Thursday, August 12, 2010

How Much Protein Should a Weight Trainer Eat, and When?

How much protein should I eat? - and when, and what kinds? - have been questions on athletes' minds since the discovery of protein itself. With bodybuilders and strength athletes in mind, here's what the relevent research has to tell us...

The maximum safe daily protein intake is about 1.62 g/lb/day for people unaccustomed to high protein levels. For people adapted to higher protein intakes, this may go up to as high as 2.07 g/lb/day. Anything beyond that and the liver will not be able to deaminate the amino acids entering the bloodstream and the person will almost surely begin to experience signs of hyperammonemia.

The most anabolic rate of amino acids entering the bloodstream is about 0.0471-0.0546 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass per hour. For a 180-lb trainee at 15% body fat (153 lbs of lean body mass) that comes to 7.21-8.35 g/hour. That would be 173-200 grams of protein, or 1.13-1.31 g/lb-LBM/day, assuming he didn't sleep and stayed up all night eating or ate 58-67 grams of a very slow digesting protein before bed and the rest spread out over the day.

However, we must sleep, so removing the bedtime pig-out from the equation gives 0.75-0.87 grams/lb-LBM/day or roughly 1.66-1.92 g/kg-LBM (1.41-1.63 g/kg of body weight in this case). That puts it in range of the 1.6-1.8 g/kg (0.726-0.816 g/lb) of body weight amount that Peter Lemon found as the "ideal" amount for maximum nitrogen retention. Adding back in 14-32 grams of protein before bed would bump this 180-lb trainee to the upper limits of Lemon's findings.

In other words, the data sources seem to support each other to a fair degree. 0.0471-0.0546 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass per hour seems to be the maximally anabolic amount per hour, and a total of about 0.96-1.31 g/lb-LBM/day seems to be the most "anabolic" daily amount. In terms of total body weight, that comes to about 0.82-1.11 g/lb for a person who's 15% body fat.

How do you get 0.0471-0.0546 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass per hour? You have choices. You can eat slow-digesting proteins that are absorbed at about the right rate (such as casein), or you can eat smaller amounts of faster-digesting proteins more often. Here's a table of the rates of absorption of some common protein sources...

  • Protein source, absorption rate (g/h) for a 147-lb man
  • Egg protein raw, 1.3
  • Pea flour, 2.4
  • Egg protein cooked, 2.8
  • Pea flour proteins, 3.4
  • Milk protein (complete), 3.5
  • Soy protein isolate, 3.9
  • Free amino acids, 4.3
  • Casein isolate, 6.1
  • Free amino acids with casein profile, 7-7.5
  • Whey protein isolate, 8-10

So, how would you use this? First of all it's a good idea to scale the absorption rates to your body weight. The values in the table were taken for a 147-lb man. If you weighed 180 lbs you'd therefore scale all the numbers up by multiplying by 1.22 (i.e. 180/147). So for you, the approximate absorption rate of casein, for example, would be 1.22 x 6.1 = 7.4 grams per hour.

To set up an example diet, let's say you're 180 lbs @ 15% body fat. In that case your lean body mass would be 153 lbs and the optimum amount of protein for you to consume would be 0.0471-0.0546 x 153 = 7.2-8.4 grams per hour. From the above we can see that an ideal protein for you would be casein isolate because, as we've seen, you'd digest it at a rate of about 7.4 grams per hour. In that case, you could consume 30 grams of casein and be good for 4 hours, as that's how long it would take you to digest it naturally.

Or, looking at whey protein isolate, we see that you'd likely digest that at a rate of about 1.22 x 8-10 = 9.8-12.2 g/h. That's a little too fast for the optimum range of 7.2-8.4 grams per hour we calculated for a guy with 153 lbs of lean body mass, so we'd have to slow it down by only eating 8.4 grams of whey isolate an hour... and best to spread that out over two or three feedings during the course of the hour (or merely sips in this case).

