The bodybuilding community has a love affair with protein. Just flip through a bodybuilding magazine, and you’ll see a protein supplement ad on every other page. The conventional wisdom is to eat more protein for muscle gain. That thinking, though, may need a review. Studies show that high protein may lower testosterone production.
Why Is Protein So Beloved by Athletes and Muscle Heads?
It has been drilled into athletes and bodybuilders that eating more protein and fewer carbs is the key for peak performance, lean muscle gains and fat loss. But should protein really be held to such high regard?
Muscle is made up of protein building blocks known as amino acids. After a rigorous workout, the amino acids in your muscles need replenishment. Protein from food and supplements provide those valuable amino acids that allow the muscles to recover. Inadequate protein results in a catabolic environment that causes muscle breakdown.
Many studies that support a high protein diet are based on junk science funded and paid for by supplement companies. There are, though, a few legitimate studies that seem to lend support to adequate protein consumption.
One study showed that leucine and other branched-chain amino acids found in high-bio-available protein may play a pivotal role in the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis during bouts of high-intensity exercises. Multiple independent studies have also shown that vegetarians, who are often protein deficient, have lower testosterone levels than their meat-eating counterparts.
Protein Lowers Testosterone?
Protein definitely seems to have a relevant place in an athlete’s diet. However, how much is too much, and is there a threshold where it becomes counterproductive? While you will never read about it in the heavily supplement-sponsored bodybuilding magazines, there does seem to be evidence that too much protein can be detrimental to your testosterone count.
It has long been known that rigorous exercise combined with a lower caloric intake attributes to a drop in testosterone. A 2008 study published under the Journal of Applied Physiology showed that high-intensity exercise and high-calorie consumption is associated with a boost in testosterone.
But — and it’s a big “but” — a higher ratio of protein from those extra calories did NOT appear to play a significant role in the T increase. Furthermore, a previous study from 2007 published under the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology showed that high protein diets actually caused a dip in testosterone levels. While not conclusive, it is believed that too much protein causes a spike in insulin-like growth factor that interferes with T production.
High protein intake may also influence testosterone production indirectly. When you eat more protein, you’re likely compensating by eating fewer carbs and less fat. The latter, especially the monounsaturated variety, has been shown to increase testosterone.
Aside from hurting testosterone gains, too much protein also stresses the kidneys, as the organ is forced to work overtime to shuttle excess nitrogen waste out of the body. An overworked kidney increases your risk of chronic dehydration. Dehydration, in turn, has been shown in studies to alter the testosterone-to-cortisol ratio in athletes.
How Much Protein Do You Really Need?
Conventional dietary guidelines recommend about 80 to 85 grams a day for sedentary men. Some so-called muscle gurus advocate as much as two grams per pound of body weight. First of all, if you’re an average, 150-pound man, there is no need to scarf down 300 grams of protein every day.
Others indicate a slightly more modest amount, such as one to 1.5 grams per pound of body weight. There really is no number set in stone. The notion is commonly repeated in the fitness industry because it’s profitable. More protein consumption means more intake via insta-mix supplements and ready-to-drink protein shakes.
If you exercise rigorously, do you need more protein? The answer is a resounding yes, but you also need more carbs and fat as well. It would be more accurate, therefore, to say that you need more calories.
You don’t need to go on those crazy, bulk-up diets where you consume upwards of 6,000 calories a day. It might be necessary for Olympic-level athletes who burn massive amounts of energy during training, but the amateur fitness guy doesn’t need to take it to that extreme level.
Current guidelines recommend about 2,000 to 2,500 calories for the sedentary male. If you follow an intense exercise regimen, then adding an additional 500 to 1,000 calories on top of that should be sufficient. As far as ratio goes, a simple, equal divvying of protein, carbs and fats will do.
Is Protein Overrated?
It might be a stretch to say that protein is overrated. After all, it’s an important nutrient vital for building lean muscle. However, don’t jump into the protein bandwagon driven by the supplement industry.
If you want optimum testosterone levels, get sufficient exercise and sleep. Yes, you also need to eat a bit more as well. By all means, get those few extra grams of protein from that can of tuna or even mixing a scoop of protein powder into your water.
Just don’t go into a protein craze. Not only is it unnecessary, but it will likely hamper your testosterone levels and inhibit muscle gains as a result.