Do you really need a protein powder to increase your muscle mass and strength?
The research is very clear (from 32 different studies): if you happen to strength train at all; you'll gain significantly more muscle mass and strength if you take a protein powder. (1)
You might be wondering, what kind of protein powder should you take? Whey protein, casein protein, veggie protein, or beef protein powder?
Unless you're a vegan or vegetarian, (in which case you should definitely consider a veggie protein), I highly recommend a whey protein for everyone else for two reasons.
Reason 1: It's cheap!
Whey protein is by far the cheapest protein powder out of all protein powder. It can even be money-saving compared to expensive protein sources like fish, steak, and wild-caught sources of protein.
Reason 2: It ramps up muscle building big-time!
Whey protein increases protein synthesis probably more than any other protein.
I'll be honest with you, I don't like promoting certain brands of supplements. However, my clients sometimes ask me, "What brand do you recommend?"
My official recommendation right now comes from consumerlab.com which is a great resource and independently tests for claimed ingredients and contaminants in supplements. Their top picks for supplements always have three qualifications:
1. It's the most economical or cheapest.
2. It has what it say it has.
3. It doesn't have heavy metals like lead or cadmium.
Their top pick is: EAS 100% Whey Protein
I definitely like the chocolate flavor, but I do not like the vanilla flavor. Most people I know like the chocolate too.
I have to level with you. Most protein powders do contain the claimed ingredients and do not have contaminants. This begs the question, "what should you look for in a basic protein powder? "
Fat: It should have 3 grams or less of fat.
Carbohydrates: It should have 5 grams or less of carbohydrates.
Protein: It should have 18 grams or more of protein in a serving.
(Please note this only applies to non-veggie protein powders.)
Remember that really cool research I mentioned above which showed that muscle mass and strength is significantly increased if you take a protein powder? Do you want to know the real reason why those individuals in those studies gained more strength and muscle mass?
They simply got in more protein. That's why you should ask yourself, "Do I really need a protein powder?" Let's answer that. The guidelines I'll give are the litmus test to see if a protein powder will actually help you out.
If you're maintaining your weight, or gaining weight, and you're getting in less than 0.9 grams of protein per pound of body weight, you could benefit by using a protein powder. (2) Let's break that last sentence down.
Take your bodyweight (i.e. 200 pounds). Multiply it by 0.9. 200 x 0.9 = 180. If I'm getting in less than 180 grams of protein per day, I can use a protein powder.
If you're getting in 180 grams of protein per day or more, you don't need a protein powder (unless you want to save your jaw muscles a lot of work by chewing on so much damn protein).
By the way, getting in this much protein and a lot more is completely safe. (3) Unless you have kidney disease, don't worry about it.
However, let's assume that I'm getting in 140 grams of protein from my regular food sources which includes chicken, beef, cottage cheese, etc. I could then take 40 grams of a protein powder which would help me reach 180 grams (since 140 plus 40 equals 180) which is my ceiling for how much protein is useful to my body.
But, what if I'm dieting or dropping weight?
This is a little different, but basically the same. You should get in 1 gram per pound of body weight. (4) If I weight 200 pounds, that's how many grams of protein I can use, 200 grams. If you weight 150 pounds, get in 150 grams of protein per day.
If you're dieting and not even close to 1 gram per pound of body weight, you'll definitely benefit by taking a protein supplement. Remember that it's usually much more appealing to lose fat mass since it occupies more space than the equivalent weight of muscle mass. The more protein you take, the most muscle mass you will hold onto.
Does it matter when you take your protein powder?
Nope. We used to believe that timing was everything, but research is not showing us that it comes down to how much total protein in a day which is the real key. (5)
Before I sign off, I have a real pet peeve that I want to share with you. I see a lot of people mixing in milk, soy milk, guacamole, peanut butter, almond butter, seeds, nuts, and whatever other high-calorie stuff (even if it's healthy) into their protein powder. This is okay if you're 130 pounds and skinny as I was growing up.
However, mixing in all this stuff makes the pure protein powder a meal replacement. If you're not replacing this as your breakfast or lunch, don't add in the extra stuff. If you're trying to lose weight, ditch the extraneous ingredients, and use water.
