If you eat tons of protein, will you gain muscle?

Posted on 19-05-2014 , by: Nancy Clark , in , , 0 Comments

True or False: College athletes who want to bulk up during the summer should eat slabs of roast beef and drink large protein shakes?

False.  Because the body can utilize only about 20 to 25 grams of protein at one dose, you won’t build bigger muscles by eating a slab of beef for dinner or by downing a hefty protein shake for breakfast. Your better bet is to cut that one-pound slab of beef into four pieces. Enjoy those deck-of-cards-sized pieces at least every four hours, so you get 20 to 25 grams of protein at each meal and afternoon or evening snack.

Lifting weights—not eating excessive protein—triggers muscles to grow bigger. To have the energy needed to lift heavy weight, you want to eat meals that provide adequate grains, fruits and veggies to fuel the muscles. Those carbohydrate-rich foods provide the fuel needed to lift heavy weights.

A recent study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition looked at the effects of consuming a very high protein diet (4.4 g protein/kilogram body weight—about 5.5 times the RDA for protein). The 20 subjects (average age, 24 years old) were well-trained men and women who routinely lifted weights and routinely ate about 2 grams of protein /kg body weight. For 8 weeks, they ate about 300 grams of protein per day (primarily via whey protein supplements) as compared to a control group of 10 athletes who ate “only” 138 g protein per day (within the recommended 1.4 to 2.0 g protein/day recommended for athletes).

The high protein group ended up eating about 800 more calories per day but they gained far less muscle and overall weight than expected – a statistically insignificant 0.9 kg (about 2 pounds) more than the control group. Of that total weight gain, only 0.6 kg can be attributed to gain of lean muscle tissue.  This was far less than one might expect.

The bottom line: If you want to bulk up and add muscle and size, don’t spend lots of money on protein supplements. Choose a more varied diet that includes a balance of all kinds of foods.


AntonioJ, Peacock C, Ellerbroek A, Fromhoff B and Silver T. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2014, 11;19.http://www.jissn.com/content/11/1/19#B12

For more information, read the chapter on how to gain weight healthfully in Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook

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