Paul Skinner, MS RD LD

I was privy to information spoken at a bodybuilding seminar by a guest poser from a contest I had entered. This person was enormous, alleged to have 27" biceps and admitted that he was "not exactly" a natural bodybuilder. When asked how he achieved such gargantuan proportions, he answered "protein, plenty of protein." It was obvious this individual needed more protein than the average bodybuilder; however, I am convinced that some very top grade pharmaceuticals were responsible for his physique. His arms would hang to their sides and his biceps would not elongate, but instead, they had the appearance of softballs stuck under their skins.

Mike Mentzer had stated in his writings not to take his word for something just because he won a few physique contests. He wanted bodybuilders to think and understand the concepts of exercise science and nutrition. Unfortunately, a lot of the competitors were seeking the guest poser's advice about which supplement or exercise is best to increase their size, strength, and definition. After he gave them some friendly information, they would each walk away as though they had found the Holy Grail to a championship physique.

I found this analogous to asking a Gorilla as to what makes him so strong or quizzing the Cheetah on how he became the fastest land animal. The former would give me a few grunts, and the latter would have me for a snack. It is obvious that these two noble beasts (and many athletes) could not articulate in any fashion as to how they became either strong or fast; their DNA determined that for them. Many bodybuilders with little or no knowledge of biology, anatomy or nutrition, put themselves out there as experts on both nutrition and training, when the truth behind their results is good genetics (good metabolisms and adaptability to exercise stress). I have engaged many bodybuilders who endorse certain training and nutrition methods but receive no "scientific explanation," and when I pressed further, they would simply say "they have been around the sport for "x" number of years" - end of story.

Many of the muscle magazines would have you believe you need to consume a "horn of plenty" filled with protein supplements every day to build muscle. Mike Mentzer has spoken about the fact that bodybuilders require about 25% of their calories from protein, and some nutrition scientists are now purporting we may need between 10% to 35%, depending on our activity and lifestyle. Both of these recommendations are higher than the Food Guide Pyramid's 10-15%.

I had the privilege to speak with Donald Layman, Professor of Nutrition Division of Nutritional Sciences, Department of Medicine at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign per telephone interview. He stated that protein foods high in the amino acid leucine (dairy and meats) help maintain muscle mass while promoting fat loss. Protein has a satiating affect and leucine regulates insulin, which helps better control blood glucose (sugar) leading to a more successful weight management program.

According to Dr. Layman, eating protein rich foods consumed soon after exercise may speedup muscle recovery. Leucine appears to have an impact on skeletal muscle and is a direct regulator of protein synthesis. Examples of complete protein foods that contain leucine are beef, chicken, fish, dairy, and eggs. These foods are balanced with the other amino acids; therefore, it would be unwise at this point to take a leucine amino acid supplement. Layman recommends a protein range of 1.4 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. This range happens to fall within the safe and adequate guidelines of the Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). So a liberal intake for a 200 pound (90 kilogram) bodybuilder of 2.0 grams per kilo would come to about 182 grams of protein.

Dr. Layman explains other points worth noting about protein. First, Marathon runners actually may need more protein secondary to depletion of glycogen. During a long race, they burn triglycerides as fuel, but when they turn up the intensity, thus increasing their pace, they begin to use glycogen (stored glucose) in the muscles for fuel. Higher protein intake helps the body develop and stabilize blood glucose by increasing the ability of the liver to make glucose from the amino acids, and also allowing the muscles to re-cycle the glucose carbons from the muscle to the liver to be re-made into blood glucose."

Secondly, Dr. Layman asserts that protein certainly does not cause kidney failure in normal functioning kidneys. However, in cases of pre-existing renal failure (i.e. diabetes) individuals may get benefit from lower solute loads, such as salts or urea. It is also questionable at what point a "low protein" diet is beneficial, because low protein intake causes kidney atrophy. So the trade off is lower solutes and lower rates of protein turnover (normal repair processes).

