For some reason I keep falling in the same trap every semester or so. Some
source which I generally respect says something along the lines that you do not
need that much protein and once you are beyond your newbie gainz, carbs become
more important and the usual 2g/kg or 1g/lbs figures are already beyond the
upper end of what you actually need. And then I am convinced by the reasoning
and start upping my carbs and neglect my protein, still easily hitting
something around 1.5g/kg. Yet still, everything breaks apart.
Not only does the physical performance suffer, but my mental performance
suffers as well. I mean, your brain is just a huge lump of cholesterol and
proteins, with transmitters being formed from even more proteins. So eat
accordingly. Although discipline begets discipline and eating properly and
performing well might be just related by this factor, I noticed this even well
before strength training and counting my protein or macros. However, I guess at
this point it is for me more a matter of recovery, as a protein deficit
negatively impacts it and you can only work hard, if you are well rested.
On the other hand, when protein is in check, even when getting most of it from
whey shakes and not real food, few things can go wrong. Given adequate protein
intake, I pretty much feel indestructible even on a caloric deficit.
How much protein to eat
The reason I bring this up is twofold. First, it serves as a reminder for me.
Aside from widely varying recommendations for protein consumption, around
1g/lbs seems to be my personal sweet spot. I also ate sometimes as much as
1.5g/lbs for a prolonged time, but I could not notice any further improvements.
Second, almost always when people have their training in check, i.e. performing
squats, presses, deadlifts and the like on a regular basis with adequate weight
and repetitions and still stall in their overall progress, they seem to
undereat, especially on protein. On the other hand, I do not know of anyone
making good progress, who does not eat large amounts of protein. Some people
get away with something like 1.5g/lbs, but most simply don't.
Also note that there is no general optimal ratio of macro nutrients – it
depends on a lot of factors. Anecdotal evidence seems to support the following
rules of thumb:
- if you're fat (>20% bf for males, >25–30% for females), carbs are the devil
- ideal carb intake and training volume are somewhat correlated
- when gaining mass, caloric surplus achieved through carbs results in less
bodyfat gain (this is just because of some inefficiency in converting carbs
- if you're female the benefits of protein pretty much top out at 2g/kg bw and
carbs are much more important than if you are a male for your hormones to
There also seem to be some hereditary factors at play; it might be useful to
look at the food choices of your ancestors. In the end, it is all about careful
experimentation and finding something that works for you. I think it helps to
be mindful about your appetite and cravings. In general, if you are craving
something like chips or similar junkfood, you probably just need more protein.
But when you crave something sweet, often not everything would do the job.
Sometimes you wish for some really high carb stuff, sometimes it is more about
fat and sometimes quite a mix. Be mindful about it and try to fulfill the
cravings with high quality food, ideally with some protein added on top.
As for me, 1g protein per lbs bodyweight (i.e. roughly 2.2g/kg, but I try
to weigh around 90kg or 200lbs, which makes the math easy), and about 80% of
that (i.e. 160g) carbs and again 80% of that (i.e. about 130g) fat seems to be
the minimum I should get daily. Note that this would put me at a significant
deficit; however I did not notice much difference in how I get in the remaining
calories. But this is just for me, but might give you a hint where to look, if
you followed different macro distributions and are unsatisfied. Most
recommendations seem to eschew a balanced approach, by either going low carb
all the way or eating really low fat and high carb. However, if you are trying
to gain mass, getting most of the excess calories from carbs reduces fat
storage by simple inefficiencies. And of course, carbs seem to work best
Furthermore, I do not believe that people who do not weight train need less
protein. Unless you are fat, you carry a lot less bodyweight, so there is
already some downregulation. But you still have the same metabolism,
with a constant break down and rebuild of proteins in your body going on. But
well, I do not have much more than anecdotal and personal evidence for this
going. As a fun fact, it also seems to be that, among athletes, strength
athletes do not have the highest protein requirements per bodyweight, but
endurance athletes do. Just think about it: One is in a catabolic state for
maybe a few hours in a week, namely while in the gym, while the other often
racks up several hours on a single day while getting miles in.
Oh just look at these cute protein factories. Self-producing is in general
not the most economical way to obtain food, but at least you can be sure that
it is up to your ecological standards.
One topic that is dear to me is the ecological and economical impact
of my food choices, because I care about the environment and my bank roll. It
should be quite obvious that carbs are dirt cheap in comparison to fat and
especially protein, so I concentrate on the latter.
Take note that whey is the cheapest protein powder around, as it is a waste
product of the diary industry and there is no evidence that it is any worse
than other protein sources. Actually, it seems to fare better than any other
protein source, as it has a somewhat optimal ratio of amino acids. And compared
to other animal proteins, it is the cheapest source, too. Just don't waste
money on some kind of expensive premium variant; simply buy the cheapest whey
you can find. Maybe with flavor, but I hate most flavors and can't stand them
after at most a week.
When it comes to other sources, like milk, cheese, eggs, meat and fish, price
and quality matter and often go hand in hand. Also here it matters to vote with
your money. Given the size of the food industry, your individual boycott simply
does not change anything. However, if you buy meat or milk from a small,
preferably local farm, where you think that their way of working is sustainable
and should be supported, it will have much more of an impact in their budget.
Protein is a limiting factor
To put it in the language of my previous post about
bottlenecks and magic bullets, protein is a limiting factor for growth and
performance. However, the returns diminish quickly once one has surpassed some
critical amount, which depends on a host of factors. The standard
recommendations of 1g/lbs or 2g/kg are a good start, but eventually everyone
has to find out for themselves how much protein they actually need to perform
to their standards. The same goes for carbs and fats, but these things are
simply second, as already the name protein implies. Which also means, that once
protein is in check, you probably have more potential by optimizing
carbohydrate and fat intake, than by simply further increasing protein.