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Protein intake for highly-trained, natural weight lifters during caloric deficit

richlnrichln Posts: 811Member Member Posts: 811Member Member
Ugh, protein discussion again? Yes! Here we go!

If you have been reading the forums here for awhile, then you probably have come to realize that the US RDA for protein (0.8 grams per kg bodyweight per day) is woefully inadequate for all athetes, and specifically too low for people engaged in regular weight training.

Now, assuming you already know the basics, I would like to discuss fact-based information regarding very-high protein intake during caloric deficit for those of us that have been consistently weight training beyond the beginner stage and are relatively healthy (no pre-existing kidney problems or any medical reason to avoid high protein intake).

Anecdotally, many bodybuilders will increase protein intake well above 2.2 g/kg total bodyweight, especially during a weight-loss phase before competetion, as it has been shown that high protein intake promotes lean mass retention during caloric deficit. However, data from studying bodybuilders is often skewed by drug-assisted results that just do not pertain to drug-free natural lifters, as it has also been shown that drug-assisted athletes have higher protein synthesis capabilities. So, hopefully, this thread can stick to facts that exclude drug-assisted athletes. Also, please keep protein intake discussion here limited to grams per kilogram of bodyweight per day (g/kg/d) if possible, because that is the standard that you will see in the scientific literature.

Although this discussion is intended for highly-trained lifters, who probably already have a good knowledge of nutrition, I think it is useful to look at some history to see how protein recommendations have evolved, and hopefully gain some insight into where research may be headed in the future.

Most of the older research I have seen on the subject focuses primarily on the metric of nitrogen balance. Methodically, protein intake is increased until N into the body = N out, showing that an equilibrium point exists where nitrogen uptake by the body has been saturated.

The most-cited of these older studies is the 1988 Walberg et al. study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3182156) which showed a 1.6 g/kg group in positive nitrogen balance and the 0.8 g/kg group having a negative nitrogen balance. The lower protein group lost more lean body mass, and although the difference was not statistically significant, it was only a one-week study. Later research like the 1998 Lemon paper (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9841962) settled on a 1.6-1.7 g/kg result being the best choice for strength athletes to maintain positive nitrogen balance.

It later became clear that nitrogen balance is just one piece of the puzzle, especially during caloric deficit (http://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/planet4.htm) (https://www.t-nation.com/diet-fat-loss/protein-debate). A nice criticism of these older studies, and very-high protein intake in general, is provide by Henselmans:
http://bayesianbodybuilding.com/the-myth-of-1glb-optimal-protein-intake-for-bodybuilders/
However, I find his arguments that 1.8 g/kg is sufficient for LBM retention during deficit to be somewhat tenuous here, since he only references the above Walberg study (which was only one week long and did not have a very-high protein group above 1.8 g/kg) and a 2008 Pikosky et al. study (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18379214) which makes no mention of the weight-training history of the participants, noting only that they were already "healthy" and "physically fit", and had at least a 6 month history of endurance training. As noted in Lemon 1998 above, endurance athletes have lower protein intake requirements than weight-training athletes.

When protein intake goes higher than nitrogen equilibrium (where clearly protein synthesis is already maximized), is there any benefit to the experienced, natural weight lifter during caloric deficit?

Many of the more modern studies compare high protein to low protein (near US RDA levels), like this 2010 from Mettler et al. that shows a clear benefit from 2.3 g/kg compared to 1.0 g/kg:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19927027
The problem with this is that we already know that higher is better than US RDA, but how high should we go? We also now have plenty of papers like the 2011 Phillips and Loon paper (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150425) which projects 1.8-2.7 g/kg may be helpful to prevent lean mass loss. Some of today's top nutrition experts in the field recommend even higher for very lean individuals doing intense training:
2.3-3.1 g/kg (of lean body mass): http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
2-3 g/kg (of target bodyweight): [Alan Aragon's Research Review, Jan. 2011]
2.2-3.3 g/kg: http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/fat-loss/protein-intake-while-dieting-qa.html/
Up to 4 g/kg not specifically recommended, but considered safe: http://www.lookgreatnaked.com/blog/high-protein-intake-myths-and-misconceptions-about-saftey-part-1/
2.0-2.5 g/kg, possibly beneficial up to 3.5 g/kg: http://www.leanbodiesconsulting.com/articles/the-protein-interview-an-interview-with-dr-stuart-phillips/

However, the high end of these recommendations are mostly based on observational experience, projections and interpretations of the existing data. Very-high protein intakes remain rarely studied via proper experiment. I would like to see more very-high versus moderately-high protein studies, which feed the moderately-high protein control group in the 1.8 g/kg to 2.2 g/kg range. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of them out there that I can find.

