High protein diet effects on muscle gains and fat loss

October 1st, 2007 by Paul Johnson

For years textbooks and “experts” have said that athletes and bodybuilders do not need more than the recommended daily allowance of protein ( 0.6-0.9 grams of protein per pound of weight for very active athletes). Many even suggest, that it may be toxic or unhealthy, to have a high protein diet similiar to what bodybuilders eat. Bodybuilders for decades have taken large amounts of protein, well beyond these recommendations.

Why bodybuilders eat high protein diets:

Bodybuilders during bulking phases, take extra amounts of calories beyond maintenance(daily calorie requirements). This in turn allows them to gain weight, with the goal of it mostly being muscle. Bodybuilders do this because gaining muscle without extra calories is very difficult because if you don’t gain weight, losing fat and gaining muscle simultaneously can only happen to a certain extent. There is only 3 macronutrients you can choose from in a diet; protein, carbs, or fat. If you ate the recommended daily allowance of protein on a calorie surplus, you would be eating mostly carbs and fat. This would leave you bloated, fat, insulin tolerant, and unhealthy. If you are trying to build mainly muscle, then it would make sense that a large amount of your calories should be protein, the building blocks of muscles.

Protein also doesn’t convert to glucose as easy(and therefore stimulate insulin as much), so it is a much “cleaner” way to bulk when trying to get excess calories. If you had a balance of protein (say 30%) of your calories, instead of about 15% on a lower protein diet, your weight gains will be leaner. Protein also helps aid fat loss and muscle preservation during dieting.

The government and many experts, don’t take into account that bodybuilders are not trying to maintain themselves like the average joe. Bodybuilders require more protein and calories because they are breaking the muscle down and then trying to gain more muscle(or maintain large amounts of it). During dieting they are not trying to simply lose weight like the average couch potato, but instead only fat, while trying to maintain their hard earned muscle.

Studies supporting high protein diets:

While there is research supporting that extra protein intake is needed for athletes and bodybuilders, there is little supporting very high protein intake(well past 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight) will give even better muscle growth.

The only one I could find that is commonly cited at many other places is published in Nutr. Metabolism 12:259-274, done on 10 polish powerlifters. They found that even when they more than doubled their protein intake past the recommended daily allowance, half of them were still in negative nitrogen balance. In other words, half were still losing muscle because they weren’t getting adequate protein even at that amount.

One study done by Dr. Lemon and published in Nutrition Reviews,” (54:S169-175, 1996), showed strength athletes needed about 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight to maintain nitrogen positive balance(sign of muscle growth).

Dr. Lemon also has suggested previously that:

"Several types of evidence indicate that exercise causes substantial changes in protein metabolism. In fact, recent data suggests that the protein recommended dietary allowance might actually be 100% higher for individuals who exercise on a regular basis. Optimal intakes, although unknown, may be even higher, especially for individuals attempting to increase muscle mass and strength."
Source: Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise” (19:5, S179-S190,1986)

This is an important quote because it’s an admission that they really don’t know the optimum protein intake for muscle growth. So if they don’t know the answer, who does? Pro-bodybuilders of course have the answer. I’ll take the advice of pro-bodybuilding mass monsters like Ronnie Coleman and Jay Cutler, who have built themselves up to almost 300 lbs ripped, through very high protein dieting. There has never been a professional bodybuilder that didn’t get to that without a very high amount of protein in their diet. I think part of the reasons why there is lack of studies on very high doses of protein, is probably because researchers aren’t interested in the more extreme protein diets that are well above 1 gm / lb bodyweight.

There is also many studies showing higher protein diets helped fat loss during dieting. One study by Dr. Donald Layman at the university of illinois, had women on high carb low protein diets and high protein low carb diets. Both groups did resistance training for 11 weeks. The high protein dieters lost 22 lbs but only one pound of muscle. The high carb dieters lost only 15 lbs , but also lost 2 lbs of muscle(one more lb than the other group). This study shows that not only did the high protein diet do better at muscle preservation, but it also helped aid fat loss.

Dr. Layman is a well known research, who has done a lot of research over the years on protein intake and fat loss effects. Here is a quote from him on his feelings of high protein diets during dieting:

Evidence is accumulating that diets with reduced carbohydrates and increased levels of high quality protein are effective for weight loss. These diets appear to provide a metabolic advantage during restricted energy intake that targets increased loss of body fat while reducing loss of lean tissue and stabilizing regulations of blood glucose. We have proposed that the branched-chain amino acid leucine is a key to the metabolic advantage of a higher protein diet because of its unique roles in regulation of muscle protein synthesis, insulin signaling and glucose re-cycling via alanine. These metabolic actions of leucine require plasma and intracellular concentrations to increase above minimum levels maintained by current dietary guidelines and dietary practices in the U.S. Initial findings support use of dietary at levels above 1.5 g/kg during weight loss. Further, our research suggests that increased use of high quality protein at breakfast maybe important for the metabolic advantage of a higher protein diet.

