Although exercises generally have an effect on muscle growth, you will need to supplement your workout regime with a lot of protein in your diet if you wish to bulk up and build bigger muscles.
Still, there is no consensus on the exact grams of protein a person requires to build muscle. So, how much protein to build muscle mass? Here is some information to help you answer that question:
Exercise-Induced Muscle Growth
Muscles are the most adaptable tissues in the body and can increase in size when subjected to intense physical stresses. During exercise, muscle tissues typically undergo trauma or injury/damage due to cyclical contraction and stretching.
When this happens, the body initiates biological processes to repair damaged muscle fibers. As a result, the cross-sectional area of these fibers increases over time thanks to cell repair and replication.
Besides cell repair and replication, human growth factors (hormones) also play a key role in muscle growth. Some of the hormones that enhance muscle growth include hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), FGF and insulin-type growth factor I and II (IGFs).
According to an article published by the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, resistance-type exercises stimulate the anterior pituitary gland to release growth hormones. In turn, these hormones ramp up fat metabolism to keep the body’s energy at optimum levels.
It is worth noting that testosterone also plays a part in muscle growth. In fact, medical experts call testosterone a steroid hormone because it activates tissue growth and stimulates protein synthesis.
The Role of Protein in Muscle Growth
In simple words, muscle fibers grow when the rate of protein synthesis in muscle fibers exceeds the rate of protein breakdown.
According to an article published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, muscle growth will only occur if the body registers positive muscle protein balance (anabolic state).
On the other hand, when the body has negative muscle protein balance (in a catabolic state), muscle cell hypertrophy is usually slow, meaning muscles take longer to form irrespective of how hard you workout.
In comparison, exercising when the muscle protein balance is positive typically stimulates protein synthesis within two to four hours. The good news is a single bout of resistance exercise can make muscle protein metabolism to last anywhere from 24¬ to 48 hours.
Protein consists of building blocks known as amino acids, which in turn consist of various chemical compounds including hydrogen, carbon, oxygen, and nitrogen.
In addition, there are as many as 50,000 different types of proteins in the human body, which account for up to 50% of one’s dry weight.
These amino acids are the main building blocks of the human muscular system. As such, they are the key ingredients required for muscle tissue repair and growth to take place.
Essential and Non-Essential Amino Acids
Muscle tissues are made up of two main elements: actin and myosin. Both of these elements are amino acids. At this point, take note there are two categories of amino acids: essential and non-essential.
The body does not make essential amino acids meaning you must include foods that contain these compounds in your diet.
Good sources of essential amino acids include eggs, meat, and seafood. These foods are broken down in the digestive system into amino acids required for functions such as muscle building.
Additionally, the body can make non-essential amino acids from other types of amino acids.
How Many Grams of Protein to Build Muscle
The average adult who leads a sedentary lifestyle requires about 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight each day. This is according to diet guidelines published by the US Food and Nutrition Board.
For children and infants, the rule of thumb is to ensure their protein intake is double or triple that of an adult per kg of body each day. This ensures their bodies have the nutrients required to sustain rapid growth.
For people interested in increasing body mass and building muscles, the American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day.
In spite of this, many people in the bodybuilding community exceed this and other protein intake recommendations given by authoritative bodies or organizations. They do so because they believe consuming more protein translates to faster muscle growth and ultimately bigger muscles.
Moreover, they purchase and consume amino acid supplements in a bid to increase muscle mass. Sports medicine experts differ on the merits and demerits of exceeding accepted RDA limits.
The Case for Exceeding the Recommended Protein Intake Limits
While the protein intake range quoted above may have the backing of eminent and reputable researchers, it does not mean that you should take it as gospel truth.
Treat it as a guide because it could be the outcome of an erroneous scientific research process. In fact, results from ongoing and recent research efforts focused on protein intake differ from the US Food and Nutrition Board’s RDA guidelines.
An eminent researcher called Dr. Peter Lemon has ruffled feathers by stating in a review paper that adults involved in strength training require 1.7-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Dr. Lemon based his review paper arguments on several past studies.
One such study took place at San Francisco’s Letterman Army Institute of Research and involved subjects on a protein intake limit of 2.8 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day. The same study participants underwent intense weight training.
At the end of this study, researchers involved found that participants had gained 3.28 kg of lean muscle mass.
In another study, researchers put weightlifters through a three-month observation period while on a protein intake that ranged incrementally from 2.2-3.5 grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day.
By the end of this period, the weightlifters under observation registered muscle mass and strength improvements of 6% and 5% respectively.
The results from yet another group of subjects observed by Kent University researchers found that consuming more than 1.4 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight per day does not necessarily result in better protein synthesis.
A group of participants in this study who consumed 0.9 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight per day did not benefit from protein synthesis.