A recent literature review from Helms et al. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24092765) recommends up to 3.1 g/kg (of FFM) for very lean individuals in high caloric deficit. We then got a 2015 follow-up study from Helms et al. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25028958), which showed that 2.8 g/kg failed to outperform 1.6 g/kg, except in psychological and perceived fatigue assessments. Unfortunately, this study was only two weeks long, and used caliper measurements for body composition analysis. These two papers have an excellent rebuttal from Henselmans here: http://bayesianbodybuilding.com/eric-helms-protein/

How about longer time periods? We have some interesting results from a 2014 Antonio et al. study (http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-11-19), which compared 4.4 g/kg versus 1.8 g/kg over 8 weeks. Unfortunately, it is a maintenance study, not a deficit study, but a notable conclusion was reached here. The very-high protein group added a mean 145 grams of protein per day to their diet above the control group (800 additional calories over normal maintenance diet for the very-high protein group), yet both groups maintained the same LBM and fat mass over the experiment, so the authors conclude that overfeeding the hypercaloric very-high protein diet does not result in an increase in fat mass nor fat-free mass. Additionally, the very-high protein group experienced a better body composition change than the control (change in FFM/FM), although these results were not statistically significant. The authors attribute the lack of significant body weight gain in the very-high protein group to thermic effect, although this was not verified. A critical analysis of the study by Schoenfeld is posted here: http://www.lookgreatnaked.com/blog/new-study-on-protein-overfeeding-a-critical-analysis/

Antonio et al. did a follow-up 2015 investigation that compared 2.3 g/kg versus 3.4 g/kg using a structured strength program (http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-015-0100-0). Again, the moderate-protein group continued their normal diet, while the high-protein group added additional protein to their normal diet. Both groups added FFM and lost FM, so again a maintenance diet. However, body composition results achieved statistical significance this time, with the high-protein group losing significantly more fat mass and more percent body fat than the moderate-protein group. This is in spite of the high-protein group adding almost 400 calories of protein to their baseline normal maintenance diet. The authors speculate that in addition to thermic effect, changes in AEE and NEAT may account for the significant fat loss in the high-protein group. They also note significant individual subject response variability in the results, possibly due to genetic components.

Antonio et al. just recently published another 2015 study that was similar to the 2014 maintenance study, but this one used a 16-week crossover trial (http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s12970-016-0114-2). Again, normal, habitual diet for the 2.6 g/kg moderate-protein phase, with only protein intake raised to 3.3 g/kg for the high-protein phase. Although the high-protein phase saw subjects lose more fat mass, statiscal significance in body composition markers was not reached. No significant body compostion changes were found between phases, despite the high-protein segment consuming an additional 450 calories over baseline. The authors note that 9 out of 11 subjects lost fat mass during the high-protein phase. They also note that the subjects averaged ~3 g/kg protein intake over the 16 week experiment, and there were no changes in blood lipids, renal or hepatic functions.

It is not clear from the current research available that there is a predictable benefit to protein intake above 2.2 g/kg for the highly-trained weight lifter during caloric deficit. While some studies show potential body composition benefits, the results often do not reach statistical significance, with high degrees of individual subject response variability usually a factor. Recent results from Antonio et al. suggest that if all other factors are controlled during maintenance diet, then it is difficult to overfeed on protein in practice, and protein overfeeding in such circumstances can actually lead to fat loss for some individuals (thereby leading to a potential slow fat-loss strategy).

So MFP, what do you think is the "optimal" protein intake for the drug-free, highly-trained weight lifter during caloric deficit? If you can find any more very-high protein intake related info, please post here.
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Replies

  • _John__John_ Posts: 8,601Member Member Posts: 8,601Member Member
    one easily sees how the "bioscience" 1g/pound bw comes about.

    Now for the "general" MFP population concerned about optimal overall health, I don't know whether that figure is as applicable.
  • richlnrichln Posts: 811Member Member Posts: 811Member Member
    _John_ wrote: »
    one easily sees how the "bioscience" 1g/pound bw comes about.

    Now for the "general" MFP population concerned about optimal overall health, I don't know whether that figure is as applicable.

    Yep, bro-science got there first. Science still hasn't done much better in the last 50 years or so (I don't know when that guideline actually got started).
  • juggernaut1974juggernaut1974 Posts: 6,212Member Member Posts: 6,212Member Member
    Unfortunately I have nothing new to add that you didn't already address (outside of insignificant personal anecdotes), but wanted to say thanks for accumulating and dissecting all the studies. Definitely interested to see where this discussion leads.
  • richlnrichln Posts: 811Member Member Posts: 811Member Member
    Unfortunately I have nothing new to add that you didn't already address (outside of insignificant personal anecdotes), but wanted to say thanks for accumulating and dissecting all the studies. Definitely interested to see where this discussion leads.

