A handbook on The Bulking Diet

Protein for beginners wanting to build muscle

How much protein you need for game-changing results and the top myths everyone keeps believing about it
Est Read: 10 minutes
Evidence Based

No matter your goal, no matter where you are on your journey - you probably need way more protein than you’re having right now.

That is, if you want to build a body that’s stronger, bigger and leaner. It’s a no-brainer, right?

And if you’re someone who doesn’t consistently hit their protein needs, you’re in luck - you stand a lot to gain:

Protein maximises your energy levels, improves your brain function, and benefits your overall health. It’s even the secret ingredient your body relies upon to repair itself after an injury (study).

But how much protein do you need to build muscle?

The minimum amount of protein you’ll want to get is 1g per lb/ of body weight (per day). This will allow you to reach the lower ends of your protein intake and - if you’re dieting - help to preserve muscle mass. If you’re truly malnourished, and rarely have protein, then you’ll see a lot of benefits from just 1g per lb too.

Too many skinny guys don’t realise that timing protein correctly for their lifestyle, and making sure they have the protein to support their goals, is crucial. But it’s not as simple as mindlessly consuming more protein.

Age, how often you train and where you’re currently sat on the skinny guy spectrum all affect how much protein you need.

This article is here because knowing what protein is and understanding why it matters will reshape your bulking journey.

Not only will you leave this article realising protein’s potential to help you build a better body, you'll also have the knowledge to use it.

Why is getting enough protein so important for us?

Protein is crucial to nearly every process that happens in our bodies; it’s critical for our health.

Acting as a messenger between our cells, protein gives us the structures we need for our cellular metabolism to function.

Meaning protein helps us with more than just building muscle. It helps with the health and quality of our skin, hair, eyes and cell repair. 

All of this hasn’t gone unnoticed, as the latest Google traffic tells us (source). People want these health benefits in their life now more than ever (source).

After all, it also takes care of some other super-important-for-us stuff, like:

  • Nutrient transport and metabolism
  • Anti-oxidative defences
  • Removal of toxic substances
  • Digestive function
  • Neurological function and behaviour

Awesome, right? 

And that's not even scratching the surface of what it can do to benefit us.

But what does all of this have to do with muscle-building as a skinny guy?

Good question, let’s start with what protein is made up of and what it actually is.

The Building Blocks Behind Proteins: Amino Acids

Amino acids fit together like uniquely designed Lego blocks.

Amino acid structure
Amino acid structure

And just like lego blocks, depending on how they fit together, changes how they affect us.

Your body breaks down muscle into smaller protein chains, and finally, down into individual amino acids. Those amino acids then travel to your muscles where they regroup to become bigger, stronger, and faster.

When we eat food made of protein (such as steak, chicken or even tofu) we break them down into peptides (two or more amino acids joined together) and amino acids. We then use those amino acids to make new things or to get support with metabolic functions in the body.

So cool, amino acids are good for us. But can we consume any old kind, or do the lego blocks matter?

The main amino acids you want to pay attention to are branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs).

These are a subset of essential amino-acids (meaning we can't make them ourselves and need to get them elsewhere through food or supplements).

BCAAs are made up of 3 amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine.

Why are BCAAs essential for building muscle?

Together, they represent around 35–40% of all essential amino acids present in your body and 14–18% of those found in your muscles (study).

Unlike other amino acids, BCAAs are mostly broken down in the muscle, rather than in the liver. (study) meaning they’re used more effectively to help us build real muscle.

In fact:

They've been shown to:

  • directly increase muscle growth
  • reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)
  • Prevent muscle wastage. (study, study, study)

The primary BCAA that we want to pay attention to is Leucine.

This has been shown to be incredibly insulinogenic (study) which means it's excellent at helping muscles grow. Better yet, it does this without spiking blood sugar or causing fat gains (more on that in the carbs section).

This anabolic effect of leucine appears to favour skeletal muscle more than hepatic (liver) tissue and seems to be increased by physical exercise (muscle contractions)

Although studies are showing that supplementing with BCAAs during a workout isn't that beneficial (study, study) there's more to it than just looking at them studies in isolation, vs how Leucine fits into your diet.

That's because most of the articles and press smack-talking BCAAs are assuming you are only getting BCAAs from a supplement, not protein from whole foods, or a complete protein powder.

While BCAAs (and particularly leucine) can stimulate muscle protein synthesis, on their own they’re not enough for us to get the benefits we want for both health and muscle growth - to get the most muscle protein synthesis, we need the other essential amino acids as well.

Two critical factors: protein synthesis and protein breakdown

Due to all of the roles protein has, it’s continually being deconstructed and reconstructed in the form of protein synthesis and protein breakdown.