At this rate of 0.0471-0.0546 x 153 = 7.2-8.4 grams per hour you'd have eaten 115 to 134 grams of protein over the course of the day. You're optimum daily intake, however, is in the 0.96-1.31 g/lb-LBM/day range. At 153 lbs of lean body mass that's 0.96-1.31 x 153 = 147 to 200 grams of protein per day. You'd add in something in the range of 13-85 grams of a very slow-digesting protein just before bed to make up the rest. However, if you slept for 8 hours and went for the top of the range of 85 grams of protein at bedtime (worst case assuming you ate 115 grams during the day and were shooting for the maximum of 1.31 g/lb-LBM/day) that would be 10.6 g/h ...too fast. In this case, your max should be in the range of 7.2-8.4 g/h, or something in the range of 58 to 67 grams of protein spread out over the whole 8-hour sleeping period. Again, a good choice would be casein. At a digestion rate of 7.4 g/h for you, that would be 59 grams of casein at bedtime. That could mean a casein protein shake or a big chunk of cheese, or a combination of the two. Is it really practical to consume that much protein before bed? That's for you to decide.

At the lower end of the overnight scale you could consume just 13-34 grams of protein before bed and still be in Lemon's ideal range of 0.96 g/lb-LBM/day (depending on how much protein you ate over the course of the day). That's certainly a more practical range for most people to load their stomachs' down with before going to sleep. In that case you'd still want to choose a protein that would last the whole night. At a digestion rate of 3.5 g/h, 28 grams of milk protein could do the trick. Or at 2.8 g/h you could take in 22.4 grams of protein from cooked eggs (about four hard-boiled eggs). These absorption rates are lower than the optimally anabolic rate we calculated at 7.2-8.4 g/h for a man with 153 lbs of lean body mass, but they will keep him out of catabolism overnight and, quite frankly, no one knows whether the body will "make up" for it or not in the morning by entering a more anabolic state when you start taking in 7.2-8.4 g/h again.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Predicting your Maximum Strength in the Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift

Years ago I wrote an article in an old issue of the WeighTrainer magazine that dealt with the maximum strength levels a typical drug-free trainee was ever likely to achieve. They weren't meant as absolute limitations, but rather as a comparison of how you'd personally stack up against other lifters of your body weight. Recently, there's been some interest on the Strength and Size Forum regarding strength levels based on bone structure and body weight. I thought it was time for an update.

The equations below were derived by performing regressions on data of world record lifts in the Bench Press, Squat and Deadlift from the late 1940s up to current drug-free, raw Powerlifting records as of April 2010. In essence, if you plug in a body weight they'll tell you what the world record lifts would be at that weight (without drugs or lifting equipment). The fits are very accurate, but some outliers exist with the Bench Press in particular (those people who are built to Bench Press even among fellow world record holders).

Bench Press = 2.6536e-5 x BW^3 - 0.02590 x BW^2 + 8.7356 x BW - 439.90
Full Squat = 2.5122e-5 x BW^3 - 0.02993 x BW^2 + 11.2575 x BW - 676.60
Deadlift = 1.6940e-4 x BW^3 - 0.12449 x BW^2 + 30.3879 x BW - 1776.51

BW = body weight in pounds, and all lifts are expressed in pounds.

Lifts are done with no support equipment except a lifting belt. Bench Presses are with a complete stop on the chest, no bounce. Squats are to full parallel or below. Deadlifts can be Sumo or conventional style.

The equations are based on world record holders in the individual lifts - history's best "specialists", you might say. It isn't really realistic to expect that you'll be able to match the predictions - after all, only a handful of people in history have. If you eventually do, then fine, you are a world champion; if not, you're one of the rest of us. Typical trainees may reach approximately 67% of the Bench Press prediction and 72% of the Squat and Deadlift predictions. Extreme "hard gainers", in a particular lift or in general, may max out as low as 53% or less of the Bench Press and about 58% of the Squat and Deadlift. Whatever may be the case, accept yourself for who you are and never stop trying to improve yourself - that's the real measure of success, not only were you ultimately go, but where you came from as well.

