Saturday, April 07, 2012

GoPro or Go Low?

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started bodybuilding was eating way too much protein.  High protein is one of those things in bodybuilding that no matter how much you argue against it, people will never listen until they do it themselves--myself included.  Protein is definitely a necessity, don't get me wrong, but overdoing it is not as beneficial, or even as harmless, as most would believe it to be.  While bloodwork can show the negative biological effects of excess protein, I believe the straight-up better results from a lower protein diet speak for themselves.  And we can all smell the meatheads who are overdoing it, amirite?  High protein definitely contributes to some really nasty gym farts sooo, take it easy brah!

Most relatively knowledgeable lifters are aware of the 1.2-2g of protein per pound of lean body mass guideline. For most of us, however, this puts us way over the required amount for growth.  Obviously most people are optimizing their diet as they progress, altering the composition as necessary to achieve the best results without adding body fat.  For most individuals, this means eking more results out of the same caloric intake.  This means allotting a (generally) fixed amount of calories to protein intake and the rest to energy intake (fats and carbohydrates).  The more calories you allot to protein, the less "food" you get to eat with each meal.  Ever tried eating just protein for a meal?  Hungry in like 45 minutes, right?  This is because carbohydrates and fats are protein sparing--which is exactly what it sounds like--they save the protein from being burned for energy.  This is because the body prefers carbohydrates and fats for energy and so uses them first, allowing consumed protein to be digested more slowly.  Conversely, protein is carbohydrate sparing, keeping nutrients flowing into your system longer post-meal.  For those of you who may not eat much protein at all, this is a great reason to start.

Anyways, my point is that you can't put too much emphasis on protein or you miss out on the incredibly anabolic effect of higher carbohydrate and fat intake.  Increased carbohydrate intake allows for increased glycogen storage in the muscle, facilitating increased muscle volume and water retention, improved recovery and pumps, as well as improved energy during workouts.  Additionally, because insulin is a major factor in protein synthesis, it could be argued that increased carbohydrate intake may improve protein synthesis as well.  However, there is also significant evidence that this may not be the case: protein does spike insulin slightly and recent studies show that this small spike is sufficient for protein synthesis.  We're all just guessing and learning as we go anyway so monitor your results.

For those of us trying to "stay lean in the off-season," or gain without going gross, or even trying to conservatively cut up a little, high carb can be a problem too.  Carbs are stored so easily as fat, because of a number of intersecting reactions: of all three macronutrients, carbs break down into sugar the easiest; carbs spike insulin, which halts fat burning; the insulin signals to your body that there is too much sugar in your blood, necessitating storage as fat.  In order to achieve a generally positive trend, as far as muscularity and size, an excess of calories is needed--everyone knows that.  But if you can't overdo it on protein or carbs, the only alternative is fat.

I firmly believe that, relative to one another, a low protein, high carb, high fat diet is the best way to gain, lose, or both.  I'm currently running 15/30/15--protein, carbs, and fat, respectively--six times a day with a small 10/15 shake immediately following my workout.  So I'm consuming just around 22-2400 calories per day.  Which is about right for a 165 pound female with my musculature, BUT my protein is only at 100g per day--which is not about right.  My lean body mass is definitely more than 100 pounds, so I'm not even hitting the 1g protein per pound mark.  However, if lean body mass is not intended to include smooth muscle and bone mass, I may be closer to falling within the guideline intake range.

And for those of you who may still be skeptical: Protein isn't magic, it is stored as fat or burned (however inefficiently) for energy just like everything else.  Over-consumption of protein does not translate into protein just floating around in your bloodstream waiting for insulin to shuttle it into the muscle fibers.  It doesn't just hang around waiting for overload.  Optimizing your diet composition can drastically improve the benefits you do get from your protein--even if your total intake is lower than previously.  Lower protein can alleviate kidney stress, acne, and other weightlifting related pitfalls as well.  And as always, make sure to drink lots of water if you are opting for higher than normal protein.

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