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10/05/22 3

Increase muscle mass: how much protein to take

To increase muscle mass is it necessary to take in more protein than our normal needs, or is our need for this nutrient increased?

If our goal is to increase lean mass, or muscle mass, asking ourselves how much protein we should consume is perhaps the wrong question. Generally we tend to indicate the protein quota as a percentage of the expected calories.

But it is a limiting point of view. Let’s remember that expecting an increase in lean or fat mass is unthinkable in a low-calorie context. The second hypothesis is therefore more true, i.e. that it is our general needs that are increased if we are training and expect an improvement in our parameters, such as lean mass. Nonetheless, it is by exceeding consumption that there will be an increase in some of our tissues. The difficulty is to direct the body in the desired direction. That is, the muscle.

Where do the proteins in our body go?

The body carries out a continuous protein turnover: degraded proteins are replaced with new protein material. This process, which interests us above all from the aspect of the constitution of new contractile tissue in athletes, allows the body to replace the amino acids used to produce energy or to use them as bricks to build new tissues such as muscles. If many of the amino acids needed to do this are somehow recycled, it is believed that just 40g of protein per day from the diet is needed to meet the needs of protein turnover. By taking in a small excess we should then be able to increase muscle mass if we asked the body to do so.

Or at least that’s the expectation.  Hormones, genetics, protein absorption capacity and many other factors dominate, but we cannot expect growth if we are below the energy needs of our body and hardly a recomposition if we find ourselves equal to this need.

Does body recomposition exist?

Body reconstruction, as it is called, is a sensible expectation for those who maintain a targeted diet and a good training regime. But it is also a slow and limited process, which will rebalance our percentage of muscle compared to fat depending on the needs – in this case sporting, but they could be the needs of hard work – of our body. This transformation into an adult, non-doped individual, natural, it will be very small and progressive and will require enormous efforts.

Aiming to increase muscle mass, we must therefore ask ourselves how many calories to introduce and only then how many proteins within this requirement. The latter will then be calculated with respect to our weight or even more in detail, compared to the weight (evaluable by approximation with tests such as bioimpedance analysis, doxa and others, by a qualified nutritionist) of our lean mass.

1.2 – 2 – 3g per kilogram of body weight

Studies do not support the idea that higher protein intake than the minimum guidelines leads to an improvement in lean mass. In particular, studies have highlighted that in elite level strength athletes, this recomposition does not occur and no practical benefits are recorded.

However, we know another thing: that is, in elderly people with sarcopenia and in people trying to lose weight, increasing the protein content brings tangible and often rapid benefits in terms of bone and muscle mass.

What leads us astray is the fact that strength athletes are almost always already above the guidelines regarding protein intake, with at least 1.7g of protein per kilo of body weight, often thanks to the use of protein powder supplements, like those concentrated whey. The opinion of the American College of Sports Medicine is that an athlete has a slightly higher protein requirement than a sedentary person with 1.2g of protein per kg of body weight.

We can therefore retrace these studies by building a table for the 3 typical conditions:

  • Low-calorie diet: 2.3 – 3.1 grams of protein per kilo of body weight;
  • Normocaloric diet (weight maintenance in athletes): 1,2 – 2,4 grams of protein per kilo of body weight;
  • High-calorie diet: 1,6 – 3 grams of protein per kilo of body weight.
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