    Personal anecdotes are welcome. When science fails us, bro-science shall lead us to the truth.
  • juggernaut1974juggernaut1974 Posts: 6,212Member Member Posts: 6,212Member Member
    richln wrote: »
    Unfortunately I have nothing new to add that you didn't already address (outside of insignificant personal anecdotes), but wanted to say thanks for accumulating and dissecting all the studies. Definitely interested to see where this discussion leads.

    Personal anecdotes are welcome. When science fails us, bro-science shall lead us to the truth.

    Even uninteresting ones?!

    Basically I stuck to a goal of about 0.8g/lb (or translated about 1.75g/kg) both when cutting and bulking.

    I'm hardly elite-level, and I didn't really monkey with different levels to test for differences. But I'm happy with the results I've gotten and continue to get.

    Sorry...I warned you they were uninteresting!
  • gc78628gc78628 Posts: 2Member Member Posts: 2Member Member
    Are there any compounds in urine that indicate catabolism? Is there a simple way to test if muscle consumption is occurring? I'd imagine that there would be a fairly large variability in optimal protein consumption based on genetics and a persons past. If protein consumption relates to hormonal and thermic effects there may be a way of determining ideal protein consumption based on heart rate and temperature. IDK, I'm just throwing some ideas out there. I'm kind of surprised a bit that we have a car on Mars, but don't know how to determine a persons ideal protein intake. It seems like a reasonably important problem to solve.
  • richlnrichln Posts: 811Member Member Posts: 811Member Member
    richln wrote: »
    Unfortunately I have nothing new to add that you didn't already address (outside of insignificant personal anecdotes), but wanted to say thanks for accumulating and dissecting all the studies. Definitely interested to see where this discussion leads.

    Personal anecdotes are welcome. When science fails us, bro-science shall lead us to the truth.

    Even uninteresting ones?!

    Basically I stuck to a goal of about 0.8g/lb (or translated about 1.75g/kg) both when cutting and bulking.

    I'm hardly elite-level, and I didn't really monkey with different levels to test for differences. But I'm happy with the results I've gotten and continue to get.

    Sorry...I warned you they were uninteresting!

    Pleased with the results is an important metric!
    My anecdote: I am currently experimenting with 3.3 g/kg. I have never gone above about 2.4 g/kg consistently on a cut.
    Results: I like it. My wife said I look skinny.
  • richlnrichln Posts: 811Member Member Posts: 811Member Member
    gc78628 wrote: »
    Are there any compounds in urine that indicate catabolism? Is there a simple way to test if muscle consumption is occurring? I'd imagine that there would be a fairly large variability in optimal protein consumption based on genetics and a persons past. If protein consumption relates to hormonal and thermic effects there may be a way of determining ideal protein consumption based on heart rate and temperature. IDK, I'm just throwing some ideas out there. I'm kind of surprised a bit that we have a car on Mars, but don't know how to determine a persons ideal protein intake. It seems like a reasonably important problem to solve.

    I believe the N-balance tests urine and is an indicator of catabolism. Training history does seem to be an important variable. Thermic effects can be measured with very good accuracy, but I don't think anybody has done it on a very-high protein study yet. I know Antonio et al. has some more work in the pipeline, so maybe they will get around to it.
  • juggernaut1974juggernaut1974 Posts: 6,212Member Member Posts: 6,212Member Member
    richln wrote: »
    richln wrote: »
    Unfortunately I have nothing new to add that you didn't already address (outside of insignificant personal anecdotes), but wanted to say thanks for accumulating and dissecting all the studies. Definitely interested to see where this discussion leads.

    Personal anecdotes are welcome. When science fails us, bro-science shall lead us to the truth.

    Even uninteresting ones?!

    Basically I stuck to a goal of about 0.8g/lb (or translated about 1.75g/kg) both when cutting and bulking.

    I'm hardly elite-level, and I didn't really monkey with different levels to test for differences. But I'm happy with the results I've gotten and continue to get.

    Sorry...I warned you they were uninteresting!

    Pleased with the results is an important metric!
    My anecdote: I am currently experimenting with 3.3 g/kg. I have never gone above about 2.4 g/kg consistently on a cut.
    Results: I like it. My wife said I look skinny.

