|Believe it or not: Being lean, athletic and well-conditioned is a disqualifier, when it comes to "body recomposition" (=building muscle + losing fat at the same time). Simply upping your protein intake indefinitely is not going to change that..|
In view of the unfortunate fact that research is not really a public good, and full-text access is very limited unless you work / study at a University, this would leave most of you with nothing but a conclusion to an abstract that could could easily be misinterpreted in a simplistic: "More is better!" way; a conclusion you would obviously revise, if you had the change to read the whole paper which does have more to offer than two random numbers.
Apropos "random": In view of the fact that Helms et al. found only 6 studies that provided (in some cases limited) information about the influence the amount of dietary protein will have on lean mass retention and fat loss in strength trainees, neither the numbers in the headline nor ostensibly more accurate figures Helms et al. provide are more than a brought guideline. The "true" optimum and in my humble opinion even the question whether such a thing has yet to be found.
I: Energy-, not protein-intake is the main determinant of muscle loss
|The 2011 study by Garthe is only one of many studies that confirms that a lower calorie deficit will yield better dieting results (i.e. greater fat and lower lean mass loss); results after 8.3 (19% deficit) and 5.3 (30% deficit) weeks (Garthe. 2011)|
"[...] the magnitude of the caloric deficit imposed is likely one of the most powerful variables that impacts FFM loss, potentially being more important than protein intake." (Helms. 2013)In other words, the "harder you diet", i.e. the more severe your caloric deficit, the more lean muscle you're going to lose. This appears to be self-evident, I know, and yet the average and not so average dieter (e.g. the bodybuilder who comes in not just flat, but actually small) tend to forget about it.
II: Body recomposition is something for the "fat beginner"
Next to hitting it too hard, being in denial is probably the most common threat to your dieting success - in denial of the fact that such a thing as "body recomposition", i.e. concomitant loss of fat and increase in muscle mass is a prerogative of the chubby beginner.
|Suggested Read: "Seven Meals/Day, More than 800g of Carbs & 1000kcal Over Maintenance and Still Lean Gains!" | read more|
The common, though schizophrenic approach to fat loss that denies the inevitability of lean mass losses is thus more often than not going to fail you; and if you are still wondering why your abs don't shine in full glory, ask yourself if the reason may not be your own fear afraid of losing muscle that you never diet long or hard enough to attack the stubborn fat.
III: When you eat so much protein that there is no room for fat and carbs bad things happen
While it is correct that your body can use protein as an energy source, forcing it to do just that by consuming so much protein that the amino acid chains constitute the lion's share of your daily energy intake is going to have significant detrimental effects on your dieting success. As Helms et al. point out...
- consuming a high protein diet with very little carbohydrate in it is going to hamper your exercise performance (Walberg. 1988), while
- consuming a high protein diet with too little fat in it is going to have negative effects on your mood and emotional stability (Mettler. 2010).
In this context Helms et al. do actually cite a study, every SuppVersity reader should be familiar with: The recently published metabolic ward study by Pasiokos et al. (read the previous SuppVersity article).
|Figure 1: Change in body composition and protein synthesis (Pasiakos. 2013)|
Meanwhile it should not remain unmentioned that these effects were observed in a "low" intensity training scenario that did not provide for a maximal exercise-induced stimulus of protein synthesis. The hypothesis that a more hypertrophy specific training program would have yielded very different outcomes is however questionable and - as of now - just as the term "hypothesis" implies hypothetical.
IV: Athletes should use their lean lean body mass to determine their protein intake
Within the bodybuilding community it is actually common practice to prescribe (often hilariously high) protein intakes on a "per kg of lean mass" or "per lbs of fat free mass" level. Among recreational fitness enthusiasts and eve among scientists this is however still the exception; and that despite the fact that this practice has the advantage that it will (automatically) yield higher per kg total body mass protein intakes for leaner athletes. This "scaling" approach is in accordance with Helms et al.'s conclusion that
"[a]thletes with a lower body fat percentage, or a primary goal of maintaining maximal FFM should aim towards the higher end of [he protein intake range, while t]hose who are not as lean, or who are concerned primarily with strength and performance versus maintenance of FFM can safely aim for the lower end of this recommendation." (Helms. 2013)I guess by now you are probably asking yourself what on earth the "exact" recommendation of the scientists are, right? Well, I guess it's time to let the cat out of the bag, then ;-)
- Calbet JA, MacLean DA. Plasma glucagon and insulin responses depend on the rate of appearance of amino acids after ingestion of different protein solutions in humans. J Nutr. 2002 Aug;132(8):2174-82.
- Garthe I, Raastad T, Refsnes PE, Koivisto A, Sundgot-Borgen J. Effect of two different weight-loss rates on body composition and strength and power-related performance in elite athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011 Apr;21(2):97-104.
- Mettler S, Mitchell N, Tipton KD. Increased protein intake reduces lean body
mass loss during weight loss in athletes. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. 2010;
- Pasiakos SM, Cao JJ, Margolis LM, Sauter ER, Whigham LD, McClung JP, Rood JC, Carbone JW, Combs GF Jr, Young AJ. Effects of high-protein diets on fat-free mass and muscle protein synthesis following weight loss: a randomized controlled trial. FASEB J. 2013 Jun 5. [Epub ahead of print]
- Peterson MD, Rhea MR, Alvar BA. Applications of the dose-response for muscular strength development: a review of meta-analytic efficacy and reliability for designing training prescription. J Strength Cond Res. 2005 Nov;19(4):950-8. Review.
- Walberg JL, Leidy MK, Sturgill DJ, Hinkle DE, Ritchey JS, Sebolt DR. Macronutrient content of a hypoenergy diet affects nitrogen retention and muscle function in weight lifters. International Journal of Sports Medicine. 1988; 9(4), 261-266.