This post was last updated on October 3rd, 2016
You hear many different theories on protein intake such as:
. The more protein you consume, the more muscle you’ll build
. You need 1g of protein per lb of bodyweight
. You need 2g per kg of bodyweight
It can get very confusing and contradictory. However in this article I’m going to get to the bottom of this topic and prove whether protein really is needed for you to get jacked.
Beware of the Protein Studies
“You need a high protein diet to build muscle, it’s science!”.
Results from studies do not equate to science, especially when such studies can be biased and manipulated.
Many devious supplement companies are funding studies that ‘prove’ the ingredients in their supplements are effective for building muscle.
Scenario 1: So people naturally spend their hard-earned money on these supplements, but fail to gain any muscle as promised.
Scenario 2: People buy the supplements and DO get good results. However this can be down to other factors such as changes in their workout routine or diet modifications. Yet people will often credit their gains to their new supplement stack.
This is what you call a placebo effect.
To prove the corrupt nature of studies, there was a research done to investigate whether ‘whey protein shakes affected body composition when in a calorie deficit’ (1).
The results ‘proved’ that people who had 2 protein shakes per day when in a calorie deficit spared more muscle tissue and burned more fat in a 12 week period than those who didn’t.
However, when you look into this study a little further, you can see that the study was funded by a company named – Glanbia Nutritionals. This company coincidentally sells a whey protein shake named Prolibra.
This is what you call extreme bias, or less eloquently put – bs!
It’s not just bias that draws incorrect conclusions from studies.
There are other variables in studies that can make it seem that protein is responsible for building muscle – when it actually isn’t.
For example a recent review looked at 51 studies that tested protein intake and it’s effect on muscle mass (2).
They found that 35 of the 51 studies found that protein DID have a positive effect on muscle mass. However, 16 studies didn’t.
The review concluded the reason for the 16 studies failing to prove this was because they “didn’t feed their test group enough protein”.
This was because when the test subjects were fed 58% more protein, this led to increased muscle mass.
But when the other test subjects had a 39% increase in protein intake, there was no increase in muscle tissue.
Just Doesn’t Add Up
To an educated person, these findings and statistics do not make sense. The review of the 51 protein studies concluded “more protein is better for building muscle but it’s got to be a 58% increase or more”.
So if you go under this number by just 19% you won’t build ANY muscle.
I’ll tell you now why this doesn’t add up.
if protein was responsible for these muscle gains, then there would be a direct correlation with the amount of protein consumed and the amount of muscle gained.
For example a 10% increase in protein would result in a small amount of muscle built.
And a 100% increase in protein would result in a significant amount of muscle built. So from this correlation it seems obvious that the protein intake wasn’t responsible for the test subjects who did build muscle.
Therefore something must be effecting the results during this 39% increase of protein and 58% increase of protein. And this must be the real reason for the increase in muscle mass.
So what is it?
When a person overeats they gain fat and muscle – even sedentary people (3).
So, I believe that in the studies where they increased the protein intake by 39%, this wasn’t enough to make the person eat in a surplus of calories i.e. overeat.
However, when they increased their intake to 58% and over, this was then high enough for that person to be in a calorie surplus.
Therefore more protein helped build more muscle…but indirectly.
Calories = Muscle. Not Protein.
To back this up this theory, if you were to look at the role of calories on muscle growth/loss there seems to be a direct correlation.
- Consuming very low calories (a larger deficit of 500), results in significant muscle loss (4).
- Consuming maintenance level calories will maintain muscle mass.
- Eating in a surplus of calories will result in gained muscle mass (5).
So actually the real conclusion (that won’t leave you scratching your head) is:
The test subjects gained muscle because of the extra protein, because it increase their overall calories. Thus consuming more protein doesn’t necessarily build more muscle, if total calories don’t increase.
How can you trust studies which show that more calories = more muscle?
We can trust these calorie controlled studies because there’s not a motive behind their research and so the results are unbiased.
…Whereas a study funded by a supplement company which sells protein supplements is dubious to say the least.
What About Consuming Protein Post-Workout in the ‘Anabolic Window’?
Supplement companies want you to believe: If you miss the window, you miss out on gains.
However, some studies have shown that drinking protein shakes during this supposed ‘muscle building window’ is completely unnecessary.