The process of protein turn over

Both work together to create protein turnover, which helps control the quantity and quality of the protein in our system.

These two roles are one of the most important reasons why protein matters when it comes to repairing our muscles and helping us get bigger and stronger.

1. Protein synthesis

Protein synthesis is the process of building new proteins in the body.

It’s process is quite fascinating:

Following instructions from our DNA, proteins are built from amino acids to become peptides; peptides then form polypeptides, and from there become increasingly complicated, intricate structures.

It's an essential process that we want to maximise if we're going to grow or preserve any muscle we might have.

For muscle protein synthesis to occur, two things must happen:

• A chemical signal (such as the presence of particular amino acids or hormones and peptides like insulin or IGF-1) must be triggered

• A mechanical signal (such as exercise) (study)

However, the balance of protein synthesis is also in a constant fight with protein breakdown.

2. Protein breakdown

This is the breakdown (or degradation) of proteins within skeletal muscle.

Contrary to what most gym gurus think, this process is necessary for both metabolism and cell growth due to the amino acids being used in the synthesis of immune system components, plasma proteins, and peptide hormones (study, study).

However, it also isn't ideal when we want to maximise muscle growth and it’s being zapped from us. Because of this, we want to keep our protein intake up as much as possible (more on this in a second).

Although it seems like we’re learning new things about protein all the time, as mentioned, the benefits of it for our health have been known for a while (study, study, study, study) and most “new studies” out there on the front page of papers, are just stating what we’ve known for a while.

How much protein should we have in our diet?

According to top nutrition experts Precision Nutrition if you're healthy and looking to change your body composition (muscle growth or fat loss), then you'll want to aim for 1.6-3.3 grams per kilogram of your body weight every single day (source)

Based on Based on Precision Nutrition's Level 1 Nutrition Certification Program 

Simply put:

If you're a healthy person and don't have a medical condition that requires you to eat a low protein diet, then your best bet is to aim for a diet that is towards the higher figures of protein. 

There’s no downsides and a whole lot to gain...

Studies have shown that a diet high on protein, can help limit fat gain and improve health markers while bulking (study) and high protein diets above one gram per pound (2.2g/kg) are unlikely to cause any adverse effects on kidney or liver health, even when done over multiple years (study).

The science shows recommendation of 2g per kg (or 1g per pound) of body weight/day on training days to maximise muscle mass on training days and 1.6 on non-training days (studystudy) however, there are no problems with sticking with the same protein usage no matter the day, and it's what I recommend for everyone starting out (keep it simple).

If you currently weigh 112 lbs (50.8 kg), then this would mean you'd need to aim for 100-112 grams of protein (give or take). 

We (like PN) recommend going higher than 2g when possible. You can even go to 3 x your bodyweight (in kg) if you’re someone who can manage the appetite. 

Maximising your protein usage.

Now, if you've heard that you can only consume 30g per meal, then you might be wondering, “does that mean I need to eat a lot of meals to get in enough protein?”

And you wouldn't be wrong, if this were entirely true.

Two factors come into play here:

1. 20g stimulates protein synthesis

Several studies have shown that maximum muscle protein synthesis is stimulated by an intake of 20 grams of protein. This means that when we give it 20g, it uses the remaining amino acids for energy production rather than protein synthesis. However, this goes up to 40g when we lift weights (study, study) and a full-body workout increases protein synthesis more than after a workout where only a single muscle group is trained (which is something we use heavily in S2SF)

On top of that, evidence indicated that any amount over this was wasted (study) because we'd be excreting the waste.

The thought behind his practice is that by spreading protein intake throughout the day, you can maximise the protein synthesis (the process by which your muscles build new protein) - this was shown to increase by as much as 25% by spreading protein across meals (study)

Shane Duquette did a great analysis of Dr Layne Norton’s research (study, study, study). where he looked at protein synthesis and how ectomorphs can best use it:

Image is based on Bony To Beastly's - IF article (source)

The research shows that when we eat a meal, it triggers a surge of muscle growth 1.

Showing that if we skip a meal, we're missing out on potential muscle growth (from protein synthesis) which according to Layne (and Shane's analysis) isn't possible to come back from.

Image is based on Bony To Beastly's - IF article (source)

So yes, protein synthesis is maximised at 20-30g, however as you know, the process in which your muscles build new protein is not just affected by protein synthesis alone.

2. You can consume upwards of 70g grams of protein ?

The rate at which your muscles build new protein is the result of the net balance between the rate of protein synthesis, and the rate of protein breakdown.

You could reach the maximum level of protein synthesis, yet still increase the rate at which your muscles build new protein by reducing protein breakdown (thereby increasing the net positive protein balance).

