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Protein: Fuel For Muscles...But How Much Is Too Much?

Imran Ali MD, MS

Posted by Imran_Ali - May 29th, 2013

We all know that doing Scott’s exercise routines are just a component to achieve true fitness goals. When muscle fibers are broken down in intense workouts the regrowth of new hypertrophied muscle mass is dependent on protein intake. Protein is basically the building blocks of muscle fibers. The body goes into an anabolic state that is triggered by exercise. So the muscle building pathways are activated but just like Michaelangelo needed stone to make the David sculpture, metabolic pathways require protein building blocks, namely amino acids.

Essential amino acids or EAAs are found in our diets and are the important trigger signal that initiates protein synthesis. Muscles are not only built by amino acids but also act as a storage sites just like fat (adipose tissue) acts as storage site for carbohydrates and excess free fatty acids. Essentially the muscles store amino acids for use in times of starvation. That is why you see muscle wasting in those people who have chronic diseases that decrease appetite like AIDS and Cancer.

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So we know that protein is vital for muscle recovery, repair and ultimately stronger muscle fibers. However the question that remains is that if too much protein is a bad thing.  Protein, while being the building blocks of muscle, also in itself has to be broken down and in this process releases nitrogenous waste products for your kidneys to filter. Now in normal young healthy individuals this can be added stress to the kidneys that can be tolerated with no big deal. If you are a little older in your late 50’s and 60s, kidney function is not what it used to be and the protein overload may cause too much stress on your kidneys. In fact in the ICU critical patients are monitored for their protein intake because it can have damaging effects.

Even if your kidneys are in tip top shape, too much protein causes a buildup of Ketone bodies (alternative biochemical energy instead of glucose). The kidneys work overtime to remove these ketone bodies and in turn you lose a great deal of water making you dehydrated much faster.  This will make you tired and dizzy quicker after a workout. Yeah you might lose a lot weight and feel like you are doing the right thing, but instead of fat you are losing water and even other nutrients for muscles. Purified protein is especially known in large quantities to decrease bone density by robbing the body of Calcium. One final note all of these ketone bodies in your system can lead to bad breath.

This does not mean avoid protein but try to find the right balance. Furthermore to keep good testosterone levels in men it is recommended to have more carbohydrates in your diet than protein. Testosterone is important in building muscle. According to Christopher D. Gardner, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif the protein recommendations are 3 servings or 7 oz per day for active men and teenage boys and roughly 6 oz per day for active women.

Overall, talk to your physician before making any drastic changes to your diet. Watching your cholesterol and saturated fat intake will give you a healthier cardiovascular system that is key to seeing results. By finding the right balance of protein in your diet you will have you feel more energized and ready to take on not only the gym but life in general.

NOTE: Protein requirements may for adults seeking to gain muscle may go as high as 1gram - 1.5grams per pound of LEAN WEIGHT.


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Brolle81
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Good article! Way to many old "statements" lives on today. I strive for 2-2,5 grams per kg bodyweight everyday some days I eat about 4 grams per kg . 

BrandonFertig
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I'm not sure where you got those amounts, but I know that the scientific nutritional community agrees that 0.8-1.5g protein per KG of BW is the safe range, where as 4g per KG of BW is at the ultimate excessive end. Now for myself, I shoot for about a gram per LB of BW simply because I have digestive trouble and I do not believe I absorb the majority of protein I take in as most people do.

BrandonFertig Edit Delete Close

Also, I wasn't necessarily questioning you, only curious as to the origin of those numbers.

energon19
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A really informative article.

I'll also add excessive uric acid buildup in the body in the list of problems caused by having more than the required and recommended amount of protein.

Everybody knows that protein is made of nitrogen, When digested it gets processed by your liver, which converts nitrogen into urea, a compound comprised of nitrogen, ammonia, carbon dioxide and water. Normally, urea, or uric acid, gets filtered out of your blood stream by your kidneys and flushed out of your body in your urine, but too much uric acid, usually resulting from a high protein intake, can cause uric acid to build up in your body  and a high uric acid level, resulting from a high intake of purine-containing foods, can cause kidney abnormalities, such as kidney stones and even kidney failure.

jmboiardi
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Excellent info. However, essential fats are more important to keeping testosterone levels high as they are the building blocks for all hormones - carbs are not. Carbs are important in they provide the energy for the metabolic pathways to produce hormones.
ohawkey
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good info, given me something to think about.
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