Protein. Your body loves this stuff. Everything that makes up you, from the top of your head to the tip of your long toe, is made up of some form of protein.
Just by living, you have an RDA recommended daily need of 56 grams of protein as a man, and 46 as a woman according to the US Department of Health and Human Services.
But as the scholars at Harvard explain, this is just the minimum recommendation for the average sedentary man and woman… Meaning, this is the minimum amount of protein you can eat before you start getting sick.
For those of you trying to gain lean muscle, or burn fat… You’re not the average American sedentary adult. Nor would you like to look like one.
Its also important to point out, you really can’t out-train a protein deficient diet.
This leaves us with one option – accept the fact that protein levels must rise from a level of mediocrity up to a level of awesomeness.
Here, we’re going to show you why and how protein intake matters for muscle growth and fat loss.
Protein Intake is Essential for Building Muscle and Burning Fat
Building muscle isn’t 100% easy sauce. If you are here to optimize your protein intake to build more muscle, you already know this.
So, how does burning fat and building muscle, two different end goals, relate when it comes to protein supplementation?
For both muscle growth and healthy fat loss – protein is often a rate-limiting macronutrient.
To such an extent that this may shock you:
As you will see below, an increased protein intake is more important during cutting phases than it is during bulking. That is, if you want a lean, tone body at the end of your fat loss and not the debilitated skeletor look.
And that’s where the extra dietary protein comes into play. Increasing your protein while on a caloric deficit allows you to maintain muscle tone and organ health while burning your fat stores. The alternative, is everything wastes away – muscle, healthy organ fat, and eventually your own subcutaneous fat (hurray).
Protein Intake Benefits Fat Loss
We think you will find these studies interesting:
- Individuals taking a protein powder supplement while on a 500 calorie reduced diet lost significantly more body fat, while preserving muscle tone, than the control group not taking a protein powder supplement. Nutrition and Metabolism 2008.
- In athletes participating in short-term weight loss, receiving 35% of their daily calories from protein resulted in less muscle lost during weight loss compared to athletes receiving only 15% of their calories from protein. University of Birmingham 2016.
- This scientific review published in the American Society of Clinical Nutrition (2008) discusses how high protein diets aide satiety, promote thermogenesis, reduce total caloric intake, and preserve lean muscle mass (tone) while in calorie restricted diets.
Don’t get it wrong though – you still can lose weight by simply eating at a daily caloric deficit… It just will not be as practical if your goal is to have a lean, tone, aesthetic body.
What other benefits does a high protein diet offer during weight loss?
Lean Body Mass Increases Fat Metabolism and Overall RMR
There has been a lot of debate regarding how many calories a pound of lean muscle can burn. For a while, there was some pseudo-science and bioscience gurus claiming that one pound of muscle can burn upwards of 50 extra calories.
However now, we know that the real figure is around 6 calories per day at rest. This compares to a pound of fat which is 2 calories.
But those figures are based on an individual being at rest. The real benefit comes from factoring exercise, muscle recovery, and growth. All of which crank the fat burning heat up while also demanding increased protein intake.
In a 1997 study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, Athletes were able to increase their average daily metabolic burn by 40% in comparison to non-training days (at rest).
The fruit of this study, is that while you may not burn significantly more fat while at rest with extra muscle mass, you will when you exercise and recover (another supporting study).
Adequate Protein Intake Helps with Sleep
If you are not getting adequate quality sleep at night, you may be missing out on more than you realize. As a 2016 Purdue study suggests – losing weight while on a high protein diet also improves sleep.
And, with improved sleep, comes improved fat loss. One study we read (and will include in a future article), stated that not getting enough sleep at night can hinder fat loss by as much as 55%.
The cool thing is, nearly all of these benefits roll over to the muscle builder.
Protein Rich Diets Boost Muscle Growth (Obviously)
Even if you are strictly a mass builder, we’re sure you learned a thing or two above regarding protein intake and fat loss.
Like, how getting enough protein keeps you from losing muscle mass, or, how getting enough protein helps you to sleep better at night (which is essential for growth).
So How Much Protein Does One Need to Burn Fat and/or Build Muscle?
Here is the grand question: how much protein do you actually need? Well, the RDA of 56 grams for a man and 46 grams for a woman is not going to do.
When you factor in activity demands, muscle maintenance, muscle preservation and recovery – the RDA gets blown away.
The general consensus is that in order to build muscle and burn fat via exercise and caloric deficit – you’re going to need between 0.8 and 1.2 grams of protein per pound body fat.
That means, if you are a 200 lb male, you are eating between 160 and 240 grams of protein per day. With, the 240 grams being the ultimate high point. This is the hardest you can go, to get the best results possible.
Here are some studies recommending different protein thresholds:
- 1.4 – 2 g/kg/day for intense training athletes (The Physician and Sports Medicine 2009)
- 1.6 to 1.7 g/kg/day for strength trained athletes (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2007)
- 2.3-3.1g/kg/day for calorie restricted resistance training athletes (International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism 2013)
Note: If you are looking to build muscle while not participating on a calorie restricted diet – your protein requirements are much lower – 0.6-0.8 grams per pound bodyweight. This is because you are consuming enough carbohydrates and fat to reduce the need for gluconeogenesis in the liver (creation of carbohydrates from amino acids).
Now, you know how much protein you need and why. So, how do you get it all down?
Protein Intake Timing Is More Lenient For Both Muscle Growth and Fat Loss than Previously Thought
When it comes to getting your protein in – timing is more flexible than you think. If you want to eat 3 round meals a day, no problem.
Alternatively, if you only eat lunch and dinner every day, that’s alright too.
For a long time there was a notion going around that your body can only assimilate a given (low) amount of protein per sitting. This is nonsense, and we personally consider the upper limit of protein intake per sitting to be 80 grams.
So, where are you going to get your protein from?
The answer to that question is ultimately up to you. Personally, we aspire to get as much protein as possible from our real-food diet. That means lots of chicken, beef, fish, beans, nuts, etc. After accounting for all that – then we reach for the powder to fill the gap between the protein we ate, and the amount that we need for the day.
If you would like to see the types of protein that we use, check out our best protein powders.
If you are in a dirty bulk, looking to stack on pounds of mass as quickly as possible – you can view our best mass gainer proteins.
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