In this article, I want to cover the optimal protein intake for muscle growth and talk about the role of protein in muscle building. Not muscle combined with a little excess fat, but pure lean muscle. In the long run, lean muscle should be every bodybuilder’s main goal.

The underweight beginner needs to add some weight to start with. It’s very hard to put muscle on an underweight frame. But once you’ve reached a reasonable weight, your attention should then be directed towards fat-free muscle.

Building Lean Muscle

Once you have reached a certain weight, stopped working for that alone, and are now going for muscle, you’ll be surprised at how little weight you gain. Because of the nature of the body, five of six pounds of hard lean muscle a year is all you can reasonably expect. In terms of muscle, this is quite a bit, but not much in terms of actual weight.

So now you need to forget about what you weigh and concern yourself with how you look.

male bodybuilder doing tricep extensions lean muscle

Muscle is made up of 70% water and 25% protein, and the balance is mainly tissue salts. The thing is, of course, that although water is the largest component, its protein, and that alone that makes up for the rest.

It’s been known for a long time that muscle is dependent on protein; the word itself comes from the Greek word ‘proteios,’ which means of primary importance. Of the three key elements in nutrition that relate to bodybuilding, protein, carbohydrate, and fat, protein is indeed the basic factor, as it is protein alone that can rebuild the cells from which muscle is constructed.

Enough Protein Will Accelerate Muscle Gains- But How Much is Enough?

You may have heard some people say that you don’t need loads of protein to build muscle; a good balanced diet is all you need. I can assure you this isn’t true. Ensuring you have enough protein will quite literally mean that you’ll gain twice as fast as you otherwise would.

How much, though, is enough? That’s a good point because so many different stories are floating around. The first thing to realize is that half of what you eat is used for other things than building muscle.

Protein is key in creating all body cells, internal organs, skin, hair, blood, and most importantly, body hormones. Body hormones are to your body more important than muscle, so if you don’t get enough protein, your body will use what it gets to promote the rebuilding of the more important cells, leaving muscle last. That’s why many guys have eaten what they thought was a high protein diet and gained nothing. Most was used for other things and what was left for growth.

If what protein was left didn’t cover the needs for what was broken down in training, then you didn’t gain.

There are too many guys who sit in bewilderment and wonder why they are getting nowhere, not getting enough protein is one of the main reasons.

So how much is enough? About 1g per kg of bodyweight, plus 10%.

So if you weigh 150lb, about 100g would cover, but if you’re training very hard and working hard and so on, 150-200g would not be excessive. In fact, the reverse. You see, it is easier for the body to use up what it needs from an abundance than to use up just the amount it needs from only an adequate supply.

In practice, this means that if you need 100g and take just 100g, you could be struggling. Take 150g or more, and the body will easily use the amount needed. The rest is passed out of the body. This might seem a little wasteful, and maybe it is but isn’t training like crazy for an hour and a half four times a week, for little or no gains, wasteful?

Stimulating Cell Growth

The digestive process in which protein foods are used to form muscle is quite complicated biochemically, unlike fat and carbs that are easily absorbed. When first consumed, protein is converted into amino acids in the digestive tract.

This is accomplished by the pancreas secreting protein-digesting enzymes, trypsin, pepsin, etc. These amino acids are further broken down into simple chains of amino acids. They are then absorbed into the bloodstream and carried to the muscles and organs. We should note at this point the relative values of proteins:

“If there is a deficiency of some amino acids, protein synthesis doesn’t occur, or it does; it occurs only in proportion to the insufficiency of the missing ones.” Says Bernard Berverley, expert and international author on human nutrition.

Or, in simpler terms, it means the better the quality of protein biologically, the better absorption. 

Biological means the nearest percentage relationship to the structure of human tissue. The best protein foods on that basis are:

  • Eggs
  • Milk
  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Chicken

They are the best because the amino balance is the best. I know we’ve already mentioned we need a lot of protein, but it has to be pointed out that you need the best balance of amino acids too, for complete effectiveness.

tray of eggs

Daily Diet Plan

If you wonder how this translates into practical terms, here’s a daily diet plan. This daily diet supplies the entire spectrum of amino acids from relatively few foods.

