As the bedrock of nutrition for bodybuilders, protein consumption is essential, but throughout the past few decades, the question of how much protein should be consumed on a daily basis is one that has sparked debate among the bodybuilding community.
Until recently, the theory that â€˜more is betterâ€™ was adhered to, but amounts of 2g per pound of bodyweight or at least 600g per day are seen as the two benchmarks. Those who enter the Mr Olympia contests subscribe to the former, while modern trainers go for the latter option, but do either actually work?
Image via: angrytrainerfitness.com
Away from the old school
Back in the day, many bodybuilders ate 10-12 meals a day with a massive protein intake. This prompted some bodybuilding experts to take a closer look at the science behind protein and how much the body actually needs in order to build muscle at a rapid rate.
Research showed that regular intakes of 30g of protein helped to maximise muscle protein synthesis â€“ the process in which new muscle tissue is formed. Following the results, many bodybuilders decided to avoid eating more protein than that amount with each meal, and have done for a number of years.
At the same time, some believed that eating no more than 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight was sufficient enough to enable rapid muscle growth, using the science behind protein to justify their decision.
Some bodybuilders time their meals within a strict window in order to get their intake of protein right. One advocate of that is Martin Berkhan, who prefers â€˜intermittent fastingâ€™. It involves eating in an eight-hour window, going without food for the remainder of the day.
Meanwhile, other big names in the world of bodybuilding such as Layne Norton claim that eating more than the maximum amount of protein is wasteful. Heâ€™s also suggested that the Leucine content of meals helps to determine muscle growth more than anything else.
The outcome of research into the anabolic response to meals containing between 20g-30g of protein revealed a number of interesting results:
- Anabolic responses to protein donâ€™t reach a specified limit
- Muscle growth does increase if each meal consumed contains between 20g-30g of protein, but only by a limited amount
- Eating more protein than needed to boost muscle growth could slow down the breakdown of protein in the body â€“ this can help to build up more muscle
- Eating more protein overall rather than scan boost muscle growth
- The effect of consuming more protein alongside carbohydrates amplifies muscle growth, thanks largely to the release of insulin in the body, which further impedes muscle breakdown
The research, undertaken by Robert Wolfe and Nicolaas Deutz, could give bodybuilders who take what they do extremely seriously food for thought.
Reaching a limit
Following their findings, itâ€™s seen as wise for bodybuilders to manage their protein intake per meal as effectively as possible. A big part of that is distributing their protein intake evenly through different meals, with 30g per meal the target for many athletes and bodybuilders.
Dividing protein between different meals might sound like the ideal way to boost protein synthesis, but, as was pointed out by Wolfe and Deutz, eating a complete meal rather than a smaller one could have a more profound effect on muscle growth. This suggests that setting a target for each meal might not necessarily be the answer.
Which method is best?
Bodybuilders following the method of eating as much protein as possible may feel vindicated by the research. The more they consume, the less protein actually gets broken down which will leave them with more muscle, while those who take a more considered approach find that limiting protein intake doesnâ€™t do them many favours. Consumption alongside carbohydrates also helped.