I suppose, for completeness, I should discuss the issue of protein quality, an issue that trainees (and especially bodybuilders) get themselves endlessly wound up about. In short (and, this is discussed in massive detail in The Protein Book), at an intake of 1.5 g/lb. from varied high quality sources, it just doesn’t matter. Quality matters hugely when you have someone eating a small amount of some single shitty protein. This describes conditions in third world countries, this doesn’t describe conditions for an American athlete eating plenty of protein from meat, fish, dairy, whey, casein, etc.
Which isn’t to say that different proteins don’t have varying pros and cons or aren’t more or less appropriate around training or what have you. I’m simply saying that, given sufficient protein and energy from high quality sources, protein quality isn’t nearly the issue that people (read: supplement companies) make it out to be. It certainly won’t be a deal breaker for muscle gains.
3. Training Issues: Cardio
Of course, diet isn’t the only place trainees run into problems, there are also issues related to training. To get it out of the way, let me talk about cardio training and mass gains, an area where opinions vary widely. Some say to do no cardio, some suggest it daily; the current fad of ‘intervals are the best for everything’ has people doing intervals multiple times per week while trying to gain muscle. What’s going on?
Frankly, for all but the most extreme hardgainer types (the guys who burn off a ton of calories when they try to gain weight), I think the inclusion of some cardio can be beneficial. It can help with appetite (by increasing it), keep conditioning up a bit, tends to improve recovery and may help alleviate some fat gain. Perhaps most importantly, it keeps the fat burning metabolic pathways running so that, when dieting is resumed, fat loss seems to occur faster.
However, too much will certainly hurt things. Reams of data suggest interference effects of excessive cardio on strength (and muscle mass gains); I won’t even bore you with the molecular mechanisms here (you can read AMPk: Master Metabolic Regulator for the details). But it’s only when it’s done excessively or at too high of an intensity (cough, cough, intervals) that it’s a problem.
I know that everything on the internet is true but this fad of keeping in lots of intervals when you’re trying to get stronger and bigger is frankly pretty stupid so far as I’m concerned. 20-30 minutes of boring old standard low to medium intensity cardio done 2-4 times per week is plenty and, surprise surprise, your legs might actually grow because you aren’t overtraining them with two weight sessions and two interval sessions per week.