Breakfast: 2 eggs in an omelet with 1oz of grated cheese. And 2 or 3 oz of bacon or ham. To this, you add some carbohydrates such as cereals or wholewheat bread.

Mid-day: 6oz of any fish or a small can of tuna or Salmon. Some milk. Some carbohydrate.

Evening: 4oz of grilled beef or other red meat. 2oz cheese or cottage cheese. Some milk and some carbohydrates.

You need carbohydrates to ensure proper protein absorption and energy, so you ‘spare’ the protein for the purpose of cell growth. This diet will provide all eight essential amino acids, plus the rest. Using this as a base, you can adjust your diet very simply. By having all the amino acids each day, you’ll be sure that you’re getting full protein absorption because none are missing.

You can then increase or regulate your protein intake by using a protein supplement. Then, you have virtually the perfect system of nutrition, in least in terms of protein intake.

Amino Acid Tablets?

Another thing you could do which helps immensely: after a protein meal, it may be that all the protein you’ve had hasn’t been absorbed. It could be for a number of reasons.

If you took some complete amino acid tablets two hours later, any protein remaining in the digestive system would be used, and the amino acids circulated, as a rule, the more amino acids in the body, the more amino acids, the better the pump.

Understanding Amino Acids

Protein may be made up of just a few amino acids to thousands. There are numerous patterns of linked amino acids forming protein, as there are people. Says Beverley. The higher up the evolutionary scale, the more complicated it gets.

These variations in amino acid structures are why some people can and others can’t eat certain protein foods. Some can’t eat eggs, others certain kinds of meats, yet others can’t take milk. It’s down to the structure of amino acids which each individual forms. However, there is such a wide variety of protein foods around that no one needs to miss out.

Nonetheless, it is a fact that taking amino acids does balance up any protein meal by simply making sure that free amino acids are present and a complete structure is formed.

Non-Essential Amain Acids

On the point about amino acids and non-essential. All are ‘essential’ in a sense. The eight that are classified as essential are the ones that can’t be produced in your body. So they have to come from outside.

Non-essential amino acids are just as important, but they can be made up in the body. They are formed from fat and carbohydrates linked with nitrogen, released during the breakdown of used protein. It shouldn’t be taken for granted that because you’re consuming large amounts of protein foods, you are well supplied with all the amino acids necessary for complete protein synthesis. Quality is essential, and that means complete protein foods wherever possible.

Don’t forget About Energy.

Bear in mind also that you need some complex carbohydrates or other alternative energy supply to give you the energy to train. Otherwise, your body may use protein as an energy source. If it does, there’s obviously less for you to use for growth.

“Many bodybuilders believe if they take drugs, steroids, they need not bother about protein. The opposite is true,” says Beverley. You need more protein than ever. Drugs stress the body. Stress depletes amino acids.

“in tests conducted with people using drugs and under stress, it was found that server amino depletion existed in some. What was surprising was the amino acids that were different. The most common were Aspartic acid, 89% deficient; Cystine, 60%; Valine, 73%, and A-Amino Adipic acid, 67%. Now all these were regarded as non-essential. Yet the deficiency caused virtual non-absorption of protein.

So again, to stress high quality and balance as the key factors in protein nutrition.

One last thing. Protein or, more specifically, amino acid absorption relies on pancreas efficiency. I this gland is below par, your protein intake will be partially used. You can overcome this by using L-form free amino acids. They don’t need to be digested by the enzymatic process, so they will assist in the absorption of all proteins.

What you must be sure of is that the ones you take contain all eight essentials for the reason stated. If one is missing, the chain is broken, and you don’t get the results. Your attention to these details will pay off big time in much faster growth, making your training very worthwhile.

References & Excerpts

Author Bernard Beverley: article, Making The Most of Protein. Muscle & Co. Magazine

Author : article, How Much Protein To Build Muscle. Website.