Whether you are a hardcore bodybuilder or a rhino-charging rugger, protein is vital. Even average gym goers know that protein is vital, although they might not know why! In fact, the word protein comes from the Greek for primary. If you don’t eat enough protein, your workouts won’t produce the results you want.
Dietary protein contains amino acids. Carbs like grains and veggies contain amino acids, but they are most abundant in foods like meat, fish, eggs, and whey protein. When you eat protein, your body breaks it down into its constituent aminos, reorders and repurposes them, and uses them for things like muscle repair and growth.
Insufficient protein means your body won’t have the resources necessary to repair and restore your body after training.
Like a builder without bricks, the recovery process will grind to a halt. At best, your strength and fitness will stagnate, but it’s also possible your performance will decline. Studies confirm that eating sufficient protein is crucial for increasing strength and muscle size.
Because protein is so important, all ruggers should make sure they eat enough. But what does that mean? And what happens to excess protein is you eat too much?
As discussed, when you eat protein, it is broken down into amino acids. So far, so good. Depending on your current nutritional and training status, some or all of those amino acids will be used for a range of anabolic processes. That includes muscle repair and growth.
However, if you consume more protein than you need, there will be unused amino acids left over. Initially, your body increases protein metabolism to make use of this valuable resource. Your body doesn’t like to waste protein which considering how expensive most protein-rich foods are is no bad thing.
Despite this, there may still be unused amino acids. Any surplus aminos are converted into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis. This simply means making new glucose. Glucose is a very useful source of energy, especially during intense exercise. But if you already have an energy surplus and don’t need that extra glucose, those unused amino acids are converted to fat and then stored.
Granted this is a laborious process, and your body does all it can to avoid turning amino acids into fat, but that’s the fate of excess protein. It’s important to understand that turning amino acids into glucose and then fat is your body’s last resort when you overeat protein for extended periods. That post-match one-pound steak won’t do it. However, habitually eating more protein than you need will.
This raises the question – how much protein is too much during pre-season?
The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or 0.36 grams per pound.
This amounts to:
DRIs are designed for sedentary people with no specific nutritional requirements. They are usually considered the minimum amount that will sustain life. Needless to say, this meager recommendation is not enough protein for ruggers.
The amount of protein you need per day depends on several factors. Because of this, what might be right for you might be entirely inadequate for someone else. Because of this, blanket statements like “eat 200 grams of protein per day” or “eat no more than 30 grams of protein per serving” are all but useless.
Instead, your protein intake should reflect your weight, how hard and what type of training you do, and your current body composition goal.
Protein requirements per kilo of body mass:
Most ruggers should consume between 1.5 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight. If you’re carrying a lot of body fat, use your lean mass to determine the amount of protein you need. After all, it’s your muscle cells that need protein, and not your fat cells.
If you are eating enough protein, will eating more give you even better results? Probably not. While hard-training ruggers do need more protein than endurance athletes and sedentary people, eating more than you need won’t increase muscle growth or further speed up recovery.
This a limit to how much protein you can use per day and if you habitually eat more than you need, it’ll just end up being used to make expensive glucose or unwanted fat. You’ll also pee out the by-product of protein digestion – ammonia. That’s why eating a lot of protein makes your pee smell.
Some people think that eating lots of protein is bad for your kidneys, but that’s not the case. After all, your kidneys are designed to filter out toxins – it’s their job. They have bigger things to worry about than a little extra protein, such as all the chemicals and additives in modern food.
Of course, if you have any form of kidney disease, you should avoid overloading your kidneys and should consult your doctor if you want to consume more protein than the standard DRI suggests.
Bodybuilders, who generally know a thing or two about protein and muscle-building nutrition, usually recommend eating lots of small meals throughout the day. This creates a positive nitrogen balance which, they believe, is indicative of being in anabolism and that you have consumed enough protein.
While eating lots of small protein-rich meals sounds like the best way to keep your muscles supplied with amino acids, this is actually bro science. Some bro science stands up to scrutiny but eating lots of small meals to maintain anabolism apparently doesn’t.
In studies performed on twenty-four developing elite rugby players, frequency and distribution of protein intake had no effect on lean muscle gains or performance. That’s good news if you are fed up with carrying containers of grilled chicken and tuna with you so you can eat every 2-3 hours!
When it comes to consuming protein, small, frequent protein meals or fewer, larger meals seem to be equally effective. Of course, you still need to make sure you eat enough protein for your needs. If that means eating smaller, more frequent meals, then it’s okay to continue doing so.
There is no denying that dietary protein is important, but that doesn’t mean you can eat it with wild abandon, or that eating more than you need is in any way beneficial. Make sure you eat enough but don’t eat so much you gain fat or waste your money. Similarly, choose the meal frequency that works best for you. There is no need to eat every 2-3 hours unless that is the most convenient option for you.