BodybuildingPro.com Articles Database Articles by Writer Articles Written By Tom Venuto Protein and Bodybuilding
bodybuilders infatuated with protein?
Bodybuilders are infamous for their love affair with protein.
The way iron-pumpers see it, muscle is protein, so they associate
eating more dietary protein with gaining more muscle. Devouring egg
whites by the dozen, meat by the pound and protein powder by the
bucketful is the norm for hard training physique athletes. But is
all this carnivorism really necessary? Why the infatuation with
eating huge amounts of protein? Are bodybuilders correct in their
habitual practice of pounding down the protein or is this
immoderation unfounded? To answer these questions, it is first
necessary obtain a solid understanding of what protein is and how
it is used in the body. Only then can we objectively look at the
protein consumption practices of bodybuilders and compare them to
what the scientific evidence says in order to make some sensible
and productive recommendations.
Turnover; the dynamic human body
your body appears quite solid, it is always in a constant state of
flux. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, "You cannot step in
the same river twice." What he meant was that a river may look the
same every day, but it never is the same because of the constant
flow of new water running through it. This is also true of the
human body. Body protein is constantly being turned over as old
cells die and new cells replace them. Best-selling author and
mind-body expert Dr. Deepak Chopra describes this ongoing cellular
renewal process like this:
as if you lived in a building whose bricks were systematically
taken out and replaced every year. If you keep the same blueprint
then it will still look like the same building. But it won't be the
same in actuality. The human body also stands there, looking much
the same from day to day, but through the process of respiration,
digestion, elimination and so forth, it is constantly and ever in
exchange with the rest of the world."
physicists have proven that 98% of the atoms in your body are
replaced within one year. In three months your body produces an
entirely new skeleton. Every six weeks, all the cells have been
replaced in your liver. You have a new stomach lining every five
days. You are continually replacing old blood cells with new ones.
Every month you produce an entirely new skin as dead cells are shed
and new cells grow underneath. The proteins in your muscles are
continually turned over as muscle is broken down and new tissue is
synthesized. Every cell in your body is constantly being
all these new cells come from? The answer of course, is from the
protein foods you consume every day. That's why the saying, "You
are what you eat" is literally true from a molecular standpoint.
Once you've accepted this maxim, you'll start being awfully careful
about what you put in your body every day.
101: What is protein anyway?
surprising that bodybuilders put so much emphasis on protein. After
all, protein is construction material for the human body like
bricks are for a building. Body structures made from protein
include skin, hair, nails, bones, connective tissue and of course
skeletal muscle. Other proteins in your body include antibodies,
enzymes, hormones such as insulin, and transporters such as
hemoglobin. Next to water, protein is the most abundant substance
in the body, making up approximately 15-20% of your weight. Of most
interest to the bodybuilder is the fact that 60-70% of all protein
in the body is located in the skeletal muscles. In order for muscle
growth to occur, every day you must consume more protein than your
and carbohydrates, proteins are also composed of carbon, hydrogen
and oxygen. The difference is nitrogen. Only protein can bring
nitrogen into the body. Because muscle tissue contains most of the
body's protein and protein contains nitrogen, scientists can study
the effect of dietary protein on muscle growth by comparing the
amount of nitrogen consumed with the amount excreted (in feces,
urine and sweat). If the intake of nitrogen is greater than the
amount excreted, then we know that protein is being retained and
new muscle is being synthesized. This is known as positive nitrogen
balance. If more nitrogen is excreted than consumed, you are in
negative nitrogen balance, indicating that protein is being broken
down and muscle is being lost.
acids: The building blocks of protein
smallest units of a protein are called amino acids. Like bricks in
a wall, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Just as
glycogen is formed from the linkage of numerous glucose molecules,
proteins are formed from the joining of numerous amino acids. There
are 20 amino acids that are required for growth by the human body.
From these 20 amino acids, there are tens of thousands of different
protein molecules that can be formed. Each protein is assembled
from the bonding of different amino acids into various
configurations. Growth hormone, for example, is a protein chain of
156 amino acids.
acids are somewhat like letters in the alphabet. If you had only
the letter G, all you could write would be a string of Gs:
G-G-G-G-G-G-G-G. But with 20 different letters available, you could
create poems, songs, or novels. The 20 amino acids can be linked
together in an even greater variety of sequences than are possible
for letters in a word or words in a sentence. The variety of
possible sequences for polypeptide chains is tremendous." -Eleanor
Whitney and Sharon Rolfes, "Understanding
Essential vs. Non-essential amino acids
Out of the
twenty amino acids, the human body can make eleven of them. These
are called the non-essential amino acids (also known as
"dispensable amino acids). The other nine amino acids are called
"essential amino acids" or (indispensable amino acids). Essential
amino acids are those which cannot be manufactured by your body and
must be supplied from your food.
