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Protein & The Muscle Building Diet:
How Much, What Kinds and Why

When looking for food to gain weight, make sure you are checking the protein count. Protein is the building block for muscle making this nutrient a vital element to the weight gain diet.

When you workout, you breakdown muscle protein and therefore you must make sure to provide your body with plenty of protein so that it can repair and rebuild your muscles.

Without adequate amounts of protein in your diet... You will have trouble building muscle.

It is as simple as that. Protein is the most used nutrient to repair and rebuild muscle making it the most important nutrient to the bodybuilder.

After a workout, when your muscles are broken down, you don't want to be caught without sufficient protein in your system. A meal high in protein should be consumed within 90 minutes (absolute maximum) of finishing your workout - more on pre and post-workout nutrition here.

But this is not the only meal that should contain protein - ALL your meals should. A complete protein portion at each meal will help you keep your body in a continuous anabolic state. It will help regulate your blood-insulin levels, discourage fat gains and encourage muscle growth.

Protein In The Muscle Building Diet

While the average person may do well to keep their protein intake to less than 1/2 gram per pound of bodyweight a day, with the stress you will be putting on your body with your weight training, you should be looking for at least one gram per pound. That means that if you weigh 150 pounds, consume at least 150 grams of protein per day.

Protein accounts for 4 calories per gram.
It should be 20-50 percent of the weight gain diet.

The first place you should look if you are not making the weight gains you desire with your program is your protein intake. Insufficient protein can severely hamper your abilities to add muscle mass. 1-2 grams of protein per lb. of bodyweight is a good place to put your consumption goals.

Positive Nitrogen Balance

This is a term you will hear often in bodybuilding. Nitrogen balance refers to the amount of nitrogen taken in through protein consumption versus the amount excreted.

You must be in a positive nitrogen balance (taking in more than you are excreting) in order for the body to build new muscle tissue.

Can You Get Too Much Protein?

Protein Powders and FoodsWhile the exact amount of protein that will be optimal for muscle building is a debatable topic, there is ample evidence that going beyond the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is necessary to support significant muscle growth.

Increased protein intake means that the kidneys will have to work harder and for this reason, people with a history of kidney problems should avoid high protein diets.

There is no evidence that a person with healthy kidney function should see any detrimental effects from a diet high in protein. It is smart, however, to make extra certain you are providing your body with adequate water. One of the many benefits water can supply the prospective mass gainer is its ability to help ease the stress placed on the kidneys.

Protein PowderBut Isn't There a Point Where You Can Really Get Too Much Protein?

Probably. And it is probably a point routinely passed by many bodybuilders as they subscribe to the "protein is everything" philosophy. As mentioned, there is evidence consuming in excess of one gram of protein for every pound of bodyweight is optimal (even necessary) for muscle building.

However, it doesn't necessarily follow that taking in 3, 4 or 5 grams per lb. will be even better.

Taking anything to the extreme is rarely a step in the right direction. Protein is of extreme importance to muscle growth but it is NOT everything. When you take in too much protein at the expense of other nutrients, the body will convert protein to a carbohydrate energy source through a process called gluconeogenesis.

This is not the body's preferred method of acquiring energy. It is not the most efficient method. The conversion takes energy, energy that could otherwise be used to help build muscle.

A balanced diet with sufficient protein intake (1-2 grams of protein per lb. of bodyweight) is the best way to maintain a positive nitrogen balance and build muscle tissue.

If you find yourself to have a fast metabolism that requires you to have a high overall calorie intake in order to gain weight, choosing to have a high ratio of those calories come from protein probably isn't the best course to take. What your fast metabolism (burning an increased amount of calories) is dictating is that you supply it with additional energy (carbohydrates), not protein.

For Example - A person on a 50/30/20 diet at 20x bodyweight would find their diets calling for 2.5 grams of protein per lb. of bodyweight. This is a lot and can present a digestive nightmare.

A wiser course would be to drop the ratio of protein down (opting instead for quality complex carbohydrates) in order to maintain a more reasonable protein intake of 1-2 grams per lb. of bodyweight.

The Two Basic Types of Protein

There are two basic types of protein...

A good tactic to employ when considering protein sources is variation. Getting your protein from many sources will give you a diversity of amino acid profiles and help promote an anabolic state.

Quality Complete Protein Sources

Chicken Breast
Chicken Breast

(4 oz. = 31 Grams)
Turkey Breast

(4 oz. = 24 Grams)
Ground Beef
Lean Beef

(4 oz. = 33 grams)
(1 med. = 6 grams)
Fish (Seafood)

(4 oz. salmon = 24 grams)

(8 oz. skim = 8 grams)

Protein coming from animal origins is a top gain weight protein. Animal protein, coming from red meat, poultry, fish and eggs among other sources, is considered a complete protein because it contains all of the essential amino acids.

Most high complete protein sources are also high in fat, so watch the fat content.

Vegetables, nuts and beans can also be providers of protein but these sources offer incomplete proteins. This isn't to say that these sources are not valuable, in combinations food with incomplete proteins can add up to complete proteins. But your concentration should be on consuming complete proteins.

Nothing is better than a nice thick juicy steak. Not only does red meat offer high protein counts but it also provides the body with a natural creatine boost. When eating red meat, be smart and aim for the leaner cuts.

Tuna and chicken breasts are also excellent sources because of their low fat contents and also because they are convenient. You can get both out of a can. How simple is that for a quick meal?

Eggs are great but also have the negative impact of high cholesterol content. The cholesterol is in the yolk and you can eliminate this part and still have a good source for protein. But there is protein in the yolk as well as other valuable minerals. Therefore, try and limit your whole egg consumption but don't ignore them completely. The proteins provided by whole eggs are among the best for muscle building purposes.

Milk is another solid source of complete proteins and provided you are not lactose intolerant, you should definitely look into taking advantage of this source. Milk is cheap and provides excellent nutrition for bodybuilding. Milk provides a complete protein that is derived from casein and whey, the two best types of protein. It also has the added benefit of being an excellent source for calcium.

However, milk does have a major drawback; it contains a large amount of sugars. So you definitely want to watch its effects on your diet.

Just how good are those
whey protein powders?

Well, they are good. But they aren't as good as food. They aren't as good or as necessary as the supplement companies would like you to believe. They are convenient and for post-workout they can really give you an edge.

Learn more about the whey protein powders.

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