Q: “I know protein builds muscle, but if I consume more, will I build more?” —Alex D., Los Angeles, CA
MF: Only up to a point. Protein is the main ingredient in muscle fiber, but it’s only one part of a complex system of nutritional, hormonal, and mechanical requirements that need to be balanced in order for muscles to grow bigger and stronger. More protein in lieu of hard training, optimal sleep, and sufficient calories and micronutrients won’t lead to results. The Men’s Fitness Food Pyramid calls for daily consumption of 1–1.5 grams of protein per pound of your body weight. This holds true whether your goal is muscle gain or fat loss.
For most people, erring on the low end of that range is fine. And don’t get fooled into thinking that slamming more protein after you train has a bigger impact. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition not long ago found that the post-absorptive response of muscle protein synthesis (i.e., muscle building) in subjects who consumed 40 grams of whey protein postworkout was no greater than that in guys who consumed only 20 grams of protein.