We as bodybuilders and athletes have always been aware of the virtues of adequate protein in our diets. Protein is the principal
matter of our bodies, essential for growth, repair and maintenance of the tissues among many other vital functions. Essentially,
growth, repair and maintenance are what bodybuilders are interested in.
When we weight train in an effort to develop larger muscles, we are actually trying to cause micro-tears in the muscle fibers. Basically, what that does is send out a signal that these muscle fibers were not strong enough to withstand the resistance they encountered. In response - given enough time elapses between workouts for recovery - our bodies, being of an adaptive nature, will repair the damaged muscle fibers. Rather than just repair the fibers, however, the body will compensate with a little extra protection for future assaults using the same resistance. That "little extra" is what we are after - muscle growth.
When the micro tears are repaired, extra protein is added to the fibers to increase their strength, thus increasing their size as well. That is the "little extra" that will make the difference when the original resistance is encountered again. The second encounter won't be the physiological disturbance the first one was because the increased strength of the muscle fibers is able to withstand the same resistance without being damaged or damaged as badly. This is an adaptation process the body uses to protect the physiological system and maintain homeostasis: state of equilibrium, maintenance of a stable internal environment. Just as the body requires enough recovery time between workouts to allow this adaptation process to take place, a diet of adequate nutrients is also required.
The main nutrient required in this process of adaptation is protein. It is true that the protein requirements of a weight-training athlete are increased above what the average person needs as a result of the adaptation process. However, we do not need more than the RDA (recommended daily allowance) for protein to support muscle growth. This doesn't make sense, right? It will after some other factors are made known.
The first important factor is that muscle is made up of only 22 percent protein. In the average annual gain of 10 to 12 pounds (which is a lot) only 2.2 to 2.6 pounds of the additional weight is extra protein in the muscle. That really is not much when you break that protein gain down into grams over a year's time - maybe an additional 2.5 to 3 grams a day above what a person who doesn't train would need. That leads us to the next factor involved, If weight-training athletes need more protein than an average person does, why do we not need more than the RDA requirements for protein?
The RDA for protein is .8 g/kg - that is, for every kilogram of bodyweight we require .8 gram of protein for maintenance of that bodyweight. The RDA is set up so that the average person could take in two-thirds of the RDA of a given nutrient and still meet his requirements for that nutrient. The avenge (note - average does not mean everyone, just the majority) person takes in at least enough protein every day to meet the RDA meaning he is taking in more than his body actually needs. The extra protein not needed by the body will either be used for energy or, if adequate calories are already being consumed to meet energy requirements, it will be stored as fat.
Combining those two factors into protein requirements for a 200-pound man looks something like this (in an adequate-calorie diet): 200 lbs. = 90.9 kg; 90.9 x .8 g = 72.7g. The 200-pounder would require 72.7 grams of protein to meet the RDA. Only two-thirds of that amount is actually needed by the average person for maintenance - about 48 grams. When you add in the extra 2.5 to 3 grams needed on a daily basis to support muscular growth of 10 to 12 pounds a year, the total is still way under the RDA.
Why then do these bodybuilders you know and see in the muscle magazines consume 200 to 500 grams of protein a day? The answer is simple really - the same reason you might be - because the big guys are! We all have our favorite bodybuilders and naturally we attempt to emulate what they do. 'If Mr. Big is consuming 400 grams of protein a day, then I will too.' We have assumed, of course, that because someone is big he must know what he is doing. If that is the case, the larger the guy, the more intelligent he must be! Or the higher his placing in a competition, the more knowledgeable he must be! Of course, that isn't necessarily true in either case. If you are able to see the logic in the case I have presented for a realistic approach to protein consumption, I congratulate you. For the people unable to grasp this argument, remember that the mere fact that everyone else is doing something does not make it right!