Building Muscle? It Might Be OK to Lay Off the Protein

"Gaston" from Beauty and the Beast knows about building muscle, and his protein intake proves it

Gaston from Beauty and the Beast knows about building muscle, and his protein intake proves it | Disney

If you’re working on building muscle, or simply getting in better shape, your diet is the most critical factor in determining success. Of course, you can’t overlook the importance of exercise and sleep, but if you neglect to supply your body with the resources to rebuild itself — and build lean muscle — you’re not going to see much progress. That means consuming protein and lots of it.

Any dieting program, especially one designed to help build muscle, will harp on the importance of protein intake. If you’re engaging in some serious lifting, you’ll need to be taking in copious amounts of protein daily. If you want to gain mass, you need to consume a lot of calories and resources.

But protein is expensive, and for many people, hard to choke down — especially in powdered forms. If you opt to eat a protein-rich diet without powders, it can still be very expensive as you’ll be spending a lot of money on meat, fish, nuts, and produce. You’re essentially investing in yourself and your health, but you’d be surprised how quickly a grocery bill can add up when it’s composed of real, whole foods and not empty, calorie-heavy carbs.

So, hearing you may be able to take it easy on the protein intake, while still getting the same results, would be welcome news, right?

Protein and building muscle

Muscular man drinking a protein shake

Muscular man drinking a protein shake | iStock.com

Researchers at the University of Stirling in the U.K. have found there are some exceptions to the traditional wisdom surrounding protein intake. It all has to do with body and muscle mass, which may be good news for some people who may have been consuming more than enough protein to reach their goals.

“There is a widely-held assumption that larger athletes need more protein, with nutrition recommendations often given in direct relation to body mass,” said Kevin Tipton, a sport, health, and exercise science professor at the University of Stirling.

“In our study, participants completed a bout of whole-body resistance exercise, where earlier studies — on which protein recommendations are based — examined the response to leg-only exercise. This difference suggests the amount of muscle worked in a single session has a bigger impact on the amount of protein needed afterwards, than the amount of muscle in the body.”

In other words, the study found the amount of protein our bodies need to recover and rebuild after workouts depends not on a person’s size or muscle mass, but instead on the type of workout they did. This means individuals with less muscle mass may actually need more protein after a rigorous, full-body session than a ripped bodybuilder who only isolated a few muscle groups.

Adjust your protein intake

protein sources including meat, fish, eggs, cheese, and nuts

Selection of meat, fish, eggs, and nuts | iStock.com

“Until now the consensus among leading sports nutritionists, including the American College of Sports Medicine and the British Nutrition Foundation, is that weightlifters do not need more than around 25 grams of protein after exercise to maximally stimulate the muscle’s ability to grow,” said Tipton.

Now, we may have to rethink that. Or, for individuals, you can at least rethink your workout recovery strategy, and adjust your protein intake accordingly. The research is still fresh, however, and only looked at one small group of people: relatively fit young men.

While you’re probably fine going forward with your established recovery routines and protein intake, this research may be of interest to particularly price-sensitive individuals who want to look for ways to save on protein. As discussed, it can be expensive, and if you can modify your intake following certain types of workouts to make a tub of whey last longer, then the study may be of particular interest to you.

But as stated, the research is still new, and there are lots of additional avenues that the research team admittedly needs to explore. That doesn’t mean you can’t do some experimenting on your own, however. Try mixing up the levels of protein you’re ingesting after different types of workouts, and see how your body responds. On lighter days, for example, you’ll probably be able to get by with a smaller dose during a workout recovery than on heavier days. If this is the case, you can make your protein stock last longer.

If what you’ve been doing works for you, though, there’s no reason to abandon it.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger

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