Is it really tons of protein that makes you gain muscle?
There’s a lot of confusion around the topic of protein. Messages from protein supplement makers have been convincing us for years that ingesting their product will give us a ripped physique. So, is it really tons of protein that makes you gain muscle?
The Surprising Truth Is: Not Really.
The most important factor determining whether someone gains muscle is the intensity of their resistance training.
This may seem like an obvious point but there are plenty of people who don’t lift heavy but expect to get muscular because they’re drinking a powder with a name that sounds like it will result in muscle gain. (FYI, these people will actually just be gaining fat.)
The second most important factor for muscle gain is fuel, in other words, calories. And ingesting a ton of protein powder, bars, etc. isn’t the only way to take in a lot of calories. It would be much better to give your kidneys a break (excess protein is hard on the kidneys) and simply eat a lot of healthy food.
What’s Our Proof?
Don’t believe me? (I see some torches and towns people running toward me already…) Researchers at California State University Long Beach investigated the effects of drinking high calorie supplements in 73 college males who underwent a 4 day per week heavy weight lifting program(1-See Footnote). Over an 8 week period one group drank a supplement equal in protein and carbohydrate while a second group drank a supplement with the same number of calories but had more protein than carbohydrate, while a third group did not drink a supplement (control group).
Both supplement groups gained more muscle than the control group, however there was no significant difference in muscle mass or strength gains between the two supplement groups. The researchers concluded that once protein requirements are met, calorie intake in general is more important than focusing simply on protein intake (and most people, even people who exercise heavily, meet their protein requirement easily in their diet alone).
1. Rozenek, Ward & Garhammer (2002) effects of high calorie supplements on body composition and muscular strength following resistance training. J Sports Med Phys Fitness, 42: 340-347.