.82 Grams of Protein is All You Need
Protein feels like it has become the newest iGadget of the healthy food world.
Food manufacturers pack in carefully selected and flashy colors on their packaging devoted to pointing out the protein packed into their product.
Even those cholesterol killing wonders Cheerios have become protein packed.
*Watch Mike Vacanti break it down in this video.
All the Protein
Protein’s a vital macronutrient in our diet. It’s what builds and repairs our muscle; it provides satiety; has the highest Thermogenic Effect of Food (TEF); but most importantly, I love meat.
Even with the rise of protein’s prominence in more of the food we consume, a common question I receive is: “how much protein is enough protein?”
That number for many years has been elevated to 1 gram per pound by those around the fitness world.
Menno Henselman, in an article for JMax Fitness, countered that the 1 gram per pound myth and in the end stated that from the science we have there is no real advantage to eating more than .82 grams per pound (If a 175-pound man followed that guideline he would need around 145 grams of protein a day).
For years, supplement companies and massive bodybuilders have told aspiring lifters they need to eat protein ranging from 1.75 grams per pound of weight all the way up to 2.5 grams per pound of weight.
This one time at Band Camp On one bulk I found myself following the above advice and consumed around 300 grams of protein a day.
As tasty as meat is, buying massive amounts of it so you can eat 250 plus grams a day gets expensive.
Like the salmon of Capistrano at the tail end of my 2014 winter bulk fat was beginning to flock everywhere slowly turning me into the Stay Puft Marshmallow man. Getting to “Stay Puft” status meant it was time to start dieting and cutting.
Fitness coaches and writers advise clients that they need to increase their protein even more during a deficit.
Some preach staying at 1 gram per pound or going up to 1.3 grams per pound. The same 175-pound man mentioned above would now be eating over 200 grams of protein a day. Unless you eat only frozen chicken and cottage cheese or down shakes all day hitting a number that high with a variety of protein sources will be expensive.
Get Big Without Going Broke
With that in mind, I decided to approach this cut differently. I developed three goals I wanted to pursue:
- #1 follow the guideline from Menno and maintain my protein at .82g per pound
- #2 keep the grocery bill at an average of $150 a week with a variety of meat
- #3 to cut on a simpler diet that did not involve macro cycling and that could be implemented by anyone, especially if they have never tracked macros before
I have nothing against cycling rest day and workout day nutrition. It works.
For some, however, it can be stressful to keep up with everything and can make going out difficult, especially on rest days.
Instead of having higher carbs/lower fat on workout days and higher fat/lower carbs on rest days, I settled on maintaining a constant number of protein, fats, and carbs every day.
A simpler approach also made it easier to plan the dinner my wife wanted to have, who was in the middle of writing her thesis for her Masters of Fine Arts and did not need an overly obsessive macro cycling husband.
Simplicity in a weight loss regiment I believe, next to accountability, is a major key to success and the simpler the approach the more someone will adhere to it.
My thesis for this experiment: to build a financially reasonable fat loss diet that did not break the bank nor would cause me to lose lean mass nor strength.
Large deficits suck, which is why so many people give up once their brain wises up and begins to fight back.
One small component of my thesis, was to every two or three weeks, chop another 100-150 calories off of my previous mark. I was not in a rush to lose fat as I knew I had plenty of time until summer. So I took it slow and steady.
My starting weight was 178 pounds. Following the .82 grams guideline, my daily protein intake fell right around 145 grams. I bumped it up to a nice 150 grams because it just sounded more “round” in my head.
Maintaining protein at 150 grams a day all across the board also helped keep the grocery bill at an average of around $150 a week. It is pretty easy to keep it cheap when you skip breakfast and fast.
I began my cut at 2350 calories, about 150 calories under my maintenance at the time. Protein was 150g, carbs 250g, and fat 84g.