A protein powder can benefit most people. Protein powders are economical and help you build more muscle or preserve it and help you lose more fat. It'll also help you gain more strength. If you do take a protein powder, I highly recommend using minimal ingredients.
1. Pasiakos SM, McLellan TM, Lieberman HR. The effects of protein supplements on muscle mass, strength, and aerobic and anaerobic power in healthy adults: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2015 Jan;45(1):111-31. doi: 10.1007/s40279-014-0242-2. Review. PubMed PMID: 25169440.
2. Campbell B, Kreider RB, Ziegenfuss T, La Bounty P, Roberts M, Burke D, Landis J, Lopez H, Antonio J. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007 Sep 26;4:8. PubMed PMID: 17908291; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC2117006.
3. Schwingshackl L, Hoffmann G. Comparison of high vs. normal/low protein diets on renal function in subjects without chronic kidney disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS One. 2014 May 22;9(5):e97656. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097656. eCollection 2014. Review. PubMed PMID: 24852037; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4031217.
4. Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. J Sports Sci. 2011;29 Suppl 1:S29-38. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2011.619204. Review. PubMed PMID: 22150425.
5. Schoenfeld BJ, Aragon AA, Krieger JW. The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Dec 3;10(1):53. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-10-53. PubMed PMID: 24299050; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3879660.
It's cold up in this neck of the woods. The Vikings are doing awesome may make it to the Superbowl getting some home field advantage this year. But like any seasoned Vikes fans, I will not get my hopes up too high and will try to remain cautiously optimistic. This is how I want you to think about your eating going into the holiday season.
The holidays are upon us. The two most dreaded for dieters are typically: Thanksgiving and Christmas. (I know some of you blow it on Halloween, Valentine's days, and others, so this article will still help you out.)
For some of you, it's going to completely derail your nutritional plan.
This is why I made this post to give you some assistance.
Tip #1: Have a nutritional plan in place BEFORE the holidays.
I don't really care what your nutritional plan is. It could be counting calories, Weight Watchers, or Precision Nutrition. However, you need to have something in place because if you get to the Holidays and don't have a plan, you won't make it. You don't even need to read the rest of this article if you don't have some structure you follow.
Take the 2004 USA Men's Basketball Team. They had unquestionably the top talent in the world. But, they hand't played together much, didn't have great strategy, and took home a bronze. A bronze is awesome, but seriously, with that talent? Sometimes, the world will surprise you if you aren't prepared, so be prepared!
Tip #2: Get full.
I want you to get filled up on the good stuff which includes water, protein, vegetables, and fruits. Anything that's remotely healthy, I want you to start eating this. If you let yourself get hungry, your finished. There are often too many snacks and crappy foods that it'll be nearly impossible to contain yourself if you get hungry.
My family can eat anywhere from 2 to 6pm. This is a huge window to get hungry in, and if I do, I'm going to begin to indulge on crap I don't really want. Stay stocked up on the good stuff!
Tip #3: Get in a workout.
If you can get in any kind of physical activity before the big meal (even like a long walk), you're going to be confident going into the holiday meal or meals.
Since you will have already built up some success for the day, you'll be less likely to say yes to crap foods when offered. And yes, you will be offered and have to say no. If that's too much for some of you to handle, you have boundary issues.
Tip #4: Don't stick around the crappy foods.
Watch out for the kitchen and the dining room table. You never know when a cookie will suddenly land in your mouth, taste so damn good, and then you are pretty much forced to eat it.
If you stick around areas where you can see crappy food for too long, this is what you're doing to yourself. Watch out and make sure where you're sitting or standing, there's no crappy food visible.
Tip #5: Get a teammate for support.
Whether it's a spouse, friend, family member, or whoever, you need to get some support. Maybe just as importantly, you need to give some support. You are a lot less likely to blow it if you can support someone else.
Most people really underestimate getting support too. Typically, if you fail, you will have realized you had no support, and potentially no real plan other than, "I'll say no to everything" which might not be realistic.
Tip #6: Don't sit too close to your drink or snack plate.
Being around family can be stressful. To combat this stress, people eat and drink. If we always have a plate or drink near us, we often eat and drink a lot more than we normally would.