Essential (indispensable) amino acids
essential (dispensable) amino acids
bodybuilders must eat "complete" proteins every three
contain a balanced combination of all the essential and
nonessential amino acids in the exact amounts required by the body
for growth are called "complete proteins." In order for the body to
synthesize muscle, all the essential amino acids must be available
simultaneously. Any non-essential amino acids that are in short
supply can be produced by the liver, but if an essential amino acid
is missing, the body must break down its own proteins to obtain it.
To prevent muscle cell breakdown, dietary protein must supply all
the essential amino acids. If your diet is missing any essential
amino acids, protein synthesis will be inhibited.
Carbohydrates have a storage depot in the body called glycogen.
Glycogen can be stored in the muscles and liver and then drawn upon
hours or even days later when it is needed. Proteins cannot be
stored in the body. There is only a very small and transient amino
acid pool in the bloodstream. To maintain the optimal environment
for muscle growth (positive nitrogen balance), complete proteins
must be eaten with every meal. This explains the rationale behind
the common bodybuilding practice of eating six protein-containing
meals per day (one about every three hours.)
Quality: Complete vs. Incomplete proteins
isn't just found in meat, eggs and milk. There is also protein in
vegetables, beans, legumes, and grains. However, the protein in
these foods is not considered "complete" because it lacks one or
more of the essential amino acids. Generally speaking, proteins
from vegetable sources are lower in quality and that's the reason
they are eschewed by bodybuilders. The complete proteins are those
that come from animal sources such as eggs, milk and
grains and legumes contain substantial amounts of protein, but none
provide the full array of essential amino acids. Beans, for
example, are very high in protein with about 15 grams per cup,
however, they are missing the essential amino acid Methionine.
Similarly, grains are lacking the essential amino acid Lysine. It
has been frequently pointed out that combining two incomplete
sources of vegetable protein such as rice and beans provides you
with the full complement of essential amino acids. This may be
true, but there's a decided difference between simply meeting your
minimum amino acid requirements for health and consuming the
optimal quality of protein for building muscle. Combining
complementary vegetable sources of protein just doesn't cut it for
the serious bodybuilder.
"Vegetarian bodybuilder" an oxymoron?
vegetarian (vegan) diet is not conducive to building muscle. One
thing you will never see is a rock-hard, massive and muscular
vegan. Lacto-vegetarians (those who use dairy products) and
ovo-lacto-vegetarians (those who use eggs and dairy products) can
build excellent physiques. Bodybuilding champion Bill Pearl is just
one example. Pearl is well known for his lifelong aversion to
eating meat, but he does use complete proteins from eggs or dairy
products. With this semi-vegetarian approach, Pearl won the Mr.
America and Mr. Universe tittles and became a legend in the
bodybuilding and fitness world.
line is that you can get fit and healthy without consuming animal
proteins, but unless you include eggs or dairy products, you will
never develop a physique worthy of the bodybuilding stage. If a
hard and muscular physique is what you're after, then heed the
advice of Robert Kennedy, publisher of Muscle Mag International and
author of "Rock Hard, Supernutrition for Bodybuilders:"
bodybuilder would be ill-advised to adopt a true vegetarian diet.
You can be one of the millions who are eating less meat and more
vegetables. You may even want to drop all flesh entirely. But is
would be a mistake to try for pure vegetarianism. Only 3.7% of
Americans consider themselves to be vegetarians, and of those only
a fraction of 1% are purists. In the bodybuilding world of
champions, that percentage is currently.... ZERO!"
sources of complete proteins
proteins come from animal sources including meat, eggs and dairy
products. The obvious problem with animal proteins is that they
also contain large amounts of saturated fat. To stay lean,
bodybuilders must always keep fats in the diet low. Fortunately,
fat from animal proteins can easily be avoided simply by making the
correct choices. For example, use egg whites instead of egg yolks,
lean meats such as turkey breast and chicken breast instead of
fatty cuts of meat, and 1% low fat or non-fat dairy products
instead of whole milk dairy products. These are some of the best
sources of lean protein for bodybuilding purposes:
Shellfish (shrimp, lobster, crab, clams, etc)
Lean red meats (top round, lean sirloin, and flank)
Nonfat or low fat dairy products
Protein powders (Whey protein, for example).
