If you’re an athlete who follows a specific training program and/or bodybuilding regimen that requires intensive training and proper nutrition, then it’s very important to know what happens when you do not eat enough protein.
Protein is the most intricately involved nutrient in regards to muscle development and muscle tissue repair. As such, we need to ensure we are consuming an adequate amount, especially if we are practicing a regular weightlifting workout.
But how much is enough protein for a weightlifter? What is the exact importance of protein in a weightlifter’s diet? What happens if you lift weights but don’t eat enough protein?
Keep reading to find out.
The Importance of a High Protein Diet For Weightlifters
Protein is an essential part of any healthy diet. Everyone needs some amount of protein. However, for athletes, it’s important to be sure that you are consuming enough high quality proteins to meet the additional demands on your body caused by exercise.
When you lift weights, your muscle fibres tear and need to be repaired. Protein is the main nutrient responsible for repairing these tears in muscle tissues that can result from a strenuous workout. In addition to helping with growth and repair of muscles, proteins are also important for athletes because they enable good concentration and brain function, which allows you to focus on your workout.
According to research by the Journal of Food Science, higher-protein diets have been shown to:
- Promote gains in muscle mass, especially when paired with resistance training
- Spare muscle mass loss during caloric restriction
- Attenuate the natural loss of muscle mass that accompanies aging.
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What Happens If You Lift Weights But Don’t Eat Enough Protein?
If you’re looking to bulk up, get toned or just improve your health, it’s necessary that you follow a high quality diet and meet your body’s demand for essential amino acids. If you don’t eat enough protein, it can lead to health problems and further problems with performance.
Some signs of a low protein diet could include:
- Weight gain
- Muscle loss
- Low immunity
If you are not getting adequate amounts of protein in your diet, it can have a drastic negative effect on the results of your weightlifting. Your body needs protein to build and repair tissues, so if you aren’t eating enough, your muscles won’t have the material they need to grow. You could feel “punch drunk” after working out, your arms and other muscles might ache more than usual, and your body may even feel generally weaker.
A low protein diet can also hinder your weight-loss goals, because more muscle means a higher metabolism, which means it takes more calories to maintain the same weight. If you are not getting enough protein in your diet, you will have less lean tissue, so it won’t take as many calories to maintain your weight.
If an insufficient amount of protein is consumed, the only macronutrient with which you may have a caloric surplus is carbohydrates. If so, those extra carbs will be stored as fat which could actually lead to weight gain instead of weight loss.
What Happens If You Eat Too Much Protein?
It’s possible to overdo your protein intake as well. If you eat an excessive amount of protein, it will be converted into glucose and used as energy or stored as fat, just like any other carbohydrate. Eventually, this can lead to weight gain if more calories are consumed than burned.
In addition, consuming too much protein can have a negative effect on kidney functioning. It is important to note that while severe protein toxicity is very rare, it is possible if the subject has been fasting or has consumed large quantities of protein in a short period of time.
How Much Protein Should I Eat If I Lift Weights?
Eating the right amount of protein is very important for optimal weightlifting results. How much protein you need in your diet will vary from person to person. It is important that you determine the right amount of protein for your body weight and type. According to Healthline, most studies suggest that 0.7–1 gram per pound (1.6–2.2 grams per kg) of lean mass is sufficient. If you need to convert the recommended protein intake from grams to ounces, you can use a grams to ounces calculator for accurate measurement.
To calculate exactly how much protein you need for your body weight, you can use the figures above. Alternatively, you can use an online calculator that takes into account more of your body metrics for more accurate results. Keep in mind that it is important to get a wide variety of protein from different sources. You can repeat any food on the list below, but try not to exceed the suggested maximum servings per day.
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How To Eat Enough Protein For Optimal Weightlifting Results
Proteins are found in both plant and animal sources, such as quinoa, beans, milk, eggs, meat, poultry and fish. If you don’t eat enough of these types of foods, but instead rely on carbohydrates for energy, you won’t be able to meet your body’s protein demand. In fact, a high carbohydrate diet can actually hurt your body composition by limiting the amount of protein you need to build muscle.
Start with these easy swaps at home and gradually incorporate others as you learn more about high protein foods. Once you’ve mastered the fundamentals, consider planning ahead for your high protein needs by making healthy choices when dining out or grabbing snacks to go.
For example, if you know you have a long day of meetings coming up, pack some high quality protein bars or protein chips so that you can temporarily avoid the vending machine at work. This will allow you to have more energy, improve brain function and help you grow lean muscles. You can also enjoy these protein-packed snacks at home to help you stick with your goals.
Examples of Foods High In Protein
- Lean beef and pork
- Fish and seafood
- Eggs & Dairy products
- Beans, Lentils & Chickpeas
- Nuts and seeds: Almonds, Brazil nuts, Cashews, Peanuts, Pecans, Pistachios, Walnuts, Flaxseeds, Pumpkin seeds, Sunflower seeds
- Whole grains: Oatmeal, Brown Rice, Quinoa.
- Legumes (Dried beans and peas)
- Soy products: Soy milk, Tofu, Tempeh
- Vegetarian alternatives: Veggie burgers, Quorn products (Chik’n, fishless filets, etc.)
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