Eat Less Protein, Get The Same Muscles
    By News Staff | October 26th 2009 12:00 AM | 3 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    Body builders will tell you that protein is key to bigger, stronger muscles.   For the truly elite, that may be the case but for the all but 50 of you who are not elite muscle builders, a recent study by University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston metabolism researchers provides evidence that a more normal eating pattern is going to get you the same results as wolfing down protein shakes; something  your  commission-based, fitness-center trainer does not want you to read.

    The study's results, obtained by measuring muscle synthesis rates in volunteers who consumed different amounts of lean beef, show that only about the first 30 grams (just over one ounce) of dietary protein consumed in a meal actually produce muscle.

    "We knew from previous work that consuming 30 grams of protein — or the equivalent of approximately 4 ounces of chicken, fish, dairy, soy, or, in this case, lean beef — increased the rate of muscle protein synthesis by 50 percent in young and older adults," said associate professor Douglas Paddon-Jones, senior author of a paper on the study published in the September issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. "We asked if 4 ounces of beef gives you a 50 percent increase, would 12 ounces, containing 90 grams of protein, give you a further increase?"

    The UTMB researchers tested this possibility by feeding 17 young and 17 elderly volunteers identical 4- or 12-ounce portions of lean beef. Using blood samples and thigh muscle biopsies, they then determined the subjects' muscle protein synthesis rates following each of the meals.

    "In young and old adults, we saw that 12 ounces gave exactly the same increase in muscle protein synthesis as 4 ounces," Paddon-Jones says. "This suggests that at around 30 grams of protein per meal, maybe a little less, muscle protein synthesis hits an upper ceiling. I think this has a lot of application for how we design meals and make menu recommendations for both young and older adults."

    The results of the study, Paddon-Jones points out, seem to show that a more effective pattern of protein consumption is likely to differ dramatically from most Americans' daily eating habits.

    "Usually, we eat very little protein at breakfast, eat a bit more at lunch and then consume a large amount at night. When was the last time you had just 4 ounces of anything during dinner at a restaurant?" Paddon-Jones said. "So we're not taking enough protein on board for efficient muscle-building during the day, and at night we're taking in more than we can use. Most of the excess is oxidized and could end up as glucose or fat."

    A more efficient eating strategy for making muscle and controlling total caloric intake would be to shift some of extra protein consumed at dinner to lunch and breakfast. 

    "You don't have to eat massive amounts of protein to maximize muscle synthesis, you just have to be a little more clever with how you apportion it," Paddon-Jones said. "For breakfast consider including additional high quality proteins. Throw in an egg, a glass of milk, yogurt or add a handful of nuts to get to 30 grams of protein, do something similar to get to 30 for lunch, and then eat a smaller amount of protein for dinner. Do this, and over the course of the day you likely spend much more time synthesizing muscle protein."


    Becky Jungbauer
    This is really interesting. As a person who needs a lot of protein (not because I'm a body builder), I definitely consume a lot of protein for breakfast so I don't pass out before lunch. I didn't know that we leveled off at a certain amount of intake, though.
    Did they test active individuals or no? The whole point of muscle-building is that you stress the body to repair the muscle and therefore force the body to make the muscle stronger (or fail underneath the load). The anecdotal body of evidence is huge that protein builds muscle. There is also some experimental data that shows the same in exercising (specifically weight-lifting) individuals.

    I know from my personal standpoint, I didn't make much muscle gains until I upped my protein intake to 0.7-0.9 grams/lb bodyweight.

    0mar brings up a great point. It doesn't seem like the physical-activity of these individuals were apart of the study, the only factors being the overall intake and muscle buildup. Their actual physical-exertion could make a huge different in these numbers. In someone who's working out a great deal, and consistently, the higher protein levels could make way more of a difference than in someone who is nonactive.