Source: J Am Coll Nutr. 2004 Dec;23(6 Suppl):631S-636S

Layman is recommending above 1.5 grams per kilogram, which is above 0.7 grams per pound of bodyweight. For a 200 lb overweight individual, that is 140 grams of protein. Notice he is recommending amounts significantly higher than the average recommended dosages. He doesn’t say either, what an optimum amount of protein intake is for fat loss. Many studies have also found that older people require a higher protein intake too.

When is it too much protein in a bodybuilder diet?

What we see from the trend in the protein studies out there, is that there is definite benefits to higher protein intakes. The problem lies in the failure for science to have the answer on how much protein is the optimum intake for the most muscle growth or fat loss. So science doesn’t have the answer yet, but bodybuilders have done well on very high protein diets, so the answer for now is with them I believe.

Bodybuilders often recommend around 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. Some advocate much higher. Eventually increasing your protein will hit the point it’s unhealthy and overkill. In body physiology, everything works on the “law of diminishing returns”. As you increase your protein diet, eventually the gains will start diminishing per unit of increase. For example, increasing from 1.5 grams to 2 grams per pound of bodyweight is likely to not have the same muscle growth effect as increasing 1 gram to 1.5 grams. Pro-bodybuilders are at the top because they are willing to take massive amounts of protein, even if it only results in a few percent improvement in muscle gains, than if they had done half.

Too much protein is the point where the cons outweighs any negligible gains in muscle growth. Like with everything else we ingest, having too much protein could be unhealthy and very inconvenient. Protein does cause extra stress on the kidneys and liver. Drinking a lot of water helps ease the stress brought by digestion and elimination of protein in the liver and kidneys. Many health experts believe that high protein diets pose no health risk provided you drink plenty of water, the amount is not too excessive, and you have no kidney or liver disease. The answer to a near optimum amount for muscle gains, yet still also being a healthy amount for the kidneys and liver, is probably somewhere in around the 1.5 grams per pound mark.

  1. Matt on March 31st, 2008

    In the next article, maybe touch on what KINDS of protein are more beneficial (E.g., Egg, Whey, etc.) and, perhaps, do a comparison in that arena as well.

  2. muhammad.saad on July 3rd, 2008

    i take my protein only . 75% milk , 24% chiken , and 1%with eags, is it , compleat

  3. muhammad.saad on July 3rd, 2008

    my wate is 165 pound . i take proten 180 grams . with 5 leater milk . 1 250 grams chiken . 2 eags . and 250 grams pinut . is it compleat proten for bater ganing mass . pleas tell me . my english is not good .

  4. admin on July 4th, 2008

    That should be enough protein for your weight to gain muscle. You just might need more calories to gain total weight, if your currently not gaining weight.

  5. Sandeep on November 14th, 2008

    I eat 100 gms of whey, 20 egg whites , no milk products. I also take 50 gms nuts and 150 gm fish every day and that keeps my muscle growing with fat levels going down slowly.

  6. KJ on December 31st, 2008

    I drink three of the Body 50 shakes after a long weight lift, and two Met-Rx protein Plus bars. I usually lift for about 4-6 hours hard everyday traing one to two muscles groups once a week. Do you think it is unhealthy to have 214 grams of protein after a weight lift of that proportion?

  7. ron on January 24th, 2009

    What’s unhealthy is your lifting routine. You are probably in an over trained state and will not make any gains going foward. You will also loose muscle over time. Train one body part a day for 40 mins with some cardio and go home.

  8. Dr. Marv on January 28th, 2009

    Cutler and Coleman are likely poor subjects to base protein intakes on. Anabolic agents have been proven to increase protein synthesis dramatically which improves the body’s ability to ingest and utilize higher amounts of protein (ie.-greater than 2gm/pound. For natural individuals, that is not the case. Just a thought.

  9. […] Suppliement Advice Some good advice. However, I would definitely recommend that you aim for at least 1.5 grams of protein per 1 pound of bodyweight per day. As achieving this through traditional […]

  10. Buto on August 6th, 2009

    Good article except for the last part. It’s actually a myth that protein has negative affects on the kidneys and liver, and I have articles to back it up if anyone is interested.

  11. stefi on September 1st, 2009

    here you say that high protein diets increase muscle growth and decrees fat. Does this count for both genders and all ages?

  12. blueangel on September 7th, 2009

    i started out weighing 216 lbs 2 months ago, i have been on a no carb diet since, i eat eggs cheese and meat every day. since i have started this i have lost 36 lbs in 2 months. I am trying to loose 40 more pounds. I walk every day, I have ate some carbs since but maybe once every week or 2. is this healthy? I am a 31yr old female that is 5’1 and i am tired of being fat. since my last child i have not been able to loose the weight. The no carbs is working for me. I have lost inches from my waist and my hips.Should i start adding carbs or stay strict with the protein?