The data used in formulating these equations included record holders from 110 lbs to 242 lbs, so the equations are accurate in these weight ranges. Body fat is also factored into the equations to a degree because competitors in the lower weight classes tend to have lower body fat than lifters in the heavier classes. Above 242 lbs or so lifters get significantly fatter, but the equations still hold reasonably well.

As an example of how to use the equations, let's take a look at say Marvin Eder's Bench Press. Eder was 198 pounds when he was at his best, so...

Eder's Bench Press = 2.6536e-5 x 198^3 - 0.02590 x 198^2 + 8.7356 x 198 - 439.90 = 480.3 lbs

In reality, Eder was credited with a 515 lb Bench Press, so he was one of those freaks I mentioned above. His record would likely still stand today. Interestingly, other absolute records on the Powerlifts have not increased significantly since the introduction of steroids in the late 1950s. For instance, Reg Park's Bench Press and Squat would be within 20 lbs of the current raw, drug-free Powerlifting records (set by specialists at that), as would Doug Hepburn's major lifts. Paul Anderson's Squat would most certainly be significantly above the current world record in any drug-tested, raw federation. What that tells us is that these lifts are not increasing over time and these equations can be reliably taken to approximately represent the limits of human strength without drugs or equipment (other than a lifting belt).

If you're a drug-free bodybuilder who's interested in utlimately getting as big as you can without drugs, you may want to use the equations to predict how strong you could be at your biggest (biggest, not fattest) muscular condition. In that case, use the following equations from my e-book, YOUR MUSCULAR POTENTIAL: HOW TO PREDICT YOUR MAXIMUM MUSCULAR BODYWEIGHT AND MEASUREMENTS. These equations predict how big you're likely to get after a lifetime of drug-free bodybuilding and are based on an analysis of over 300 drug-free bodybuilding champions from the 1940s up to present day.

Maximum Lean Body Mass = H(W/7.2546 + A/5.9772)(%bf/450 + 1)
Overall Bodyweight = (Lean body mass/(100-%bf)) x 100

H = height in inches
W = wrist circumference in inches
A = ankle circumference in inches
%bf = body fat percentage

As an example of how to use the equations, let's say you're a typical lifter of 5’9” (69 inches) in height, with 7.0” wrists, 8.8” ankles and 12% body fat. You would have the following potential lean body mass:

Maximum Lean Body Mass = 69.0 x (7.0/7.2546 + 8.8/5.9772)(12/450 + 1) = 172.6 lbs

Your total body weight would be,
Body weight = (172.6 / (100 – 10) ) x 100 = 196.1 lbs

At a body weight of 196.1 lbs, your world record level raw lifts would be:

Bench Press = 2.6536e-5 x 196.1^3 - 0.02590 x 196.1^2 + 8.7356 x 196.1 - 439.90 = 477 lbs
Full Squat = 2.5122e-5 x 196.1^3 - 0.02993 x 196.1^2 + 11.2575 x 196.1 - 676.60 = 569 lbs
Deadlift = 1.6940e-4 x 196.1^3 - 0.12449 x 196.1^2 + 30.3879 x 196.1 - 1776.51 = 673 lbs

Again, those would be world record level lifts. It's much more likely that you'll tap out at about 67% of the Bench Press and 72% of the Squat and Deadlift or so. That would be a Bench Press of 320 lbs, a Full Squat of 410 lbs, and a deadlift of 484 lbs. If you just weren't born to lift you might only get to about 53% and 58% of those numbers - a Bench Press of 253 lbs, Full Squat of 330 lbs and a Deadlift of 390 lbs. In that case, however, you probably wouldn't reach the predicted maximum body mass either. True "hard gainers" only achieve about 95% of the maximum body mass predictions - which in itself still represents a fine physique and an impressive accomplishment.