Whether you want to lose fat, gain muscle, or tone (which is just a combination of both..) you must make sure that you do one very important thing: Eat a TON of protein! How much is a ton? More than you think it is. The most common recommendation from bodybuilders is to eat 1 – 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. So if you weigh 170lbs, you should eat at least 170g of protein per day. For people who have never counted calories, let me tell you that this will seem like an outrageously high amount of protein! Why would you want to eat so much of it? Well, let’s go through the reasons.
For Building Muscle
Muscle is made up of many, many different things, with the highest percentage being water. However, after water most of your muscle is made up of protein. In order for your body to use the protein that you ate to build muscle, the protein that you ate must contain all of the essential amino acids. Amino acids are basically just the building blocks of protein. Our bodies can produce many of the different types of amino acids, but it cannot produce the essential ones, this is why they are called essential. In order to make one complete protein that your body can use for building muscle, it must have ALL of the amino acids. If its missing one or two, it will not be used for muscle growth. Why is this important? Because not every source of protein has all the essential amino acids and therefore can not be used to build muscle. All protein from animals have all of the essential amino acids, but almost all vegetables and grains are missing out on some of the essential amino acids, so if you are trying to get protein from vegetables, you have to eat a variety of different kind in order to get all of the amino acids. I always recommend getting protein from animal sources, though, as you are guaranteed to have all of the essential amino acids.
So why do you need to have so much protein in order to build muscle? Well the short answer is… you don’t. What?! This is how it works:
For somewhere around 48-72 hours after your workout (assuming that you had a super-duper intense workout), your body is trying to rebuild the lost muscle from during the workout and trying to build new muscle tissue. In order to do both of these things, many things are needed, with getting sleep and protein as being top priority. Your body will need protein throughout the day, so it should be obvious that you would not want to get all of your protein at one sitting. Your body will not use all of that protein for building muscle. It is best to spread your protein out throughout the day so that whenever your body is searching and in need of protein, it will be available. That is the key: Always have protein be available. Always! …yes, ALWAYS.
How can we do that though? Unless you eat constantly, how can we have protein always available? Well, first thing is you should start to eat around 5-6 meals per day instead of just 3. But besides that, the reason that I said that you should eat your bodyweight in grams of protein per day earlier is to take advantage of your digestive system! Yes, it does take time for food to digest and the more food, the longer it takes to digest. So If you eat 5-6 meals per day with a lot of protein at each meal, it should take enough time to digest that by the time the next meal is due, it will just about be out of available protein for muscle tissue.
For Losing Fat
If you are on a diet trying to lost fat, you need to eat just as much protein or possible MORE than you do when trying to build muscle. The reason for this is that your body hates muscle with a burning passion! It tries to get rid of as much as possible all the time. This is because muscle is a metabolically active tissue, so it takes energy (calories) just by being there. Your body want to try to save all of the energy that it can because it hasn’t really evolved all that much since the caveman era and thinks that you can be attacked or go starving to death at any moment. That’s why we have to lift so intensely and eat so much to build muscle. When you try to go on a diet to lose weight, where do you think your body wants to take that weight from? That’s right, your muscles!!! However, there is a way to trick your body so that it will keep your hard-earned muscles.
When on a diet your body wants to use protein for energy, however it can’t know whether it is getting the protein from muscle or from the protein that you just ate because from either source, they will still go to the bloodstream. So you have to make sure that you always have protein available in your bloodstream so that your body will take that protein instead of protein from your muscles. The other way that you can tell your body to lay off your muscles for energy is by still lifting weights intensely. By doing this, you tell your body that you still need those muscle and that it should not use them for energy. Also, by doing this your body must get the energy it need from something other than your muscles, either carbs or fat. (However you need carbs in order to lift intensely so don’t just think that you can completely cut out carbs based on that last sentence.)
Another great thing about protein while dieting is that it actually helps you diet more efficiently. Eating protein and fat both make you feel full, while eating carbs do not. Also, it is a very hard and long process for your body to convert protein into body fat, unlike eating fat and, to a lesser degree, carbs.
So now that you know about the wonders of protein, how about you go out and get some chicken! (For the love of God, not fried…) 😉