  13. abuali on November 17th, 2009

    hello there .. i was 94 kilos and i lost 17 kilos in 6 months .. i was eating only water melon and pineapple all these months with egg whites like 20 a day .. and i was working out hard … just try to eat fruits if u wanna lose big weihgt and u dont want muscles .. eat fruits and cardio too much .. like 1 hour running a day and 30 mins cycle .. but if wanna go on building up ur body which is something really great to do and hard at the same time .. start eating all protiens with a bit bit of carbs without any oil .. and workout and c ur transformation each month.. and u ll c that in 1 month ur different 🙂 good luck every1

  14. Babysuperman on December 5th, 2009

    Yuu need to get some fiber in your diet lady.
    No carbs isn’t right.
    Low carbs is right.
    No simple sugars.

    I do this.
    Salad unlimited.
    Fruit between meals and with meals.
    3 portions of meat a day.
    Butter friendly.
    Orange and grapefruit juice.

    I takes these twice daily:
    Alpha lipoic acid
    Animal Stak Omega Pak morning only
    Acetyl L-Carnitine

    15 pounds lost in two months.
    I lift weights 1hour , 5 days a week.
    Before and after diet.

  15. Babysuperman on December 5th, 2009

    All my carbs are from fruits and skim milk.
    Splenda owns me.

  16. Mo Def on February 19th, 2010

    I use to weigh 225lbs. I lost 10 lbs. in one week and 5 lbs the next week. I now weigh 210 lbs. I’m trying to get to 190 lbs of muscle, no fat.I don’t use diet pills. I workout only 2x’s a week because I don’t have a membership and don’t won’t to pay too much. Yet,it’s been very effective. I do cardio. I walk for 5min and run for 15min. Before that I weight train and do abdominal exercises. I eat brown rice, protein powder, amino Acids,chicken, brocolli,baked potatoes,steaks,eggs,and corn ect. I drink nothing but water, no pop or juices.I was eating about 1500-2000 calories a day. I began to notice my bench press increased big time. I benched two 45lbs. on both sides twenty times. Before I was only doing them 10 times. I stopped taking my protein powder and amino acids (which I ran out of)for about four days. About the fifth day I began to feel sluggish, slow and a need to take naps during the day. I went to the store that evening to replenish my protein and amino acids I ran out of. I decided to try a different brand of protein powder and amino acids. I went to the gym that same night feeling sluggish. I drank my new protein drink 30 min before my workout. I could only do 200lbs 16 times instead of my usual 20x’s. My recovery was very slow and I did not feel like doing anymore. I sat there for a while in thought as the activity in the gym went on. The weight felt so much heavier than usual, I was thinking. That night in bed, just the thought of that amount of weight I lifted scared me for some reason. Whereas before, it always seemed like a piece of cake. As the days went on I felt like I was recovering from the sluggishness and perhaps my strength was coming back. However, I noticed that following week, my bench press was even lower doing 200lbs (two 45lbs on both side) only 10x’s. What the h…s going on I said to my self as it seems as if Dejavu struck worse. I’m not sure what was going on. I suspect the strength loss was from the huge calorie deficit which may have caught up to me and began muscle wasting by using energy from my muscles. Maybe it was because I changed protein and/or amino acid brands. Writing this I still clueless. I am now trying to increase my protein intake but not my weight. I also plan to try my original brand of amino Acids first before also changing back to my original protein to see if I can increase my strength again. Don’t get me wrong. What I’m doing now is still very good I think. But I want to do better again. Peace for now and maybe you’ll here more from Mo def in the next episode.

  17. muhammad.saad on April 28th, 2010

    sure i am eating 36 to 48 whole eggs 2 years every day all the protine for consume for bodybuilding from eggs .it has very very dramatic efects on me . before my weight is 170 pounds in 5/10 frame now my weight is 230 lbs . body fats % before and after are same . sure the problum is that now when i eat just 6 eags per day i fell ill in dirhea . when eat pineapple with eggs this probleam is solve but too much smeall in urean . and there is protine in my urean . and freaquent urination all night . liver fungtion test is clear.now iam eating just one chiken cheast pice a day . they also caus dirhea if i eat 2

  18. muhammad.saad on April 28th, 2010

    if this probleam is in my kidny . so why i fell in dirhea .

  19. Damien Bell on October 3rd, 2010

    I got huge and incredible gains on a high carb and high calorie diet, with not much protein at all. Not even a gram per kilo. I believe protein is beneficial in maintaining muscle (temporarly) on a calorie restricted diet (ie comp diet) but I believe large amounts of protein are not needed to put on mass, just large amounts of calories. And high amounts of protein definately affect the Kidneys!!! The only time my kidney tests wernt good is when I tried a high protein diet. It is stupid to say what Ronnie n Jay takes, cause they take incredible amounts of anabolic agents to enhance protein synthesis. Dr marv summed it up perfectly. For the natural bodybuilder, high protein diets are unjustified and unhealthy.

  20. Mark on January 2nd, 2011

    Blueangel, good luck with that. The weight will come off to be sure. Eventually though you will eat something with carbs. When that happens you will think you got into a fight with an airpump and lost.

    Be careful. Add them very slowly and eat them as early in the day as you can. I have found that eating carbs is not that big a deal as long as I restrict them to breakfast and lunch times and then no more for the rest of the day. Of course I do my full body workouts then also.