One study found 70 grams of beef protein stimulated more net protein balance than 40 grams, because of protein breakdown being suppressed (study, study).

As expert scientist and well-renowned expert James Krieger puts it:

"We can further infer what happens during a meal by considering the effects of a meal on insulin. In a meal, protein is typically combined with carbohydrate. Both protein and carbohydrate are powerful stimuli to produce insulin. Insulin reduces protein breakdown. The more protein and carbohydrate you eat, the more protein breakdown is reduced. This would increase the overall anabolic response (the net difference between protein synthesis and breakdown), even though muscle protein synthesis itself is already maximised at the 20-30 gram protein level."

- James Krieger, Weightology

When you take the evidence (study) into account, it shows that we don’t have a limit on how much we can consume, and in fact, there isn't a limit on the amount we can eat (beyond protein synthesis).

Instead, meeting your macro and calorie goals is way more important. If that means only being able to do it in 4 meals instead of 8, then that's what you have to do. After all, doing is better than not.

But you might struggle with this.

After all, protein is a food that decreases appetite. (study)

How to make protein less filling, if you struggle to eat enough calories consistently 

Most protein sources are whole foods, difficult to chew and slow to digest. This makes them tough to eat when you need to consume a lot (making it harder for people with weaker appetites to hit their goals).

However, you'll be happy to know you do have some options to combat this:

  1. Choose liquid protein sources, such as whey protein shakes, yoghurt, or milk. A drink I recommend is The Strongman Shake, which allows you to get calories in, which according to research makes things more palatable, digestible, absorbed faster and easier to track (source)
  2. Choose high-calorie protein sources, such as salmon, grass-fed beef and chicken thighs. These are higher in protein while also being high in (healthy) fat, raising their overall calorie content. You'll be able to hit two birds with one stone.
  3. Cook the meat in a way that makes it easier to chew and quicker to digest. One example of this is stewing the beef until it falls apart on your fork. Another example is to choose ground meat instead of steak. This is why foods like hamburgers, chilli, and picadillo can be great for bulking.
  4. Choose carbs and fats which include traces of protein. Although this won’t be your main source of protein, it’ll help add up to your overall protein goal.

Think of pairing peanut butter with fruit or using quinoa in place of rice - although this won't provide a large amount of protein, it counts towards your overall protein amount. As a skinny guy, every little helps, right?

These should get you started with being able to eat enough to reach your goals, without feeling like a bloated mess all the time.

Recommended sources

EAT MOREEAT SOMEEAT LESS
Eggs and egg whitesUncultured cottage cheeseFried meats
FishMedium-lean meatsChicken fingers, nuggets, and wings
ShellfishTofuHigh-fat meat
ChickenEdamameHigh-fat sausages
Duck breast and thighs SeitanHigh-fat meat alternative
TurkeyCanadian baconProcessed soy
Lean beef Bison Lean porkMeat jerkyProcessed deli meats
Wild gameLambProtein bars
goat, camel, horse, kangaroo, crocodile, etc.Minimally processed lean deli meatPepperoni sticks
Plain Greek yoghurtPoultry sausageHigh-mercury fish
Cultured cottage cheeseProtein powders
Tempeh
Insects
Lentils and beans

The Superhuman Lab Summary

There’s no denying that if you want to build muscle (or keep muscle while dieting) and increase your overall well being, you'll need to get enough protein in your diet to reach your goals.

Without it, you’re going to struggle to build an optimal body with high muscle mass, lower body fat and better health markers

Thankfully, there’s plenty of ways to get it in your diet.

You’ll want to make sure you're getting 2-3g/kg of your ideal body weight, and preferably from a variety of sources too, to keep your sanity safe.

Protein synthesis and protein breakdown have an odd relationship, but making sure you maximise protein synthesis is important. To do this, you need to make sure that you’re consuming protein, every few hours if your lifestyle allows it.

Of course, if life gets in the way, and you can’t eat every few hours, then that’s fine. Focusing on your protein intake and making sure you hit the numbers is most important - even if that means having one large meal of 100g of protein.

I recommend having a mix of solid, and liquid nutrition, however, if you’re not a fan of supplements, that’s totally fine. Just know your appetite might struggle more if you’re a typical ectomorph.

So there you have it. That’s all you need to know about protein. 

The major fact from the start of this article doesn’t change - you probably need more of it to get where you want to be. And if you do it in the right way, you’ll start to see the results you’ve always wanted.

  1. This isn’t just muscle growth you could potentially get, this is your body actually constructing muscle

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Calories
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Carbs

The Footnotes

The Bulking Diet Handbook

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