David from Howtobeast.com mentions the results of several studies suggesting protein shakes are not needed post-workout.
- Although companies want you to believe that muscle breakdown is a post-workout worry, one study concluded that muscle protein breakdown only increased very slightly, thus ingesting protein during this time would have no major effect (6).
- Another study compared the gains in strength and muscle size of a group who consumed a protein shake (post workout) to those who didn’t. The 12 week study proved that consumption of protein during this ‘window’ had no significant effect on muscle strength or size (7).
How Much Protein Do Prisoner’s Eat?
As previously explained in my post: Is Overtraining a Myth or Can it Kill You? , we understand that prisoners often experience incredible transformations in terms of muscle hypertrophy.
This is the result of them performing bodyweight exercises for hours every day (out of boredom).
This is what you call – extreme volume.
So, lets see how much protein guys behind bars get in their daily diet.
In America prisoners have a daily budget of just $2.45 per day for food (8) and in the U.K merely £1.50 (9).
Despite this low food budget, inmates are still able get a good amount of calories ranging from 2,500-3,000 per day (10).
Meat is one of the best protein sources on the planet, however it’s more expensive to buy, in comparison to foods rich in carbohydrates and fats.
Did you know some people even become vegetarians because of the price of meat! (11).
So when prisoner’s do get meals containing meat, it can be as little as a 3oz portion (12). For example, 3oz of chicken contains just 23g of protein.
Although some of their other meals can contain eggs and beans, which have some protein content. This is minimal protein consumption and no different to what the average person has.
In fact, it’s less. The average man has 56g of protein per day.
How Much Protein do Male Gymnasts Eat?
Male Olympic gymnasts, especially those who compete on the rings develop exceptional upper body muscularity (we ‘mirin).
The reason why male gymnasts build incredible amounts of muscle (despite not wanting to) is also explained in my overtraining post.
So, how much protein do gymnasts consume on a daily basis?
According to Olympic athlete, Louis Smith, gymnasts typically have just one meal that’s rich in protein. That’s usually eaten at dinner, which is in the form of a serving of fish or chicken (13).
He says if he wants more food for breakfast he might have some scrambled eggs, but that’s it.
So a serving of chicken (100g/3 ounces) is 27g of protein.
And a serving of scrambled eggs usually contains 2 eggs. The protein in 2 large scrambled eggs is 12g.
So more or less, a male gymnast has around 40g-50g of protein per day. 7 grams less than the average man.
40g per day is almost half a gram of protein per kg of bodyweight.
That’s if you base this on Yuri Van Gelder, a particularly stocky gymnast shown in the above picture topless. He weighs 63kg (14).
This is hardly any protein!
It’s ironic to think that 90% of weight lifters are envious of gymnast’s muscles…yet are chugging down protein shakes and force feeding themselves chicken and rice all year round!
My Protein Experiment
As stated in my About page, in the first 4 years of lifting weights consistently I barely gained any muscle.
During this time I spent a tonne of money on supplements each month, taking whey and casein protein several times each day without fail.
At one point I was even hitting 2g of protein per pound of body weight!
So that was 300g of protein a day, with me weighing at around 150lbs.
That’s 50g of protein over six meals! Yet my body barely changed, despite me being a newbie and consuming protein like it was going extinct.
During the year where I made myself a guinea pig, doing lots of tests and experiments…I did a couple of experiments with protein.
Experiment #1: Bulking With Very Low Protein
Throughout my bulk I would go a week with high protein intake, then a week with very low protein intake (10g or lower); however I would keep my calories exactly the same.
Then despite me being extremely anxious that I was going ‘catabolic’, I recorded the results…
My gains were exactly the same!
My strength carried on increasing and I continued to add size at the exact same rate as before, even though my protein intake was ridiculously low.
During My 3 Year Transformation I Consumed Very Little Protein…
I felt like I’d been brainwashed from everything I read online about how you ‘need’ a high protein diet.
IMPORTANT: During this experiment, whenever I dropped my calories, my gains would slow down.
Shane from BonytoBeastly.com mentions an interesting study (15) that can explain my results during this bulk.
The findings suggest you can build more muscle by eating less protein. This is because when you reduce your protein intake, your carbohydrate and calorie consumption goes up.