This is why you need to sit at a distance that really makes you reach or get up to eat or drink. You'll think twice, and realize how much you are eating and drinking.
Tip #7: Get accountable.
I don't care whether you text out, tweet out, send a Facebook message, or whatever, but it's good to stay accountable. Express what you are going to have and what you won't have. Afterward, report back on it. Sending out the initial message and knowing you will report back will definitely give you a lot of support.
Those are my top seven tips to not gain weight over the holidays. I've failed during all the major holidays, so I know what it's like to blow it. Feel free to post your own tips below. Have some great holidays!
I got a question last week from a Youtube viewer asking:
Why can't more advanced individuals do both [meaning gain muscle and lose fat] at the same time?
My answer was: You need to try to do both.
For example. If you’re gaining muscle mass, you should definitely try to lose fat, or keep fat gain at a minimum. How can you do that?
Do you know how much muscle mass a trained individual can put on per week? For a 200 pound individual, this person can maximally put on 0.25 pounds to 0.5 pounds of muscle mass per week (coming from Alan Aragon who is a solid bodybuilding researcher). This assumes that you are resistance training and you are getting in a lot of protein.
Let’s assume you’re on a bulking phase and you are gaining 5 pounds of bodyweight per month. How much of this weight will be put on as muscle and fat? Since we know we can gain 0.25 pounds to 0.5 pounds of muscle mass per week, we can gain anywhere from 1 to 2 pounds of muscle per month. The rest of the weight will be increased water weight, other metabolites and nutrients, and fat mass.
If you put on 10 pounds of body weight, do you know much much muscle you'll gain? Between 1-2 pounds. Most of the rest of that weight will be fat mass, so I think you're getting my point.
This means you need to gain weight slowly in order to put on the muscle mass, but minimize the fat gain. My typical recommendation is then to gain 2-4 pounds of body weight (for the average 200 pound male) per month. This will maximize muscle gain, but keep fat gain at a minimum and maybe even allow you to lose some fat. As I said before, this assumes you have a smart resistance training program in effect and your nutrition is dialed in.
How else can you gain muscle with minimal fat gain?
Cardio burns a ton of calories for the timeframe you do it in compared to strength training. (The afterburn effect of strength training is highly overrated.) Some individuals recommend doing more lifting sessions, but in my experience, this will lead you into overtraining much faster than if you simply have 2-3 sessions of cardio per week.
(If you are a female, newbie, or a super-lightweight, you probably can lift more frequently and get away with it. But, if you push very heavy weights, more frequent training will burn you out.)
Doing cardio in a lower to moderate heart rate zone (110BPM to 135BPM) burns a lot of fat and ideally will keep the fat gain you inevitably get at bay. These types of sessions (typically done for 20-30 minutes) will also allow you to recover faster than if you didn’t do them.
If you have not been used to doing any kind of aerobic work, you absolutely need to do these aerobic sessions. If you don’t, you’ll likely have poor work capacity, have less energy, and won’t recover from your workouts optimally.
Unless your nutrition is 99% solid and you get in all of your training and cardio sessions, you'll likely gain a little bit of fat mass even if you gain weight slowly. Don't worry!
Let's assume that over a 4 month period, you gain 5 pounds of muscle and gain 3 pounds of fat. First off, that's pretty damn good because you gained weight slowly, and you put on some substantial muscle mass. Second, you only put on three pounds of fat which will be a lot easier to lose than if you had put on 15 pounds of fat.
Assume you're tired of gaining weight, so you decide to cut. You need to increase your protein intake to make sure that your muscle mass is not lost. You still need to strength train and do cardio. Much like we did with gaining muscle, you need to lose weight slowly.
If you lose 2-4 pounds per month, you'll be in a prime position to drop fat and keep your muscle mass (and maybe even build some muscle mass). You can even decide to go through multiple cycles of cutting or bulking as long as each cycle is moderate. Later, we'll go through transitioning from bulking to cutting, but for now, you know the basics.
Weight gain and weight loss should be done slowly. As long as you are consistent with your strength training and cardio sessions and have overall good nutrition, you'll make solid progress.