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High Protein Does Not Mean Big Muscles, Study Finds

By Chris Brown

You are bound to see the word "protein" littered across the shelves of any supermarket's supplement aisle. This macronutrient has become a staple marketing buzzword for fitness-based consumables. Protein is so synonymous with muscle growth that many don't bother questioning the realistic effects of high protein. 

One new study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that high levels of protein did not impact muscle growth for middle-aged adults. While some protein is undoubtedly important to build muscle, extremely high-protein diets may simply be an unnecessary overkill.

Why Is Protein Intake Important for Muscle Growth

Before exploring whether high protein levels correlate with increased gym results, it is important to look at why protein intake is connected to muscle growth in the first place. Protein serves an important function in repairing and growing muscle. The body needs the optimal levels of building blocks, and protein is a large piece of that, especially building muscle quickly. The minimum amount of protein required depends upon a range of factors including weight, sex, and body makeup. In general, though, at least 0.35 grams of daily protein per pound of body weight should be consumed to stay healthy and increase muscle from exercise. However, the American diet is often heavy in carbohydrates, sugars, and fats without emphasizing healthy protein consumption. This results in many Americans being underfed on protein and requiring supplementation to reach optimal levels. The muscular benefits gained by adding protein to undernourished diets leads some fitness enthusiasts to expand this thought process into a "more is always better" mentality.

The Diminishing Returns of Hyper Protein Intake

Up to a certain point, protein consumption does help with building muscle. However, the complex system of the body does not have one simple nutrient solution for optimized muscle growth. In a March 2021 study for the American Journal of Physiology, protein supplementation's impact upon recovery and muscle growth in previously untrained middle-aged adults was researched. The study found that max strength levels for participants who took a moderate amount of protein increased at the same rate as those with high protein intake levels by the end of the 10-week study. This seems to suggest that there is a maximum amount of protein that the body can use. After that, it goes to waste or, in worst case scenarios, is converted into glucose and stored as fat.

To learn more about your health, wellness and fitness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Columbia, Mo.

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