When this happens, protein oxidation decreases. Meaning the body can use protein more efficiently to build new muscle tissue. Interesting!
Experiement #2: Cutting With Very Low Protein
I did the same experiment when I was cutting too. I was even more nervous this time…
I didn’t lose any muscle despite being in a calorie deficit with very minimal protein in my diet.
However, when my calories dropped too low, I lost weight too fast and lost a little muscle. But again this had nothing to do with protein.
Here’s an example of a cut I did (below) where I lost over 40lbs. I was on a very low protein diet the whole time and retained most, if not all of my muscle.
Conclusion: “How Much Protein Do I Need to Build Muscle?”
We know through real life examples that you don’t NEED a high protein diet in order to build big, thick muscles.
Prisoners, gymnasts and even my own results prove this.
Also relying on studies as ‘science’ is one of the most unreliable methods when determining how much protein you need.
Especially in a niche like bodybuilding where supplement company CEO’s pockets are ever growing and countless studies are turning out to be biased/manipulated.
The best way to truly know how much protein you need is to test it yourself.
Lower your protein intake drastically, but keep your calories the same. Then see what happens.
If you’re like me and a bunch of my friends who put this to the test you’ll see that protein really isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and high amounts simply aren’t needed to build/spare muscle.
But remember that’s not what the supplement companies want you to think.
Have You Tried Going Without Protein?
I find that usually the people that swear you need protein are the ones who haven’t actually tried going without it.
One guy in my gym thought I was talking out my ass when I made this controversial statement.
Then just a month later he tested it and came back to me and said: “do you know what, I think you might be right!”.
And this guy was stubborn!
It’s important to note that I don’t object to people that do follow high protein diets – 99% of people in the weight lifting world do. I’m just speaking from my own experience and others.
Is No Protein Anabolic?!
Supplement companies tell you that unless you’re eating a serving of protein every 2-3 hours, you’re not unlocking your muscle building potential.
However, Mike O’Donnell from the IFLife.com also believes this is unnecessary if your goal is to build muscle.
He even states that fasting could potentially be anabolic.
This is because during a fast your body naturally cleanses itself. And so junk proteins are removed from your muscle cells. As a result, the body’s need for amino acids reduces.
Pretty cool eh?!
Why Am I Telling You All of This?
. To save you money
. To raise your awareness of the brainwashing in the supplement industry.
I wish I’d read a post like this years ago. I was spending $100 a month on protein, meaning I would’ve saved $3,600 if I knew about this 3 years earlier.
It’s an easy mistake to make because “high protein” is everywhere.
Even my favourite advert of all time almost brainwashes you to associate protein with muscle.
How to Know Whether Any Supplement is Effective?
Whenever you’re thinking about buying a supplement, don’t rely on studies. Instead, look at reviews online from credible websites or forums.
Sometimes websites will receive a commission for recommending a product.
These are usually in the form of blogs (not big company’s).
People who write reviews and receive commissions are called affiliates.
So be wary of reviews that only highlight the benefits of a supplement. Even the greatest supplements have some drawbacks.
However, not all affiliate sites are bad. You do get some honest affiliate sites like GymTalk, who only recommend products they truly believe in.
You can usually sense honest reviewers like these because they don’t think twice about labeling a supplement garbage – if it really is.
And they genuinely don’t give a shit if they hurt the supplement company’s feelings. After all their goal is to review, not to promote.
Also you’ll see honest affiliates use a very personal tone to their writing, instead of a promotional one. It will almost read like they’re talking to you.
Browsing through forums looking for reviews can be a credible way of researching if a supplement is effective or not, as these are real life experiences.
However be sure to check the post counts on comments because if a user has only commented 1-3 times on the forum ever, then this is likely to be a fake profile.
These are created by supplement companies in a bid to increase sales.
Or (this is a little trickier) you can do a bit of research as to who funded a particular study. This way you can see if it’s potentially a biased one.
Usually you can find this out in the ‘acknowledgements‘ section at the bottom of the study.
If you do decide to test out whether a high protein diet is needed to build muscle, let me know your results in the comments section below!
(11) Waite, Jennifer Prison Food: What Are America’s Inmates Eating?