How Crucial Is Focusing On Protein For Bodybuilding Really?
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I’ll start this by saying that the recommended amounts of protein you should be taking in daily is going to be higher if you are an athlete or bodybuilding. That much is true, and the focus on protein is partly justified.
However, on the flip side, I’m telling you that focusing solely on protein is going to send you down the wrong path and potentially slow down your physical development.
In this article I’m going to cover the use of protein in broad terms. I’ll explain how it is used, and the benefits you get from it generally, and in terms of making faster bodybuilding progress.
However, I’ll also talk about macronutrients, balancing carbs, fat, and protein for general health and maximum performance levels, and give you some advice on where you should roughly be focusing in terms of protein levels and when you consume protein.
How Protein Is Used In The Body
The first thing you need to know about protein is that it’s not stored in the body. Unlike carbohydrates in fact, any excess protein is eradicated.
That’s why an excess of protein is not beneficial. Not only is it not used, but it puts more strain on the body to process it, which can lead to kidney and liver problems in the long term.
Protein is one of the three macronutrients. The three macronutrients are protein, carbohydrates, and fats.
When you consume food containing proteins and remember that foods can contain proteins, carbohydrates, and fats at the same time, the body uses the protein in the following key things:
- Oxygen transportation
- Muscle repair and growth
- Body chemical (hormones and enzymes) production
- The building block for all our physical attributes
- Antibodies are created to stop disease and infection
- Transmission of messages between cells
Because you can’t store protein, it needs an ongoing supply to maintain all of these key things that it does. Basically, protein contains literally millions of different combos of 20 amino acids which are together, collectively crucial to body function.
The Benefits Of Suitable Dietary Protein Levels And Types
It’s therefore completely legitimate to suggest that good levels of protein are crucial to your well-being, including strength and muscle growth. However, the over focus on protein can lead to cutting out carbohydrates and fats, which can lead to detrimental effects in the body and mind.
But, it is true to say that at the heart of good body development when you workout, lays a constant supply good quality food that supplies the proteins we need.
How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
Protein is therefore crucial, but how much do we actually need?
Broadly, the three macronutrient groups need consuming in the following rough levels of balance:
- 20% fats
- 50% carbohydrates
- 30% proteins
If you are not working out or involved in serious athletic activity, protein should actually account for slightly less than 30%.
In the USA, the recommended dietary allowance for protein is around 60 g per day per person weighing about 150 pounds.
But if you are actively working out, that’s not enough to achieve everything you want to. It’s enough to run your body, but it’s not enough to fuel the more than natural muscle development.
About one third more protein is needed than recommended, around 90 g per day for a bodybuilder.
But what I’m going to say here is don’t obsess about it. Up to 1/3 of your diet when you are bulking should be proteins, but don’t focus solely on them, because ignoring fats and carbs can have serious repercussions on your progress.
I also think it’s important to say that you shouldn’t be focusing on getting your additional proteins as a bodybuilder from shakes. Although protein shakes can have their place, they are not a great way of achieving your goals.
They are convenient supplements, but they are no substitute for lean proteins in your diet.
They tend to deliver huge amounts of protein into what is usually a protein rich environment anyway. Best case scenario is you are wasting a lot of that protein which is simply pass through the body, worst-case scenario is you are putting strain on your body and filling yourself up the proteins which means you then ignoring carbs and fat.
My advice is only to use protein supplements during the start of the cutting phase, and to use them moderately. If you are smashing a 500 cal protein shake every single day on top of the protein rich diet, then you are wasting your time and money.
However, a protein supplement can deliver the protein when you need it, which is after you have worked out and require extra protein to hit muscle recovery.
So although they have their place, if you are filling up on them at the expense of good quality carbohydrates, fats, and balanced whole proteins, then you are doing it wrong and you won’t make the best progress.
If You’re Cutting Out Carbs For Protein You’re Getting It Wrong
Let me expand here on cutting out carbs and fat to emphasize protein consumption.
Way back when, fat was seen as the devil. We were told to almost completely cut out, and low-fat diet became the thing be focusing on.
Then all of a sudden, fats weren’t as bad as we thought, and the focus then went on to carbohydrates, mostly sugary foods, but now carbohydrates generally. In fact, when you get things like keto diets being popular, the emphasis is on almost completely cutting out carbohydrates, which is insane.
Let’s be clear for you, fats are essential. They are essential because they allow the absorption of fat soluble vitamins. As long as it’s good quality fats, and not in excess, and you are burning the energy they create in the body, then they are no problem.
On top of that, carbohydrates are essential for energy. They produce glucose which the body burns.
If you hit the gym with a carbohydrate deficit because you focused on protein consumption, you will not have as much energy. It really is that simple.
You should be eating carbohydrates before you hit the gym. Whole grains are a great source, as are things like bananas, potatoes in moderation, oats, peas and beans, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Now how many people are told to eat that sort of thing before they work out? Instead, most people are drinking protein shakes, energy drinks, all protein bars before they work out.
The truth is a bowl of porridge an hour before your workout will be far more beneficial because of the long chain carbohydrates they will put into your body which will slow burn and produce longer amounts of energy output, then something like a sugary drink.
So before you workout, focus on a carbohydrate meal. When you have worked out, focus on good quality proteins and vegetables, and on heavy gym days, a small protein shake.
Starting Advice On Getting Your Macronutrient Balance Correct
So let’s finish here by starting you off with some advice on getting your macronutrient balance correct, and the things you should be focusing on.
As we will discuss, 20% of your diet should still be fats. Make sure they are good quality fats, but don’t obsess over things like cholesterol. Use the right fat for the right purpose.
You’ll want around half of your diet to be good quality carbohydrates. Wholemeal pasta, beans, pulses, grains, oats, stuff like that. Try and make sure you consume it mostly earlier in the day when you need physical and mental energy.
Proteins will obviously be consumed with other foods, but the focus should be after your workout. Protein rich meal when you get home is perfect. Make it lean proteins like chicken breast, but don’t eat things in isolation. Ensure that you have vegetables on the plate as well, and make sure you have energy afterwards even if it’s only a piece of fruit.
Additional protein sources have their place, but should be used sensibly and sparingly. Just remember that excess proteins are wasted, and could put strain on the body. On top of that, they fill you up and mean that you won’t absorb enough of the carbohydrates you need for energy, or enough of fats you will require for absorption of key minerals and vitamins.
Rather than protein shakes, I’d actually suggest you use smoothies. Vegetable smoothies with a flavorless protein shake within them will give you a far more balanced intake that will allow you to hit all of your macronutrient goals in one go, without overdoing any one group.
So in summary, protein has its place, and it’s vital for muscle growth for bodybuilding purposes.
On the flipside, don’t focus on it completely, especially not at the expense of fats and carbohydrates completely when they are vital to health and body function.
Just focus on the beginning macronutrient balance, and eating unprocessed foods. Once you’ve got into the habit of doing that (which can take couple of months) then you can focus more closely as you increase your workout intensity.