After writing about Americans over consumption of protein, I got many comments and questions falling into two categories: doesn’t a high protein diet help keep you lean? (asked by more women) and how much protein do you need to build muscle mass (asked by more men).
I stand by my last article stating that if you aren’t overeating total calories, your protein consumption should be around 10% of your diet (46 grams a day for women or 56 grams for men). If you are an athlete, you require more because you burn more. It’s pretty common for an athlete to require up to 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight to maintain muscle. An athlete would be someone who exercises 5 to 7 days a week, intensely, for at least one hour. If you are an athlete you will be eating more calories (so this additional dietary protein is not in lieu of grains, vegetables or fruit).
If you are a person who exercises and wants to be lean, you should eat lean protein. The media, meat and dairy industry would love for you to believe that these are “lean proteins” and that they are the key to being lean. However these are not lean proteins, they are fatty, and animal fatty at that. 4 oz skinless chicken breast contains 4 grams of fat compared to any amount of kidney beans which are virtually fat-free. A 3 oz pork chop has 8 g of fat. Animal protein, even ‘lean ones’ increase cholesterol, inflame arteries and contain saturated fat (which you need zero of). The way health articles are written (telling you to load up on lean proteins at every meal), cause people to believe that protein means meat. It doesn’t even make sense that you would load up on animal meat to “stay lean.” The best way to be lean is to load up on plant-based foods. Plant based proteins contain fewer calories, less fat and way more fiber that help you stay full, longer resulting in a leaner body.
How much protein do I need to build muscle mass?
Muscle tissue grows as a result of micro-tears that occur within a muscle during resistance training. Weightlifting, manual labor and bodyweight exercises cause muscle fibers to tear. As they heal, they heal larger and stronger; think about how tough skin scar tissue is. The amount of protein needed to build mass as you heal is usually 1 to 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. This is the consensus among bodybuilders and athletes who spend their lives building muscle. This would be a shift towards 20% of the diet coming from protein. This can still be a healthy diet composition because body builders eat more calories and are still able to eat enough grains and produce. As an athlete I am sure you are interested in peak health and performance. Animal based proteins inflame the arteries, making blood flow harder. Clogging your arteries in an attempt to build muscle is not the best strategy. I, for many years, bought into the wide-spread myth that skinless chicken breasts were a weightlifter’s necessary fuel for building mass. There are, however, many vegetarian bodybuilders, Olympic and professional athletes. Right now, my hero is Ed Bauer, pictured above. He is a champion bodybuilder. He doesn’t use unnatural supplements, he is 100% drug and alcohol free and a strict vegan. He is just one person proving that no one needs meat to be lean, ripped or muscular!
To read more about Ed Baure’s diet and training schedule click here
This is where I think the confusion about high protein diets lie. People want to be lean or big like Ed Bauer, so they decide to eat as much protein as he does, but they don’t workout as often or as intensely. They don’t burn as much, so something has to give. Either they have to eat more calories to meet their other nutrient needs, or they have to skimp on fruits, veggies and grains to maintain their weight and accommodate this excess protein intake. This is what I find the average person doing. The average American overeats protein, the average American (over 60% of us) needs to lose weight and at least 25% are obese. The stats demonstrate that high protein diets don’t result in lean people. The best way to be lean is to exercise and eat a plant-based diet.