Supplementing with protein is useful in many fitness journeys, but there’s a right way to do it
When I first started working out, I put protein powder way up high on a pedestal. To me, it was this magical potion that was the key to getting that muscular body I’ve always wanted—I thought all I had to do was keep drinking it and the results would come.
To be fair, the results did come with the protein. But like with many things in my fitness journey, I wish I had done it better and with more knowledge. I wish I knew back then what I know now about nutrition and fitness so I could’ve guided my body better into becoming what I wanted it to be.
Well, the good thing about fitness is that as long as you’re alive and breathing, it’s never too late to make the changes you need to get the results you want. Whether you’re a total newbie to working out or you’ve been doing it a while and need to change something up, here are the four things I wish I knew about taking protein—it might help you along.
Drinking a protein shake a day isn’t going to get you buff
Perhaps the biggest misconception surrounding protein supplements is that simply drinking a shake a day is going to get you the body you want. It might be true if you’re starting out as a thin person, but eventually you’re going to reach a plateau in which you’re going to have to be deliberate and intentional about how you consume protein. (Like I mentioned, you won’t get results if you keep eating normally.)
You’ll need to figure out how much protein you’ll need to consume every day, especially if the goal is building muscle (and it usually is). To start, take your weight in kilograms and multiply it by around 1.2 to 2, depending on how active you are (the more active, the higher this factor should be). The result is the amount of protein in grams you should be consuming every day.
For example, I’m hovering around 76 kilograms and I want to build more muscle, so I’m going to multiply that 76 by at least 1.8. That comes around to 136.8 grams of protein I need to consume every day to get bigger. Meanwhile, for muscle maintenance, 0.8 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is enough.
Protein shakes are not the only good sources of protein
One of the biggest misconceptions I had about consuming protein is that I should only rely on protein powder to hit my macro targets. All you need to do is find actual food that has a lot of protein. From experience, drinking protein supplements too often can get a little miserable, even if you manage to find a powder that tastes great to you.
There are so many options for protein now: from whole foods to healthy snacks, sweets made with protein powder, and even your favorite fast food items. You can pick how you want to approach your protein consumption, and it certainly doesn’t have to be monotonous.
I do want to preface this by saying that if you don’t have access or are unable to cook great meals for yourself, then protein supplements are a good tool to rely on to achieve your targets. It’s expensive, but with a recommended serving of powder being around 26 to 29 grams of protein, a shake makes for an easy chunk of your daily macros.
Don’t forget the creatine
It’s one thing to consume enough protein, but if you’re not taking creatine supplements to go with your increased consumption, then you’re not making the most of your macros.
To put simply, creatine helps your muscles grow, get stronger, and recover faster by enhancing cellular processes, increasing your adenosine triphosphate levels for more energy, and boosting levels of hormones that cause muscle growth.
Creatine’s proven effectiveness—and safety—makes it one of the most popular supplements people love to take. In fact, in a bind you’re likely better off prioritizing creatine over protein supplements, as you can always eat enough food to take in more protein.
Spread your protein out
When I found out you had to consume a lot of protein to get bigger—a lot more than just one scoop a day—I immediately tried to hasten the entire process by overloading on the supplements. I figured, two to three scoops per shake is naturally going to get me the gains I wanted, so it definitely can’t hurt, right?
Wrong. The conventional wisdom is to eat only around 30 grams of protein per meal, and no more than 35. The research is still up in the air on what the real ceiling is, but one thing’s for sure: The excess will be thrown out by your body through your urine, and you’ll have wasted a lot of money on protein you did not absorb, like I did.
That means if you’re trying to get bigger, you will need to keep eating throughout the day. This is the reason for all those stories you may have heard about bodybuilders and athletes eating six times a day to grow and maintain their physiques. You don’t have to have actual full meals six times a day, but that does give you an idea of how much you have to consume to hit your targets.
All of these pointers show that the nutrition side of fitness is just as hardcore as the exercise side, and you’ll need a big commitment to get to your goals. It’s simple, though, and can be done as long as you’ve got a solid plan to stick to—and just by reading this, you’ll be better off now than I was.