These statistics show that exceeding the RDA limit may be beneficial for people involved in intense weight training. However, consuming insane amounts of proteins as some bodybuilders do is a waste of food and money.
Another issue that has generated heated debates in the bodybuilding community is the use of protein supplements. On this front, the ACSM recommends using protein supplements before and after weight training.
Pre-exercise protein supplementation boosts the body’s resting energy expenditure for up to 48 hours. This is beneficial because it helps ramp up lean muscle mass as well as reducing fat mass, according to the ACSM.
On the other hand, post-exercise protein supplementation stimulates protein synthesis for up to three hours.
The ACSM also states that results from recent studies suggest that protein intake within an hour of exercise has the greatest influence on protein synthesis.
Debunking Excess Protein Intake Myths
There is a common myth that consuming excess protein translates to faster muscle growth, bigger muscles, and improved strength. This is nothing but a false belief that does not have scientific basis.
A publication from the University of California, Los Angeles’s Student Development Health Education department states that increasing protein intake over and above the recommended daily intake may not be a good idea for two main reasons.
Firstly, the body does not store excess protein for use later meaning they are simply excreted. Secondly, excessive protein intake can be harmful to your health because it leads to increased calcium secretion.
For people with high risk of developing osteoporosis, this is not good news. These facts from reputable sources show that excess protein intake is not the key to building bigger muscles.
Another myth you will come across is that excessive protein intake can cause kidney disease. This is a misrepresentation of a well-known kidney disease problem: excess protein consumption complicates the excretion of nitrogenous waste.
The people who peddle this myth base their argument on a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. However, they fail to state that the study that supposedly confirmed their fears involved subjects with pre-existing kidney disease problems.
The opposite is true for bodybuilders, weightlifters, or people who want to bulk up meaning they are unlikely to develop kidney complications by consuming excess protein.
Yet another common myth is that too much protein can cause heart disease. Once again, this is a misrepresentation of medical facts.
It is true that you could develop heart disease by consuming protein-rich foods. However, you would also require a supporting cast of factors such as physical inactivity, love of non-lean meats, and hereditary pre-disposition to heart disease.
Since bodybuilders spend a considerable amount of time exercising in gyms, the basis of is shaky. Moreover, a bodybuilder can further reduce his/her heart disease risk profile by adopting a healthy diet that includes lean meats, vegetables, fruits, and plenty of water.
When to Consume Proteins
Although differing views exist on the right time to consume proteins, it is wise to stagger your protein intake throughout an entire day.
Spreading protein intake has one major benefit, optimizing your blood’s amino acid levels. Another benefit is promoting better muscle repair and growth according to the ACSM.
The results of a recent study published by the Australian Sports Commission recommends including a serving of protein rich food or snack in every meal. Doing so generally increases the likelihood of experiencing faster muscle mass gains.
What You Need To Build Muscles
For the impatient, sadly there are no muscle-building shortcuts. Nevertheless, it is possible to build bigger muscles by following a well thought out training plan. Such a plan should have the following key anchors:
• Increased calorie intake
Ramping up your calorie intake is necessary to ensure you have enough energy to perform exercises such as lifting weights in the gym. To achieve this goal, aim to increase the frequency of meals/snacks you eat every day.
A meal plan that satisfies this requirement would include three main meals and 2 to 3 snacks per day. This is better than increasing the size of your main meals.
• Heavy resistance training
Data from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) shows that the average person will gain about one pound of weight per week by consuming an extra 500 calories per day.
For those who go to the gym to lift weights and exercise, there is no need to worry about weight gain because it will translate to about three pounds of muscle per month.
Expect this muscle gain hold for the first three months of weight training after which gains will be much smaller. Figures from UCLA show that it is possible to gain as much as 20 pounds in muscle weight in one year if you stick to a high intensity weight-training program as well as high calorie diet.
However, your muscles cannot continue growing indefinitely. At some point, you will hit a level that sports medicine and musculoskeletal experts call “genetic size potential”. This is the upper limit of an individual’s musculoskeletal growth. The only way to breach this level is by adding fat mass.
• Adequate protein consumption
As discussed earlier, excess protein consumption can be dangerous to your health. Consume no more than 1.7 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day. You can get all the protein you need for muscle building by including foods such as yogurt, milk, cottage cheese, seafood, lean meat, beans, tofu, nuts, egg whites, and poultry meat into your diet.
• Realistic goals
Set realistic muscle building goals and avoid myths that you may hear from people who frequent gyms. Remember muscle growth varies from one person to another depending on factors like genetic makeup, steroid use/non-use and weight training schedule.
The right amount of protein that you should consume depends on factors like your genetic makeup, intensity of weight training, and body mass.
With this in mind, it is wise to keep protein intake within a range of 1.4-1.8 grams per kg of bodyweight per day. You can also use protein supplements pre and post supplementation.