How Much Protein Do I ACTUALLY Need? (COMMON Vegan Concern)
"But where do you get your BROTEIN?!"
This is a question I literally hear on a daily basis. It is so common I felt the need to write this blog as a way to link to people to save myself from regurgitating the same response over and over again haha..
So here we go...
When you ask this question in an online forum you are DEFINITELY going to leave the discussion more confused and uncertain than before you entered it. You WILL get every answer under the sun and every single person will be adament their suggestion is the best or only way.
Some schools of thought will say approx 2g per kilogram of bodyweight is optimal, while others will say it is much less such as:
- Tarnopolsky et al. (1992) observed no differences in whole body protein synthesis or indexes of lean body mass in strength athletes consuming either 0.64g/lb. or 1.10g/lb. over a two-week period. Protein oxidation did increase in the high protein group, indicating a nutrient overload.
- Walberg et al. (1988) found that 0.73g/lb. was sufficient to maintain positive nitrogen balance in cutting weightlifters over a seven-day time period.
- Tarnopolsky et al. (1988) found that only 0.37g/lb. was required to maintain positive nitrogen balance in elite bodybuilders (over five years of experience, possible previous use of androgens) over a 10-day period. 0.45g/lb. was sufficient to maintain lean body mass in bodybuilders over a two-week period. The authors suggested that 0.55g/lb. was sufficient for bodybuilders.
- Lemon et al. (1992) found no differences in muscle mass or strength gains in novice bodybuilders consuming either 0.61g/lb. or 1.19g/lb. over a four-week period. Based on nitrogen balance data, the authors recommended 0.75g/lb.
- Hoffman et al. (2006) found no differences in body composition, strength, or resting hormonal concentrations in strength athletes consuming either 0.77g/lb. or >0.91g/lb. over a three-month period.
That being said this is animal based protein higher in Leucine so if you wanted to optimize muscle protein synthesis (MPS) you may have to consume 15-20% more grams than this OR supplement with BCAA's (Branched-Chain Amino Acids) to balance it out.
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So you can see it varies a LOT - the best way to know is your own trial and error. I will explain some of things to consider when trying to figure out what is right for you. I have long since learned to let go of thinking there has to be ONE answer - and instead I ask QUESTIONS.
1. What is your training volume and frequency like? Is there progressive overload going on (meaning are you lifting MORE weight at the same rep count, or more REPS at the same weight each month). Or more time under tension.
Because first off, muscle building without some form of overload just WON'T happen - and if it does it will be slow as hell and sub-optimal at best. A top level athletes training volume and total calorie intake will be SO much higher than a normal persons, subsuqently their protein intake will most probably be much higher too.
2. Your hormone profiles. Why do people always overlook this!? It is the primary reason men typically carry more muscle and less body fat than women. Different sex hormone ratio's.
Hormones dictate what the body does with nutrients. The calories are the hardware, the building blocks - and hormones are the software, they dictate how your structure is built. High body fat levels negatively impact sex hormone ratio's, which will impact fat storage and muscle building potential regardless of protein intake. So if you have poor hormone health through lack of sleep, too much alcohol, prescription drugs and junk food you can eat 500g of protein but your muscle building potential will SUCK.
3. Digestion, absorption and assimilation. If your digestion and gut health is wrecked from years of poor diet, excessive alcohol, antibiotics and antacids of course it is going to impact how your body digestions and absorbs all foods. It is why people can take vitamins in pill form and still get blood tests reading low. Their absorption is poor. Why often they have to bypass the gut with injections/IV's for example. The same applies to nutrients. The concept of more isn't always better rings so true here. It is why improving gut health through healthy choices is key. Supplementing with protease enzymes with meals, can improve protein absorption radically too.
Did you also know that psychological stress impacts digestion?
Ever notice people who stress out a lot always seem to have bloating and gut issues too? I theorize it is because their parasympathetic nervous system responsbile for digestion is being suppressed by the sympathetic nervous system. Which is our 'flight or fight' response nervous system induced by stressors. So stop stressing out! Meditate or something! lol.. All in all seriousness, working on self-development to cut through mental stress is a great tool for improving sleep, hormone health and digestion.
4. Sleep and sleep hygiene.
You can pound away like a madman at the weights, but if your sleep sucks I can assure you that, you probably aren't overloading your training like you could if your sleep way better. Your hormones will be sub-optimal too, I can almost bet. It's not how long we sleep for, it is the depth and quality of it.
