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Best FAQ’s Following “Protein Myths” Article

I have decided to do a follow-up article addressing the best questions we received in our comments section and on our social media platforms. I received many great responses from the “Protein Myths” article that we published not too long ago, and along with these responses, more great questions surfaced that we felt needed more in-depth explanations.

When calculating total protein requirements, is it dependent on total body weight or just lean body mass?

In most cases, protein requirements are given on a “per pound” basis, meaning total body mass. So if a trainer tells you, “I’ve been eating 1 gram of protein per pound of my body weight and I weigh 200 pounds,” that means he is eating 200 grams of protein. He is not taking into account his lean body mass, which is less than 200.

For the general population, calculating protein intake per pound of total body mass is probably reasonable, but for specific populations, it isn’t as reliable. There have been studies showing that the leaner an athlete is, the more protein he or she needs to maintain muscle mass. A study in 2011 found that the leaner the athlete was, the more protein she required to prevent muscle loss (1).

Another study, from 2013, also found that protein requirements for maintaining muscle mass increased in individuals who became leaner through caloric restriction (2). This study suggests that while dieting, lean athletes need 2.3 – 3.1 grams of protein per kilogram of lean body mass (LBM).

It’s also important to remember that overweight or obese individuals need to consider protein requirements on a “per kilogram of lean body mass” basis. If a person weighs 350 pounds, but most of that is fat tissue, there is no reason for them to eat 350 grams of protein per day; that would be overkill.

So, to summarize, if you are in the “specific populations” category, such as an extremely lean athlete, or dieting to achieve a very low percent body fat, or are heavily overweight or obese, consider calculating your protein requirements according to your lean body mass, not total body weight.

To find out your lean body mass, you need to first measure your body fat. You can have a professional trainer measure it with skin fold calipers or use a handheld electrical impedance monitor—although these aren’t the most accurate. If you have a Special device like skulp or university nearby and are willing to spend a few bucks, you can see if they have a BodPod device, which uses air displacement for better accuracy. (These are very accurate—DEXA is the gold standard).

Once you know your body fat percentage, you can easily determine how much of your body weight is lean mass and how much is fat mass. For example, if you weigh 200 pounds and you find out that you have 20% body fat, you have 40 pounds of fat. Subtract 40 pounds from 200, and you have 160 pounds of lean body mass

If I eat too much protein, will the excess be turned into body fat?

First let’s assume that your maintenance amount of calories—the number of calories you need to eat per day to maintain your current body weight—is 2,000 calories. Let’s also assume that you have met your 2,000 calorie goal by the end of the day, with a mix of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Before bed, you decide to have a protein shake consisting of 50 grams of whey isolate. What will happen to those 200 Calories (50 g protein x 4 calories/gram) that are now in excess, since you’ve already met your maintenance level of calories?