If you’ve been going to the gym for years, you will probably remember that back when you started lifting there was one big rule that everyone followed when it came to muscle gain – you have to eat a lot of protein, all throughout the day, to be able to put a lot of muscle mass on your frame.
This little piece of conventional gym wisdom always rang out in your head for a good reason – there isn’t any other way to put muscles on your frame than to eat protein and lift, and if you want to be an athlete or a bodybuilder you will definitely need a lot of protein.
However, what amount of protein is the optimal amount ? What happens when you eat too much or too little? If you skip a protein meal after a trip to the gym, are you making a huge mistake? Let’s find out.
A number of bodybuilding books will tell you that you have to keep your body out of starvation mode and you have to pay proper attention to the timing of your meals. This is the bodybuilding rule number one, of course, but there is another side to the coin – if you give your body some rest from all of that protein, it will freshen up your metabolic muscle building capacity. What ???
Taking a break from protein – what does science say ?
It might just sound wacky, but there is actual scientific evidence supporting this claim. Recently, a research study demonstrated that dietary protein influences myostatin production and therefore it also influences the size and the growth rate of your muscles. If you’ve read up on your biology, you will know that myostatin is a protein that inhibits muscle growth – the more you have of it, the less your muscles will grow and vice versa.
However, this study was determined to see how this dietary protein can interact with satellite cells and if it can activate them. These cells are basically precursors to the skeletal muscle cells and they have a crucial role in how your body responds and adapts when it is being exercised. The research subjects were 18 healthy male humans, randomly split up into two groups.
One of the groups had subjects eat 1.8 grams of protein for every kilogram of their weight, while the other ate only 0.85 grams. With this diet, both groups were made to work out to see how their body was being affected. After that, the scientists performed biopsies on the leg muscles of the two groups and took notes of the recovery after working out. Their conclusions were expected – the number of satellite cells and myostatin levels both decreased drastically right after the people stopped exercising. This happened for both groups of subjects, but it was fairly expected.
However, after the primary testing, going from two to three days after the exercise, satellite cells and myostatin molecules had come back to their normal numbers in the higher-protein groups, they were lacking in quantity in the lower-protein group for far longer.
This continued with the finding that after three days, the amount of myostatin in the higher-protein group was much higher than normal, while in the lower-protein group the amount of myostatin was quite contrary – much lower. Now, the point of this research was to get proof that dietary protein has a modulation effect on the increase of the number of satellite cells.
However, researchers found that large concentrations of dietary protein in your body are likely to influence your myostatin levels after a workout. Concerning this finding, it is clear that in theory, you could model a diet to encompass lower-protein intake, which will lower your myostatin levels and therefore boost your muscle building processes. This means that a low myostatin presence in your body will spur differentiation and activation of your satellite cells. However, you will still need high protein after you’re done working out.
Protein consumption right after the workout reduces Myostatin, according to research
This is related to another clinical research study by Hulmi, published ten years ago in 2007, much before this newer study. The Hulmi study showed that the ingestion of protein right after lifting weights or any other resistance exercise will actually drop your myostatin production for about an hour.
When the research was being conducted, the scientists divided the subjects into two groups – one was given whey protein and the other was given a placebo. The people who took the placebo experienced a rise in myostatin production about an hour after working out and taking their shake, but the people that took a whey protein shake had their myostatin production levels stay much lower.
So, what’s the optimal amount of protein ?
After reading the conclusions of these studies, I cannot help but wonder if we really need excess protein after two or three days and is it really the best thing to do, if your body doesn’t absolutely need it at that point? Metabolic acidosis has to be avoided, but it is exactly what occurs when you eat a large, steady supply of protein every day for a long time.
Instead of doing this, maybe it’s healthier to consume your protein periodically, in moderate amounts and with a fair amount time between high-protein meals. This would let your body get back into normal function, so the conclusion is that the omitting of protein-rich meals now and then would be much better, as with the famous structured fasting methods in use by athletes today.
However, there’s another thing we need to take into account – you want to get big muscles, but you don’t want a large belly, right? Well, if you place great value on your abdominal area, it is probably just as important to you as your bulky biceps or your distinguished quadriceps.
Why would you want to have great development in your chest muscles if you have a bulging lump of fat just a little south of them? If you want to have the best results, you should know what your body is saying to you when you work out, but you should also be very finely tuned into what your body is saying about your diet.
When you give your system way too much protein, the body finds ways to tell you that it doesn’t want or need that much and that you should cut down the intake. One of these ways is the building up of body fat which manifests itself through that abdominal bulge we mentioned.
When you eat too much protein-rich meals, your body takes it and stores it in your body fat. Even if you absolutely need the energy these proteins would give you, when you force your body to digest an abnormal amount of protein that it doesn’t need, it usually puts it straight into your fat deposits.
All in all, the moral of this story is that your body has a way of communicating to you and you should definitely try to listen and understand. If it’s telling you that it has more than enough protein, don’t force-feed it more of it. Skipping a meal rich in protein here and there will help you to get much closer to your desired results – not only will it prevent you from losing any muscle mass, but your gains will grow by a wide margin!
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