“The carbohydrates increase insulin levels and that actually helps the muscles take in the amino acids they need to build new muscle,”
The best time to fuel those muscles is right after a workout. So it’s important to not only eat a high protein snack/meal after your work out but you need to include carbohydrates in that snack or meal as well . Dacres-Mannins suggests the following as possible snack ideas:
- Low fat milk or chocolate milk
- Lean meat sandwich – like a turkey roll
- Smoothie with low-fat milk, yogurt and fruit
- Tuna or chicken with pasta
Just some ideas…
So to recap here are the main…
Things to Remember When Trying to Build Lean Muscle Mass
- Increase lean proteins (eggs, low-fat dairy, chicken, fish, etc.)
- When you increase your protein intake (fairly significantly), increase your water intake as well because protein can put a strain on your kidneys
- The best time to send amino acids (protein) to the muscles if you want to build them up is right after a work out . Remember for the best results you want to consume carbs at that time as well.
Now go out and…please don’t end up looking like this.