great debate; The RDA vs. the "protein pushers"
a heated controversy has raged over whether or not extra protein
will boost muscle development. On one side of the debate you have
the conservative dietitians and medical community who stubbornly
insist that the recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) is all you need
to develop muscle. The RDA's are the official government guidelines
set by the national research council. Currently the RDA for protein
is based on body weight and is set at .8 grams per kilogram of body
weight (that's .36 grams per lb. of body weight). For a 172 lb. man
that equates to a paltry 62 grams per day. It is important to note
that the RDA's were developed for the "average" sedentary person to
avoid deficiency, not for athletes in hard training to gain muscle
and strength. In fact, the RDA handbook even says, "no added
allowance is made for stresses encountered in daily living which
can give rise to increases in urinary nitrogen output."
other side of the debate, you have the "protein pushers" who claim
that megadoses of protein are the key to muscular growth. These
high protein fanatics often suggest intakes of 400-500 grams a day
or more. More often than not, the protein pushers are in some way
affiliated with a supplement company and have a vested interest in
selling you protein powder. In other cases, these high protein
advocates may be professional bodybuilders who are taking large
amounts of anabolic steroids, which can allow the body to utilize
more protein than normal.
So who is
right, the conservative medical and scientific community or the
protein pushers? The answer is neither; the optimal intake is
clearly somewhere in between the two extremes. An "optimal" protein
intake for bodybuilders is still unknown at this time and will
require further research, but one thing is for certain: The RDA is
not enough to support the added requirements for intense
bodybuilding training. Even the RDA handbook itself says, "No added
allowance is made here for stresses encountered in daily living
which can give rise to transient increases in urinary nitrogen
output. It is assumed that the subjects of experiments forming the
basis for the requirement estimates are usually exposed to the same
stresses as the population generally." If bodybuilding isn't an
"unusual stress" beyond what is normally encountered in daily
living then I don't know what is.
the current research says about protein and
has conclusively proven that exercise increases protein needs. Dr.
Peter Lemon is the world's leading researcher on protein
requirements and athletes. In the journal "Medicine and Science in
Sports and Exercise" (19:5, S179-S190,1986) Dr. Lemon
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."
Lemon's most recent research published in "Nutrition Reviews,"
(54:S169-175, 1996) indicates that strength athletes need up to
1.8g of protein per kg. of body weight to maintain positive
nitrogen balance. That's .8 grams per lb. of body weight or almost
140 grams a day for someone who weighs 172 lbs. This is very close
to the long-held belief of bodybuilders that 1 gram per pound of
body weight is optimal. Some studies have shown that even higher
protein intakes may be necessary in hard training strength
athletes. In one study of Polish weightlifters (Nutr. Metabolism
12:259-274), 5 of 10 athletes were still in negative nitrogen
balance even while consuming 250% of the RDA.
research has been done on protein and athletes that it's amazing
that so many conservative registered dietitians and medical
professionals still cling to the outdated notion that the RDA for
protein is sufficient for muscle growth. The biggest irony is the
fact that many of these "RDA pushers" are overweight, flabby, out
of shape professors, researchers or white lab coat types. I don't
know about you, but I have a very hard time taking advice from
"armchair experts" who don't walk the walk. After years of being
criticized by the academic and scientific communities for their
"excess" protein intakes, bodybuilders today have received their
vindication; It is no longer a theory that protein intakes higher
than the RDA are more effective for building muscle, it is now
we've established these facts, that still leaves one burning
question: How do you determine the precise amount of protein that
is right for you? Read part two to find out.
About the Author:
Tom Venuto is a lifetime natural bodybuilder,
personal trainer, gym owner, freelance writer and author of "Burn
the Fat, Feed The Muscle" (BFFM): Fat Burning Secrets of the
World's Best Bodybuilders and Fitness Models. Tom has written over
140 articles and has been featured in IRONMAN magazine, Natural
Bodybuilding, Muscular Development, Muscle-Zine, Exercise for Men
and Men’s Exercise. Tom is the Fat Loss Expert for
Global-Fitness.com and the nutrition editor for Femalemuscle.com
and his articles are regularly featured worldwide on literally
dozens of other websites.
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