    The Spouse's Opinion metric is also very important!
  • SideSteelSideSteel Posts: 11,079Member Member Posts: 11,079Member Member
  • EvgeniZyntxEvgeniZyntx Posts: 24,424Member Member Posts: 24,424Member Member
    There is also the Helm's study.
  • summerkissedsummerkissed Posts: 732Member Member Posts: 732Member Member
    I've read so many studies I've also competed in 4 figure comps.....I'm scared to say there is no exact formula it all comes down to the individual and you can't just target the one nutrient either as it's the combo of the PCF that varies hugely between each and every person! Yes you can look at as many 'guidelines' or studies as you want but aren't studies an average of all participants anyway? And aren't we always told to stay away from trainers that hand out a one diet fits all approach?
    Personally during my cut I'm 190g protein 200g carbs and 40g Fat, I've played with the numbers hugely but that's what works for me (38 year old woman, body has been as low as 9% but never again) that's about 2.9g/kg it's my carb intake I play with mostly for deficit or gain.
    But that's only my individual research for my individual body and results! Can't speak for anybody else! Dexa scans also showed I lost grater muscle % with lower carb/higher protein intake and lost grater fat% higher carb/lower protein intake, would have loved to keep experimenting but the cost got in the way!
  • richlnrichln Posts: 811Member Member Posts: 811Member Member
  • EvgeniZyntxEvgeniZyntx Posts: 24,424Member Member Posts: 24,424Member Member
    richln wrote: »
    There is also the Helm's study.

    Which one? I have these three linked:
    http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25028958
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24092765

    Does he have any others published?

    The first one and third one make strong argument for higher protein levels.
  • richlnrichln Posts: 811Member Member Posts: 811Member Member
    I've read so many studies I've also competed in 4 figure comps.....I'm scared to say there is no exact formula it all comes down to the individual and you can't just target the one nutrient either as it's the combo of the PCF that varies hugely between each and every person! Yes you can look at as many 'guidelines' or studies as you want but aren't studies an average of all participants anyway? And aren't we always told to stay away from trainers that hand out a one diet fits all approach?
    Personally during my cut I'm 190g protein 200g carbs and 40g Fat, I've played with the numbers hugely but that's what works for me (38 year old woman, body has been as low as 9% but never again) that's about 2.9g/kg it's my carb intake I play with mostly for deficit or gain.
    But that's only my individual research for my individual body and results! Can't speak for anybody else! Dexa scans also showed I lost grater muscle % with lower carb/higher protein intake and lost grater fat% higher carb/lower protein intake, would have loved to keep experimenting but the cost got in the way!

    Thanks for results. When you tested better body composition changes with higher carb/lower protein, was that near the end of your cut, or the beginning? Or do the same ideal macro ratios seem to stay constant for you during the entire cut?
  • summerkissedsummerkissed Posts: 732Member Member Posts: 732Member Member
    I was tested at the beginning, and end. I was fairly lean to begin with compared to lots that go into shows. My macros ratios stayed constant during the whole cut, my first show they varied a bit due to finding what worked best for me (this show I got too lean and lost too much muscle during the cut) consequent shows they was very little variation with much better results.
  • richlnrichln Posts: 811Member Member Posts: 811Member Member
    I was tested at the beginning, and end. I was fairly lean to begin with compared to lots that go into shows. My macros ratios stayed constant during the whole cut, my first show they varied a bit due to finding what worked best for me (this show I got too lean and lost too much muscle during the cut) consequent shows they was very little variation with much better results.

    Nice, glad to hear you found your numbers that work really well for you. Thanks for the info.
  • richlnrichln Posts: 811Member Member Posts: 811Member Member
    New Phillips paper in Jan 2016 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/early/2016/01/26/ajcn.115.119339.abstract
    In 40% energy deficit with high volume training, 2.4 g/kg provides better body composition change than 1.2 g/kg over 4 weeks. Training history of subjects not specified in abstract (full text behind paywall).
  • Sued0nimSued0nim Posts: 17,504Member Member Posts: 17,504Member Member
    In

    But I will never be in a category that needs to bother about elite status

    Sobs quietly
  • richlnrichln Posts: 811Member Member Posts: 811Member Member
    rabbitjb wrote: »
    In

    But I will never be in a category that needs to bother about elite status

    Sobs quietly

    It is not particularly about elites. In the literature, "highly-trained" is an intentionally vague term to indicate that the subjects have already been dedicated to consistent training in their sport for a significant amount of time, and are at least somewhat successful at it. It is useful to study highly-trained individuals for this type of research because it weeds out undesired confounding response from novel training stimuli, muscle memory or noob effects, and variances associated with overfat subjects.

    "Elites" are a lot harder to round up for a study, so papers that use elite subjects will note that specifically.
    edited February 2016
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