What is the truth on how much protein you need to build the muscle that you are looking for? On this episode of Sheer Strength, Josh chats with Alessandro Gibilaro, who is a mathematician turned natural body builder, performance nutritionist, celebrity trainer, online coach, and is studying for his masters in sports nutrition.
Protein is a macronutrient compromised of calories and is crucial for muscle. If your body doesn’t have enough protein in its diet, then it will dip into your muscle, and you will deteriorate quickly.
Your suggested protein intake changes depending on your goals. A one-size fits all approach of, “How much protein do I need?” doesn’t have the same answer for everyone. The average Joe who might be in a calorie maintenance phase and weight training needs 1g per lb.
As a natural athlete, there is a finite amount of muscle you can gain, which is around 5-10g of newly accrued muscle per day. If you gain any more, then it is likely just to be fat. If you get fat as you bulk, you will have to diet for a longer period of time and will run into more plateaus. The main crux of your calories will come from carbohydrates and fats.
The first thing to do is get your calories sorted out based on activity levels and hours per week spent in the gym. Once you’ve set up protein, you might set fat at 20-30% of the calories that are left and give the rest to carbohydrates. It essentially boils down to total calories in and out. Is that creating a deficit? In which case, you will lose weight. If it is creating a surplus of calories, then you will put on weight.
The best way to find out your individual calorie requirements is to track your food for a full week. Weigh yourself at the beginning of the week and every day throughout. At the end of the week, check out how many calories you averaged over the course of the 7 days. Have you gone up, down, or stayed the same? Remember, 1lb equates to 3,500 calories so figure out what you need to do to maintain, increase, or decrease weight. A 200-300 calorie surplus is ideal for a lean gain phase.
If you are in a calorie surplus for two years, and you are training well, then you are going to put on a lot of fat. When you gain muscle, inevitably you gain a little bit of fat too.
If you want to get safely to 7% body fat and maintain as much muscle as possible, you do not want to diet quickly and give yourself a long time to lose body fat. The larger your caloric deficit, the more problems you will have.
If you are maintaining at 4,000 calories and cut to 3,500, on paper you should lose 1lb fat per week. A good amount of weight to lose per week based on your actual weight is 0.5-1% of your total body weight per week. The lower end is when you are leaner; the higher end is for fatter individuals. The most important part of any diet is adherence.
When you start cutting, you might want to increase your protein slightly (on a scale of up to 1.5g per pound, any more won’t yield for beneficial results). If you cut at 1g per pound, at the end of the cut you might want to increase gradually as the diet becomes more severe. More of the protein will convert to carbohydrates by gluconeogenesis to be used as energy because your energy intake has become lower and you are in a deficit. You will have less usable protein going into the diet from your intake of protein as a result of being in a calorie deficit. However, protein is the most satiating of all the macronutrients so if you can get a higher volume of food in, then going to 2g of protein per pound is fine. It’s about adherence, not physiology. If you go up to 2g, then that changes the amount of carbs you can have.
There isn’t a weight loss issue; there is a maintenance issue. 90% of dieters will end up where they started a year down the line, and of those dieters, 50% will end up fatter than when they started! Josh thinks the main cause is the ‘restrict binge’ and that you should always question a diet that says you can’t have a food group. There is a reason there are three macronutrients; they are essential and would not have been created if we didn’t need them in our diet.
If you put yourself in a position where you have guilt as your biggest overhead, you are in the worst place to diet. The bodybuilding and physique culture has made everyone think that they have to be hardcore and restrictive to get results, especially with the “if you’re not suffering, you’re not working hard enough” mentality.
The total protein at the end of the day is the most important factor. If you are hitting that, then you will generally be fine. For example, if your protein intake is 200g and you are hitting that over 4-6 meals, you will also be fine because you are likely to be getting very high quality protein sources (meat, dairy, whey protein). However, if you are vegan and only source of protein is beans, then it will be difficult as you will have to combine different types of proteins to insure you are getting all the amino acids you require. To maximize stimulate muscle protein synthesis, you need to get a certain amount of leucine, which is around 3g per serving of protein. If you are coming from a vegan point of view, you might want to supplement with other amino acids.
If you are hitting your total protein with foods, Josh believes whey protein is really not that essential. Alessandro says that he looks at whey protein as ‘just a food.’ Asking someone what kind of whey protein they take is like asking someone what kind of chicken they buy. Whey protein is just a tool, you can use to hit your protein requirement. It is a cheap and effective source of protein so if you can’t hit your protein requirements, then a whey supplement will help you.