I realize the fat could have been lower, and I could have given myself more carbs, especially since I was training four days a week but it made planning my wife’s favorite foods with dinner easier as well as leaving me room to exchange fat for bourbon, in case we went out with friends. I will gladly sacrifice fat for bourbon (Scotch and Squats).
To keep it short my calories dropped like this:
- Week of Super Bowl (3 weeks in)- 2200 (150 grams protein, 215 grams carbs, 84 fat)
- February 16th- 2100 (160 grams protein, 84 grams fat, 175 grams carbs) *I did increase protein here as I brought carbs under 200 grams, this is where it remained, so it was somewhat over the .82g measurement. At this time I was already down to 168-170 pounds so technically I could have reassessed protein as I would now be slightly over the .82g mark but it only put me at .90g so no biggie*
- March 1st- 2000 (160 grams protein, 150 grams carbs, 84 fat)
- March 23rd- I got crazy and decided to do 3 weeks of 1900 calories. (166 grams Protein, 120 grams Carbs, and 84 grams Fat) Less than 2000 calories sucked, a lot.
Before each of these drops, I gave myself one refeed day before I lowered the carbs even further.
**The refeed day may not have been necessary until I reached lower carbs in March but I guess it was my excuse to use the Super Bowl as a mini-cheat/refeed day. Einstein didn’t get it all right the first time either but the results below are pretty baller**
Once I reached the 2000 mark I gave myself one refeed every week. On refeed days, I kept Fat below 50 grams, held protein around the norm and then filled out the rest with carbs. Most of the time my carbs reached anywhere from 450-500 grams, netting me close to 3000 calories.
Refeed days accomplish two things:
- they help to replenish glycogen stores (of which mine were low I am sure)
- it helps increase leptin levels (leptin is a hormone that promotes and stimulates fat burning). Increasing your leptin levels will help prevent your metabolism from taking a nose dive after a long bout of dieting. Not to mention the day after a good refeed and your training feels a lot more “normal” even in a calorie deficit.
I admit, it only dawned on me to document this whole procedure about a month and a half in so I do not have any before measurements other than my weight for a “before.”
At the end of this experiment I measured myself and came in around 31” on my waist, 163 pounds, and according to my calipers between 8-8.5% body fat. (*note in June of 2014 I was at 157 pounds and 9.5% body fat which means I had a pretty damned good winter bulk*)
It’s All You Need
You can achieve your goals, whether muscle building or getting leaner by keeping your protein around the .82 grams per pound number.
Sticking to around 150 grams of protein, I could to keep more of the tasty goodness that are fats/carbs which made this cut not even feel like dieting, and most importantly I didn’t break the bank buying massive amounts of meat.
150 grams of protein is a fairly moderate amount of protein and if you buy intelligently at the store hitting this number should never cost you more than about $100 a week (I was spending for two so even at $150 a week I wasn’t going broke).
For most average men, 150 grams of protein a day is sufficient no matter your goals.
You don’t need to break the bank and eat 8 pounds of meat a week to get lean or strong. You don’t need to go on crazy calorie restrictions to lose body fat.
Take it slow and steady and cut calories on a smaller scale.
There are three things I learned from this experiment:
- A protein range anywhere from .70-.82 is probably sufficient even while cutting
- Slow and steady wins the race. You notice 500 calorie deficits fairly quickly. Be a stealthy ninja and sneak up on the fat loss and you will never know you are dieting.
- It really comes down to overall calorie intake. There is no magic macro number. Of course. lower carbs will affect performance (which I did not notice until late March, to be honest) but if you keep protein steady you can fluctuate the fats and carbs until you find that magic carpet ride of energy.
- *BONUS* I freaking love blue cheese (Thanks, Wisconsin.). I admit it may be why I kept my fat higher the whole time. Best on salads and mixed in with quinoa and chicken and a healthy dose of Franks Red Hot Sauce.
As a follow up to this, I did a reverse diet experiment to see how well I held up my leanness you can read about that here