Finally, Dr. Layman claims that gout is never caused by high protein intakes. Gout is a metabolic disorder, an issue of purines (orotic acid) and is only related to protein in the potential that some red meats are high in purines, but so are some plants. If one has gout, they may gain relief by a diet lower in these types of foods.

As a registered dietitian, working with hospital patients, athletes and people wanting to get back in shape, I am typically asked the following questions about protein:

Q.   How many grams of protein do I require daily?

A.   In my liberal example, a person engaging in high intensity training or Dr. Layman's long distance running example may need between 1.6 to 2.0 grams per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight, while a couch potato may only require 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight.

Q.   Shouldn't protein intake vary per person depending on body size?

A.   The more you weigh, as a result of training, the more protein you will require. For example, using 2.0 grams per kilogram of bodyweight for an individual weighing 175 pounds (80 kilograms) would require they consume about 160 grams of protein daily. However, after gaining ten pounds of muscle, resulting in a weight of 185 pounds (84 kilograms), that same person would need 168 grams of protein daily.

Q.   Should I be eating every 2 hours (6 meals a day) with each meal having protein?

A.   Let me answer the last part of this question first. Each meal should have some protein, because protein helps regulate blood glucose and provides satiety (fullness or satisfaction). I would recommend 3 meals and a snack daily and not to let more than 4-5 hours go by without eating. This will help you have control over your Calorie intake and meet requirements from other food groups.

Q.   How do I measure protein in grams?

A.   1. One ounce of meat, fish, poultry, or lean pork contains 7 grams of Protein.
   2. One egg, two tablespoons of natural peanut butter, or cup of dried beans, peas, or lentils each provide 7 grams of protein.
   3. cup of cooked vegetables or 1 cup of leafy greens provides 5 grams of protein.
   4. 1 cup of milk or yogurt, or 1 ounce of natural cheese typically provides 8 grams of protein.
   5. Typically, one serving of grains (either 1 slice of bread, or cup of rice, or cup of pasta, or cup of cereal provides 3 grams of protein-amount of protein varies on brand of cereal).
   6. Always read the Nutrition Facts panel on food packaging that tells you the serving size and how many macronutrients are in each serving. If you do not have a calorie booklet that breaks down the food into Carbs, Protein, and Fats, I recommend you purchase one.

Make sure that about 70% of your protein comes from meat, fish, eggs (or egg whites), or poultry. The complete protein provided by these foods works with the incomplete protein that comes from other food sources. Thus, your body makes the best of all the protein you consume.

If you consume too much protein, and therefore too many Calories beyond your growth and maintenance needs, you will simply get fat. If you follow a restricted carbohydrate diet and replace the majority of carbohydrate foods with protein, the body will convert the protein to glucose for energy. The excess protein will not cause any further muscle growth beyond what has been stimulated from the previous workout.

In regards to HIT training, I personally have a moderate amount of protein with some complex carbohydrates before a workout and make sure that I am well hydrated before and after. This way my workouts are productive, and I have gained 8 pounds of muscle in the past two months. My intensity during the workout is related to the fact that my protein intake in combination with carbohydrate and fat stabilizes my blood glucose for a steady supply of energy and allows for intense contractions.

I want to point out that going out of one's way to consume large amounts of protein daily is a laborious task because, as described above, they satisfy your appetite for an extended period of time and aid in reducing the intake of too many Calories. Also, it becomes an exercise in futility to consume protein supplements, especially when they are unnecessary. It is simple and less expensive to meet your protein requirements with food.

If a lot of the elite bodybuilders were intellectually honest, they would tell you that steroid intake was the impetus behind their muscle gains. As for you "natural" bodybuilders," stimulate growth with Mike Mentzer's HEAVY DUTY high-intensity training first, and then gobble down that chicken breast.

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Next month, I will discuss the topic of FATS. Fat-free foods are plentiful, but Americans are definitely not fat free. Many of my patients and clients have had the "all fat is bad" mantra indoctrinated into their thinking. Fat is very misunderstood, and its marginalization has only exacerbated our health problems.

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