How Much Protein Do I Really Need?

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It’s a question as old as time, and one I’ve been obsessing over during the past few days as I’ve been mentally tweaking and refining my diet and fitness regime to FINALLY burn off this last little bit of body fat (hell, I’d be happy with losing half of it…), and ensure muscle maintenance. To put things into perspective, I’ve never been overweight, and I’m far from fat today. In fact, as of this morning (2-6-16), I weigh 156 lbs… and I’m over 6’2″… That’s down approximately 10 lbs. from the last time I weighed myself several months ago, which was the lowest ever, hovering in the low 170s. My weight means nothing to me, and I look at it as nothing but another number. However, this recent number would have frankly scared the piss out of me (which may have in turn brought me down under 155! Eeek!) if not for the fact that I know I’ve put on muscle over the past few months, and my energy levels and physical stamina have never been better than as of late. So while my eyes tell me that I haven’t lost any more fat, the scale says otherwise.

However, I also must take into account other factors for the weight reduction, such as my greatly reduced fiber intake. Yes, I said reduced fiber intake. Contrary to what nearly every doctor, expert, and layman alike may tell you, there is compelling evidence that high-fiber diets are culpable in everything from constipation, IBS, Crohn’s disease, and yes–colon cancer. Before I ramble off too far here, check out the book Fiber Menace if you don’t believe me (and, frankly, why should you at his point? Check my facts.) The point being, fiber-rich diets like the one I was on until I learned the error of my ways tend to form very large- well… loads… that can back up in your colon and add several pounds to the scale day-to-day. Sorry to be crass, but if you really enjoy reading about stools (and I mean really enjoy the discussion of human crap, you need to read this book! You can thank me later…) Also, I’ve been drinking less water. Again, I said less water. I used to drink tons of water, sometimes over a gallon/day, but I am now of the opinion based on several books I’ve read in quick succession recently that I was over-hydrating, which can be just as pernicious as under-hydrating. You can essentially slowly drown from within. This is another topic for another day, but I now drink based on thirst, which is much less than I used to drink.

Wait… Aren’t we supposed to be talking about protein intake, not water and shit… literally? Right! Protein… So why my obsession with optimizing my protein intake? Well, the straight answer to the question “how much protein can my body assimilate” is, in my best Yoda voice, there is no straight answer. Every book or blog on health and nutrition you read will give you a different response regarding how much protein a person can effectively assimilate. So why not just gorge on protein when trying to put on muscle? Because when you give your body more protein than it can handle, the excess can be converted to glucose, and what happens to glucose that isn’t immediately burned? That’s right! It’s stored in the liver and muscle as glycogen for future use. And any unused glucose in your blood after your liver and muscles are full of glycogen? Bingo! Stored as body fat. Now, I’m not going to detail all the iterations my diet and lifestyle has undergone over the past year at this point, because I would like to sleep at some point, so for brevity’s sake (you’re welcome!) let’s say for now that I have practiced different forms of intermittent fasting or feast/famine eating patterns for the past… 6-7 months or so? Yeah, something like that… Currently, my regime has entailed eating nothing during the day except small amounts of fat, which has been proven to burn more body fat than water fasting, then eating whatever I want of the right foods. I do a short, high intensity strength-training/cardio routine on alternate days. This protocol has worked reasonably well for me in terms of at least maintaining my level of body fat, while gaining some muscle. The science behind working out in a fasted state for increased muscle gain is pretty simple; when your muscles are fasted, the body’s mechanism for recycling amino acids is increased, and your body is at its peak insulin sensitivity, meaning your muscles are as receptive as they will ever be for protein assimilation.

The above mentioned protocol is the only method I have ever used that has proven any results for me, so I’ve stuck with it for quite a while. However, I’ve been feeling like my results both in muscle gain and fat loss have been plateauing lately, which is, needless to say, a bit exasperating. And so, I resolved to once again refine my regimen in a manner that has me more confident than ever in my ability to shed the obstinate fat, yet not exactly thrilled with the methodology of… eating less :.(

See, the thing I love most about my eating pattern is that I can eat whatever the hell I want, so long as I fast during the day and workout a few days a week. By the way, I love eating! I love it a lot, in fact. It’s one of life’s great sensuous pleasures, and one I refuse to deny myself. However, the fact remains that as long as my abs are obscured by fat, my body is receiving more fuel than it needs. Now, losing weight is easy. Anyone, regardless of current weight, age, shape, etc. can do it–it’s a simple matter of creating a caloric deficit. This is one method, anyway, and one I have a lot of confidence in as an acute method of fat loss. The challenge with this method however, is losing the fat without losing any muscle. Now, I’ve lost muscle before, and it took a lot of work, research, and experimentation to earn it back, and I’m not letting any of it go. So the question is… how does one force the body to burn fat without wasting muscle using the caloric deficit method? And the answer (the short version, anyway) is relatively simple:

A) sharply reduce caloric intake

B) keep muscles in use through strength/cardio training, which in turn keeps the body in an anabolic state through the production of fat-burning, muscle-building hormones HGH and testosterone

C) optimize protein consumption

And, so… in a very roundabout, discursive method (Hi! I’m Adam! Nice to meet you!), we arrive back at our original question–how much protein do I really need? Specifically for muscle gain and fat loss? Again, the answer, if you have ever pondered this or struggled with gaining muscle, is simply not straightforward. As far as I have been able to deduce, there is simply no definitive scientific evidence supporting any one answer. Just studies, anecdotes, and claims. Like a surfeit of information on any subject, it can be quite maddening. One of the unfortunate cons of living in the Information Age is that we can sometimes drown in an abyss of information… the cruel irony…

However, the solution I have settled upon, at least for now, has much less to do with clinical trials, and much more to do with listening to your body and intuiting its needs. The human organism, or any organism, for that matter, is not a machine; it is an extremely complex collection of energy whose needs constantly ebb and flow. We have all experienced this with appetites and cravings that can vary greatly, so when we consider nutrient intake, it is sheer folly to assume that your body needs 20-30 g of protein every 3 hours in order to build muscle. This may be a figure that has been very kind to the protein powder industry, but not one I’m inclined to endorse. The bottom line is, there are far too many variables at play to definitively state that every human being can utilize x amount of protein per meal. The more you consider these black-and-white recommendations, the more they start to sound just like what they are–hogwash.

Although I can’t quantify how much protein to give myself on any given day to maximize muscle gain and eliminate any chance of fat deposition, I’m at least content and confident in my ability to intuit my body’s needs while reducing my overall caloric intake (for a time), and continuing to slowly gain strength and muscle mass. This wasn’t the answer I was looking for, but it’s the answer I needed.

I won’t go into much greater detail as to my refined protocol, at least until I have results to report, but it involves eating more frequently on recovery days (eating breakfast AND dinner, moderate portions, not stuffing myself once a day), continuing to fast throughout the day on workout days following up with a single, moderate post-workout meal, and doing a modified fast 1-2 days a week eating nothing but approximately 500 calories worth of ketogenic fuel (my favored form of fasting fuel is coconut butter fudge). Also, I’m logging my daily intake, workouts, energy levels, weight, etc. so that I can more effectively course correct if things don’t go according to plan.

A special thanks to my good friend Mark Sisson for providing sage insight on this matter for me. Ok, so he’s not a really a “good” friend… Fine, we’ve never met, but I’m pretty sure we’d hit it off if we ever hung out… Anyway, for more info on protein intake (and just about everything else relating to natural diet and fitness) check out, and this post in particular:

How Much Protein Should You Be Eating?


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