High Protein Diet Bodybuilding: Can You Add Muscle Mass by Pounding Protein?

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High protein diet bodybuilding methods have been around since the days of Arnold working out on Venice Beach. But do they work? A new study says not to build muscle, but surprisingly you can eat a lot of protein calories without gaining fat!

The concept is simple. Protein can be refashioned by the body to build muscle, so just eat more and you’ll have bigger muscles. An entire industry of protein powders has grown up around this concept. A trip to the local health food store will find isles of huge plastic tubs filled with the hopes and dreams of the nation’s body builders.

The new study tried to answer this question by studying 30 young and healthy resistance-trained men. They were randomly assigned to a control or a high protein group. The control group was instructed to maintain the same training and dietary habits over the course of the 8 week study. The high protein group was told to consume 4.4 grams of protein per kg body weight daily (more than 5X the daily recommended protein amount). They were also instructed to maintain the same training and dietary habits (e.g. maintain the same fat and carbohydrate intake).

What happened? The high protein group consumed significantly more protein and calories than the control group. However, there were no significant changes over time nor between groups for body weight, fat mass, or percent body fat. Perhaps the most interesting thing here is not that eating more protein didn’t increase muscle mass, but that eating more calories through protein didn’t pack on the fat pounds.

The upshot? I’m not sure this study is big enough or controlled enough (i.e. using specific protein types or training regimes) to make a body builder stop buying gallon sized tubs of whey protein. However, it certainly is concerning that these young men didn’t put on muscle mass. More interesting is that they were able to overeat protein calories and not gain fat. That last fact may be the most helpful for readers struggling to maintain their 20 something pants size. Put down the that doughnut and pick up a steak instead!

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Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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