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Myth

Eating more protein means gaining more muscle

Click here to listen to a 60 second summary of this article by Cris LaBossiere

This is one of the more staple myths in the diet and fitness industry. Many who train with weights to achieve larger muscles believe with a religious tenacity that simply eating more protein while lifting heavy weights will result in rapid growth of huge muscles. Not gaining muscle fast enough? Eat more protein! - Or so goes the myth.

In fact one pound of muscle is about 72% water and contains about 100 grams of protein. This being the case, shouldn't the emphases be on consuming more water to increase muscle size? This also is overly simplistic. Larger muscle cells are synthesized a little bit at a time as a response to the stimulus of a stress placed on the muscle such as during weight lifting. The maximum amount of muscle the average human male can synthesize in one month of proper training is about one pound of lean muscle mass, often much less. It's important to note that hypertrophy may not begin until after two months of weight training as the initial response to weight training is mostly neural (increased efficiency of brain and central nervous system recruiting muscle fibers) and not an increase in muscle fiber size.

With one pound of muscle containing 100 grams of protein, to gain one pound of muscle in one month requires about an extra 3.3 grams of protein per day to support the exercise (weight lifting) that provides the stimulus for muscle synthesis.

Since our bodies are not perfectly efficient, we'll need to consume a little more protein to make up for the "cost" of eating, digesting, transporting, and converting dietary protein into muscle. The general recommendation for protein intake for those building muscle mass or those partaking in regular intensive or extensive (long duration) exercise is about 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body mass per day. Non exercisers require only about 0.8 - 1 gram of protein per/kg/ day, regular exercisers up to 1.5g/ kg/ day. Females have less testosterone, a critical hormone involved in synthesizing more muscle, so typically females gain less muscle mass than a male even with the same relative and absolute amount of training.

The typical "let down" of not gaining muscle mass is caused by two main factors:

#1 - Unrealistic expectations of mass gains
#2 - Improper training/ recovery and poor nutrition

First, many people are pulled in by the exaggerated claims of building muscle fast. The claims are so prevalent that they easily make up the majority of reference material pertaining to building muscle, so much so that when the real facts of building muscle are presented the real facts are ignored and treated like second class information. However when people follow the recommendations for building muscle fast it becomes obvious within a few months that they just can't match those unrealistic expectations and become frustrated. This in turn typically leads a person to trying more gimmicks and often employing a technique known as "stacking" where multiple supposed muscle building supplements are used in a possibly dangerous combination, but also to no avail.

Second, many people trying to gain muscle mass have trouble gaining the lean muscle that is realistic, such as packing on 7 to 10 pounds of lean muscle in one year. The reason for failure here is not what popular fitness culture refers to as "hard gainer" genetics, but rather simply improper training with insufficient recovery and sub-optimal dietary habits.

It is possible to find people with genetics that allow them to gain lean muscle more quickly than others, but even the most genetically gifted person would be hard pressed to gain more than 10 to 12 pounds of lean muscle mass in one year. In the rare cases where a person is able to pack on more muscle in slightly less time than mentioned here, it is unlikely that the initial rate of gain would be sustained. The only exception that allows for "rapid muscle gain" is steroid use, which is replete with serious side effects such weakening connective tissue, Gynecomastia (male breast enlargement), and weakening of heart valves.

I have listened to outrageous claims such as, "I can put an inch on my arms in one week". Really? Then in one year shouldn't this persons arms be 52" larger? How about giving a little room for overzealousness in this claim and ask for only 26" in one year. Impossible. How about being ultra conservative with this moronic claim and giving the benefit of the doubt and accepting only a 12" gain in arm size in one year which would be 1" per month on the arms. These gains never happen. Funny how these claims are only talked about but never officially measured and recorded.

Trapped by a promise

Common amongst athletes is getting trapped by the promise of gaining 10 pounds of lean muscle in the short 4 months of off-season training by eating more protein and hitting the weight room. Football and hockey are the sports most afflicted with this popular myth. In fact the human body cannot naturally synthesize 10 pounds of lean muscle in 4 months. If this were true, any person who put their mind to it could be close to Mr. Olympia size within one year, but of course this never happens. What does happen though, is many athletes gain pounds of fat along with 2 to 4 pounds of muscle and that shows up on the scale as the promised "10 pound increase". The fastest natural lean muscle gain I have witnessed personally as a coach is 7 pounds in 6 months. Maybe others have seen marginally more on rare occasions. Furthermore to even come close to gaining 10 pounds of muscle in the 4 month off season a football or hockey athlete would need to dedicate 100% of their training to mass building and therefore neglect training speed, power, agility, and skill. Any way you look at it, this claim is definitely a myth.

Using reason if we extrapolate any of these claims, within 2 years of regular training and eating "extra protein" a person would be larger than the largest bodybuilder ever. In fact bodybuilders take 3 to 5 years and longer to build their bodies. The truth is the purposed results of "special" training, supplements, and large amounts of protein intake are never born out in the exercising population. If all these claims were true, every year there would be another million or so people who gained 20 to 50 pounds of lean muscle mass over one years time of training. Every high school should have enormous muscular males bursting at the seems as teenage males are one of the largest users of ergogenic supplements. So where are all these gigantic people? We don't see it because the claims aren't true.

There are two popular protein myths; the one you've been reading about here regarding eating extra protein and gaining muscle, and two; eating extra protein and less carbohydrates to lose fat. It's important to notice that both of these claims employ one of the common "red flags" that identifies a myth; an extreme claim that promises something that is far beyond normal expectations.

Rapid muscle gain is just a big a myth as rapid fat loss, and both these myths play right into our emotions.

In fact, consuming too much protein (more than 2 grams of protein per kilogram of muscle mass per day) could lead to abnormal liver function, over stress the kidney's, and be entirely unhealthy. (Click here for an article on calculating the amount of calories you need, and grams of protein per day)

I have been coaching since 1987 and I have never once witnessed or even heard of a legitimate case of either rapid muscle gain or rapid fat loss. Every day I'm in more than one fitness centre, and every day I see the same people trying the same gimmicks for years and year after year their gains are either nonexistent or they simply match normal expected gains. I am always in communication with other coaches and trainers, always in communication with athletes, and again never once have I ever seen or heard of even one person legitimately achieving the unrealistic changes claimed through these all to common myths. There are however always those people who say that they have made the gains or they "know somebody" who made the gains. Every time I have investigated what these individuals say, there is always a dead end. There is no proof of anything. If these myths had any truth to them, the population would bare the evidence; there would be millions of extremely muscular and lean people, and at least in the population that exercises regularly and consumes extra protein and supplements I should see those persons achieve the claimed results over and over, but I don't, and I don't know anybody who ever has or likely will.- Cris LaBossiere

Click here for a readers challange to this article, and Cris LaBossiere's response

Click here to download free software for finding the caloric and nutrient content of foods. This will take you to a USDA web page with piles of helpful nutrition resources.

2004 Rhino Fitness
Copyright 2004 Rhino Fitness. All rights reserved.
For more information contact: clabossiere@rhinofitness.ca