Justin, I’m starting to see some progress, but I’m worried about losing muscle while dieting. I work so hard to build it in the offseason and don’t want to lose it while dieting. Will adding the extra protein slow down my progress?
Yes–adding extra calories from any source will slow progress. It’s all thermodynamics. The law of conservation of energy. All a calorie is, is a measure of energy–the amount of heat energy it takes to raise one gram of water by one degree Celsius.
If you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll store those calories in the body (typically as fat…but if you’re depleted of glycogen, some calories can be stored as glycogen. A very small portion can be stored as protein (new muscle), but the maximum case is about 20-25g per day MAX.
People might want to think there’s more to the equation, but there isn’t–conservation of energy is one of the most powerful laws of science.
Every physicist alive wants to prove it wrong. If you can violate it even one time, it’s a guaranteed nobel prize. But….no one would even care about that, because if you can violate it you can solve the energy crisis and become a trillionaire….many times over.
So, ALL that matters is that you eat less calories than you burn.
Adding more protein is more calories–which means you won’t be burning stored fat, but storing MORE fat instead.
I know people think that eating protein will turn to muscle–but that’s not the case either. You can do the math yourself.
You were eating over 500g of protein per day, right?
500g is 1.1 POUNDS. If you were actually using that protein for muscle growth you’d be gaining 1.1 POUNDS of muscle per day….or in other words, you’d be gaining over 400lbs of muscle per year.
Since you’re not over 500lbs ripped after 1 year of training, I think it’s safe to say most of that protein wasn’t being used to build muscle.
So how much is being used to build muscle?
How much muscle did you add last year?
Let’s go on the high end and say you’re going to add 25lbs of muscle per year. (Even that isn’t possible, because you’d be gaining 75lbs of muscle every 3 years and 125lbs of muscle every 5 years. I’ve been training almost 25 years…..and I can guarantee you I haven’t gained 625lbs of muscle….)
But let’s say you’re a super freak and will be bigger than any body builder in the world in just a few years….so you are going to gain 25lbs of muscle every year.
That works out to 0.068lbs per day…or 30 GRAMS per day.
That means, that even if you are the greatest muscle building human in the history of the world and will gain 300lbs of pure muscle every 10 years…you’re ONLY converting 30g of protein to muscle each day.
So if you’re eating 500g of protein, then (even in this impossible case where you’re gaining 300lbs every 10 years) ONLY 30g of that is actually going to build new muscle.
What happens to the rest?
Some of it goes to replenishing normal muscle breakdown.
Well….I’m sure you’re saying “I’m training HARD! I’m breaking down a lot of tissue to repair!”
Well….a marathon runner breaks down about 50g of protein during an event.
I know…you’re saying that you train with weights…and a marathon runner is just running.
Well…50g of protein is 200 calories—JUST from protein.
Since the vast majority of calories will come from stored glycogen first, and then fat stores next….if you’re burning 200 calories of muscle tissue, you can guarantee that you burned well into the 1,000s of calories from glycogen and fat.
How many calories do you think you’re burning while training with weights? 200? 500? 1000?!?
Let’s say you train like an animal–you make Ronnie Coleman look like a pussy…you’re doing 1000lb squats for sets of 20 reps—more than any human on earth has ever done, and you do it every workout
But not only that, you’re burning 1000 calories EVERY workout–even when training arms!
Okay—that’s 1000 calories—hell, maybe even more on leg day!
Do you think that’s all protein being broken down?
Do you want it to be? Because the way we breakdown protein for energy is we breakdown muscle tissue…so even if you were doing that, you’d be losing over 1/4lb of muscle per day.
I don’t think any of us believes we’re losing 1/4lb of muscle every workout…so it’s easy to see that most of the calories we burn are not protein. Clearly almost all of it is stored carbs (glycogen).
But…let’s continue this, let’s say you ONLY break down muscle for energy when training. You’re also a super freak who squats 1000lbs for sets of 20 reps and you’re losing over 1/4lb per DAY just from training, so you NEED a shit ton of protein.
1000 calories of protein is 250g of protein….
Even if you’re a SUPER freak who gains 300lbs of muscle every 10 years, squats 1000lbs for sets of 20, burns 1000 calories every single workout–even arms, trains 7 days a week, AND ONLY uses protein for energy (no carbs or fat AT ALL)—you fuel all your training by breaking down muscle tissue.
What are your net protein needs?
280g of protein per day.
250g to replace the 1/4 POUNDS of muscle you lose every day in training and 30g to build the 300 POUNDS of new muscle you gain every 10 years.
Now…if you’re eating 500g of protein….what happens to the rest?
Well…it doesn’t get used as protein, it gets converted to glucose through gluconeogenesis and used for energy as a carbohydrate.
And, when you eat too much and don’t have a need for that extra sugar, it gets stored as fat.
It isn’t the amount of protein you eat.
Eating more protein doesn’t directly correlate to more muscle.
And even if you’re training harder than any human has ever trained in the history of the world at every single workout–you’re not breaking down enough protein to ever require 500g per day.
You’re just not losing and rebuilding over a pound of muscle per day–no one is.
The VAST majority of the protein you eat (that anyone eats) doesn’t get used as protein by the body–it gets used as a carbohydrate.
YES–you need to eat enough protein to fuel recover and growth–and you need to eat protein frequently so that those amino acids are always available in the blood stream—but if you’re eating too much protein, it’s no different than just eating a bunch of sugar–you won’t burn fat, and if you’re eating more calories than you burn (even if they’re from protein), you will gain fat….no matter how much cardio and training you’re doing.
To lose fat—you need to eat less calories than you burn.
To guarantee that as much of those excess calories come from stored fat as possible, you need to eat appropriate macronutrients that drive the body to burn fat as much as possible. That macro nutrient ratio is higher in protein and lower in carbs and fat—but it still MUST be less calories than you burn.
To build muscle—you need to eat more calories than you burn.
But, since we know that even 30g (120 calories) of excess calories converting to muscle per day results in 300lbs of new muscle mass every 10 years, we don’t need thousands of extra calories per day to grow. The macronutrient ratio that fuels muscle growth without gaining fat is probably even lower protein than in the diet scenario because we need a higher carbohydrate amount to provide the high glycogen stores to fuel weight training without breaking down protein for energy.