How To Build Muscle
I’m often asked this question, “How do I build muscle?”
My response initially sounds very political, “Eat a balanced meal of proteins, carbohydrates, and vegetables (leafy greens if you can!),” trying to please everyone.
The questioners are usually contempt with this answer, as I pause for a second then say, “Unless you want to build muscle fast!”
Their eye’s light up, and I proceed with some version of the following:
EAT MORE PROTEIN!
The upper maximum level of protein intake per day as recommended by the National Academy of Sciences (via the Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range) is 35% of your caloric intake1. If the average caloric intake is 2,000 calories/day that would mean your maximum calories from protein/day could be 700. In the whey protein I use, 1 scoop or 24 grams of protein equals 130 calories. This means I could have just fewer than 5.5 scoops, totaling approximately 130 grams of protein for a 2000 calorie diet. But, what if you are the typical middle school or high school player in regards to your diet? You know what I mean, sparsely eating, cookies and chips here and there, sugar free sports drinks–you might not even get to 2000 calories! So is it the calories from protein that matter or the shear amount of total protein? I don’t know! AND neither does the research!
Clear as your protein shake? Don’t worry, I’m right there with ya.
Lets look at the other side of the coin for some guidance.
Massive Calorie Diets
What if you happen to be a very competitive athlete, or just someone who eats more than 2,000 calories of food per day? When I was bodybuilding in college, I was eating around 3,500-4,500 calories per day. I was eating 8 full meals every day; between 400-550 calories per meal. My metabolism was on fire because I was building muscle, and further speeding it up with the frequency of meals I was having. You’ve heard people say if you want to boost your metabolism, eat 6 small meals/snacks per day. Imagine that plus two more meals–and all 8 meals were huge (think ½lb of pasta and 1lb of ground beef meat sauce type meals). My strength gains were through the roof. I would go on to gain 30lbs of muscle in just 2 months, weighing in at 198lbs….not necessarily what you want to do as a baseball player.
[Side note: Even though I have been blessed with great speed, when I weighed 198lbs I became much slower on my feet. You need to be quick as a baseball player, not huge. The trick is finding the balance–the correct weight gain to speed ratio.]
Using an estimate of 4,000 calories and 35% maximum protein intake, I was taking in around 260 grams of protein per day. As I look back, I estimate it closer to 200 grams per day, which is about 1 gram per pound of my body weight that I eventually weighed (I put this plan in place, as a goal to reach a weight of 200lbs), or 26% of my caloric intake.
One gram of protein per pound of body weight is the general recommendation for bodybuilders. Since bodybuilders break down more muscle tissue than you will, trying to create muscular hypertrophy, you won’t need as much protein as them. For the baseball player I recommend 2/3rds (or 66%) of your current body weight be grams of protein per day. So if you weigh 150lbs, then you should be ingesting 100g of protein per day.
Research has told us that baseball pitchers who weigh more can throw harder. BUT as long as you know it’s not the weight gain, but the strength gains the accompany it; it’s not necessarily important to aim for a higher weight from the get-go. Stick with your current body weight and calculate your protein intake. You will gain weight as you workout correctly, and feed your body what it needs.
If you want to have more protein, I don’t advocate greater than 1 gram per pound of your body weight. Clear it with your physician before you increase your protein intake to meet a desired weight (Just a word from my experience–physicians tend to be more cautious) Make sure to drink lots of water, eat vegetables, and perform some cardiovascular work at least 1x per week to help with protein digestion, heart and kidney health. Your conditioning program should help you get your heart pumping. Need a baseball conditioning program? Click here. Don’t fall victim to the poor conditioning of yesterday’s coaches.
A 19982 study of healthy mice showed that protein intake of up to 47% of body weight in cold climates (a climate necessitating increased energy demands….like sport participation would) increased liver and kidney size and function. While the digestive tract of mice isn’t the same as humans, this makes sense. More in—more out. More is needed by the body to make things happen, like keeping you performing at an optimal level. What we don’t know is if increased digestive tract size and function leads to problems.
A 20103 study performed on healthy adult pigs who don’t exercise, showed that pigs who ate a high protein diet of 35% caloric intake over 8 months showed enlarged kidneys, and evidence of decreasing renal function. Pigs have the closest kidney function to humans.
A 20054 study of bodybuilders with 6 hours of weight training per week ingested protein at 19% of caloric intake, averaging out to 75% of their body weight. Kidney function markers were recorded and were found to be within normal limits. I have not read this whole study personally, so I cannot verify the drawbacks.
In conclusion, with the evidence that is out there, if you have healthy kidneys, I stand by my recommendation of 66% body weight should be grams of protein intake per day. Please consult a physician and physical therapist to check your health in the form of a preparticipation physical exam before you begin weight training and eating a high protein diet.
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1. Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Cabohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids (Macronutrients). 2005. National Academies Press.
2. Hammond K, Janes D. The effects of increased protein intake on kidney size and function. 1998. J Exp Biol. 201: 2081-2090
3. Jia Y, Hwang SY, House JD, et al. Long-term high intake of whole proteins results in renal damage in pigs. 2010. J Nutr. 140 (9): 1646-1652
4. LaBounty P. Blood markers of kidney function and dietary protein intake of resistance trained males. 2005. J Inter Soc Sport Nutr. 2:1 23-30