One of the more frequently asked questions in bodybuilding is the amount of protein which is required for optimum muscle development. A large proportion of muscle is protein, it is said that more protein is required for growth, but it is also argued that a high carbohydrate diet is needed to improve strength and size (see later).
Muscle consists mainly of two proteins, actin and myosin. The turnover rate of amino acids in these proteins is high, and increases upon stimulation, i.e. exercise. If the muscle is worked to maximum effort, as is the case in hard training bodybuilders, turnover of amino acids is extremely high. Hence, there is a large demand from the body's pool of all amino acids, so intakes of protein must mimic this demand. Bodybuilders, who have reached a plateau in their gains for a long period, have dramatically increased their protein intake and started making gains. Also, anabolic steroids increase the rate of protein synthesis within muscle cells, further increasing demand for protein.
Let us ignore the high protein v high carbohydrate argument for now, and return to it later in the chapter. There have been few studies on the effect of higher protein intakes on increasing strength and muscle size, and most are of poor design and the evidence is remain inconclusive.
Lemon et al (1992) looked at a group of twelve novice bodybuilders and put them on one of two diets: (a) High protein of mean protein intake 2.62g per kg body weight; (b) high carbohydrate of mean protein intake 1.35g per kg body weight. Subjects were put on a 6 day a week intense exercise regimen. They measured nitrogen balance, strength and muscle mass gains before and after 3 ^ weeks. Results showed no difference between the two groups. We all know that this is hardly surprising, as a sample of twelve subjects is small, and it is only possible to build small gains in a month anyway. Subjects were novice bodybuilders who can not know, at their stage, how to genuinely train properly. Although they may be on a set intense exercise regimen by the experiment design, genuinely training at high intensity is hard and something which comes with experience. Therefore I would argue that the demand for more protein was not created. There is no mention of protein quality or regularity. So, really, Lemon et al showed nothing conclusive.
Marable et al (1979) looked at four groups of men who consumed two levels of protein (approximately 0.8g or 2.4g protein per kg body weight) for 28 days as controls or subjects engaged on a progressive resistance exercise programme. They compared nitrogen excretion and weight gain. They found that exercising subjects gained a mean weight of 3.2kg, and their nitrogen excretion was reduced. They indicate that increased demand for protein is in part met by more protein retention by the body. Again, as you can see, this study is full of flaws.
Informed Bodybuilding Nutrition
There are too many confounding factors in bodybuilding and with the study design of the above it is not possible to say truthfully how intense subjects were training. Training intensely comes with experience, but were subjects going beyond the failure point that we all know is needed to get the absolute most out of the workouts? Doubtful.
As a dietitian and bodybuilder, I am continually debating this point with my dietetic colleagues who take the blinkered textbook view. They say, while a slightly increased protein intake may be needed, it is carbohydrates which are more important for muscle growth. Any bodybuilder who has trained for a while knows the most fundamental lesson in bodybuilding, in that you need to eat large amounts of quality protein regularly. I have seen many bodybuilders who have plateaued increase their protein intake and start making gains again. Conversely, I have also seen the extreme bodybuilding approach where trainers eat mega amounts of protein and do no better than others in respect of strength and size gains.
Was this article helpful?
Bodybuilding is the process of developing muscle fibers through various techniques. It is achieved through muscle conditioning, weight training, increased calorie intake, and resting your body as it repairs and heals itself, before restarting your workout routine.