Which is impacted by our diet -
i) eating too close to bed time often makes sleep shallow if digestion is stimulated and/or we get reflux/indigestion laying down right after eating.
ii) Too much artificial light at night will screw with your circadian rhythm too. Why do you think there is NO windows in casino's and lots of flashing aritifical light? It's to keep you hooked like an addict.
There are a myriad of other things regarding sleep I wont get into here as it is an entire subject in itself. Take home point - Work on sleep to optimize everything and protein won't matter as much as you think.
5. Total calories. You can go nuts and get 4g of protein per lbs of bodyweight to try and 'boost' muscle building lol.. But if that protein is in the form of shakes, or crap food - and your calorie intake is in a deficit you will NOT grow at all. So you need to be in some form of caloric surplus at some point of the time to even give your muscles the substrate of nutrients to build with.
This is why I calorie cycle. I have periods of low calories in deficit (on rest days for example), then periods of near maintenance calories on many days. Then 1-2 calorie spikes a week into surplus on hard training days to further stimulate muscle protein synthesis. So total calories do play a role too. It's not just about protein bro. You WANT and NEED carbohydrate or fats to even perform at a high level so you can overload your training and actually stimulate a growth response in the body.
6. Quality of calories (micronutrient density) - I can tell you now if you pound back protein shakes all day long and can't understand why you aren't growing it's because relying solely on shakes SUCKS. Nothing and I mean NOTHING will out-do whole foods.
Yes supplements can be a tool. They are SUPPLEMENTARY to a good whole food diet (go figure).
So don't rely on them - instead use them as a tool if needed. Also realize that you want the best bang for your buck, so a range of whole plant proteins rich in vitamins and minerals is so much better than just focusing on a single macronutrient. Yeah there might be some protein in that vegan donut you eat. Does that mean it's optimal for health or muscle building? I doubt it very much. So there is more to the equation that JUST macro's any anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiot.
When it comes to supplements, for example: I use ONE serve (yes just one not 5 or 10) of plant based protein in most post workout smoothie along side a BUNCH of whole foods in the smoothie too. Berries, banana, spinach and so on. Foods that improve recovery, help with hormone optimization so the protein powder is complementary to this. I also just do it for taste, because I like it!
I also do 1x serve of Clean Machine Fruit Punch BCAA's during my training. This way I get that added Leucine intake which helps with muscle protein synthesis. "Is it NEEDED though Fraser?" - No, you don't NEED to use these things, but they can be a tool. This is just my choice and method - it doesn't make it right. If your diet and training sucks the last thing you should be worrying about is protein powder or BCAA's so get that right first.
Can you see how MANY other variables come into play when asking this question? So many people will give some rigid answer without knowing ANY context at all. Asking questions is the best way to find the right answer for you. Ultimately you will only really know this by getting in the trenches and experimenting with yourself.
Testing various ratios.
Various plant food choices.
Then cross referencing that with your digestion, sleep, strength, endurance.
Further cross referencing that with changes in your body composition and so on.
Yes it takes work. It is why most people don't achieve it, they want a short cut. A short answer when the best answer lies in the experience. Stop number crunching and subjecting yourself to analysis-paralysis and jsut start focusing on the fundamental principles.
- Progressive overload with your training
- Total calories (some form of surplus at some point)
- Micronutrient density (it is never just about macro's - this might work for Jonny when he's 20 years old in his prime, but try eating like shit when you are 40 or 50 and see what happens to body composition)
- Gut health and absorption
- Sleep hygiene
- Hormones and optimal software
Some high carb vegans will tell you protein doesn't matter at all and I disagree with this. I think the disregard for protein is almost like the antithesis to the Paleo movement - as a way to refute their high protein focus. I do think MOST people are super excessive with protein, far and beyond what they need. But I also think ALL macronutrients and micronutrients matter in the CONTEXT of your goal. Context is key.
Simpy put, this is why hiring a coaching service like our online vegan coaching is a good way to expedite your own learning curve and compress down the time it takes to figure all this out. In the end many different numbers and methods work, but what works best for you will take some experiementation, understand this and accept this. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information or check our site store HERE for programs and coaching.
If you want to learn more about this in more depth, with my own personal examples and methods on how to make it work for you, download my eBook here ==> "Evolving Alpha Body Blueprint To Insane Muscle Growth & Fat Loss"