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Protein, workouts, and sleep are the top three things that make your muscles grow. You will not be able to grow if you do not properly work out, get enough protein, and if you do not properly rest. Your muscles do not grow when you are lifting weights; that's when muscle is torn down. Muscles grow and repair while you sleep. You can tear yourself up, and sleep like Rip Van Winkle, and not grow, because your body may not have enough protein to process.

If you have been looking into bodybuilding as a newbie, or even if you have been around for a long time, there will always be talk about protein. Occasionally you may run into those in our industry, who have a whatever kind of attitude toward protein, saying that they are looking for the newest and best of this thing or that. They may claim that their supplement will pack on ten pounds of muscle in just a few short weeks, or turns you into King Kong after just six easy workouts, and on and on.

Anyone who is going to ignore the effects of proper protein ingestion on muscle growth is just not being truthful with you, so when they talk, run away.

Serious people subject themselves to serious workouts, and serious protein ingestion. What is serious, you may ask? 300 grams is the number. Six meals a day, with 50 grams of protein per meal, will help fuel the growth you want. I have heard all kinds of guidelines concerning protein. Some people say that 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight is sufficient, others say 1.5 grams and some claim that 2 grams per pound is the way to go. No matter your size, 300 grams should be your goal.

Every single person has a different body chemistry, and responds differently to nutrition, exercise and rest. Even two brothers from the exact same parents will metabolize protein in different ways. So instead of trying to bang your head on a brick wall, figure out if you are an ectomorph, an endomorph, or a mesomorph who needs 1 gram, 1.5 grams or 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight, eat 300 grams a day and let your body sort out the rest.

300- It's only 1200 calories, it fuels muscles, it keeps you feeling full longer than carbs, and it tastes really good! Note: 300 grams is only the place to start, if you weigh 250 and are seriously trying to pack on muscle, 300 may not be enough. Your body will tell you. Listen to it. If you are reasonable lean, and not growing at 300, eat 350 or 400. Now let's go to school.

What is protein? Don't ask this question in a web search because you'll get answers like the following:

Any of a group of complex organic compounds which contain carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and usually sulphur, the characteristic element being nitrogen and which are widely distributed in plants and animals. Or, A molecule composed of amino acids linked together in a particular order specified by a gene's DNA sequence. Proteins perform a wide variety of functions in the cell; these include serving as enzymes, structural components, or signaling molecules. Or, A biological molecule consisting of many amino acids chained together by peptide bonds. The sequence of amino acids in a protein is determined by the sequence of nucleotides in a DNA molecule.

That kind of response could make a person feel like they fell out of a stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down. This one isn't too bad: Protein is a large molecule composed of one or more chains of amino acids in a specific order; Proteins are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body's cells, tissues, and organs. Hmmm, that's actually interesting. Proteins are the building blocks of the human body. So who's now going to say I am interested in building, so you have my attention. Protein builds.

So what do I do, eat 15 steaks a day? Hardly. Aside from being a very expensive strategy, that idea could lead to fat gain and cholesterol problems. As I said earlier, everyone's body is different.

You have to try a bit of this or that and see how your body responds. It works that way with eating programs, and with protein choices. I prefer a low carb / high protein cut cycle. Because this is a primer, I want to make sure I am taking the time to explain terms, so that we can all be on the same page.

Bodybuilders typically cycle their nutrition depending on the result they want. Bulk cycles are for packing on muscle and weight, while cut cycles are for fat reduction. Clean bulk cycles (no junk food) will result in less fat gain than dirty bulk cycles (eat as much as you want of everything). Of course there is great controversy over what works better. I will not address that here. Cut cycles are primarily for fat loss, but there has been concern that muscle is also lost during a cut. Protein can help that greatly. That is why I prefer a low carb (under 30 grams a day), high protein (300+) cut. Other people hate low carb programs. I have tried both conventional programs and low carb and my body likes low carb. I have a protein burning furnace for a metabolism. But let me say that while I was on a conventional program of 55/25/20 (55% protein, 25 % carbs, 20% fat for less than 2000 calories a day) I was still able to eat 300 grams of protein and lose weight.

OK, what kind of protein? Glad you asked. Food proteins are primarily meat, fish, poultry, eggs, dairy products, beans, nuts, and tofu. They are all good, but you would have a hard time eating 300 grams a day, and they all have their limitations and drawbacks. Meat can be fatty and raise cholesterol, fish and nuts can be expensive, some people are lactose intolerant, beans have a lower bio-availability than other protein sources because they also have carbs, and some people hate tofu. Chicken seems to be that way to go, but you don't want to have to eat two pounds of it a day to grow (chicken breast has about 9 grams of protein per ounce). It would get old really fast. Pick a few that work into your program and mix up the food proteins to prevent boredom. But for proper growth while bodybuilding, protein supplementation is in order.

While there are many varied sources of protein supplements, the top three are basically egg, whey, and soy.

I spoke a bit earlier of bio-availability or BV. Simply put, it is a rating of how well the body can utilize the protein it has ingested The scale gives athletes a way to measure the effectiveness of their protein choice against other choices.

Egg white protein was the standard that the BV scale was based on, with a rating of 100. Food sources of protein, as well as soy, were all below egg white BV standard, and for decades it was considered the perfect protein source. Only the yolk of the egg contains the fat, cholesterol, carbs and salmonella bacteria (if present). The white was, and is, pure protein goodness. Most every bodybuilder before the early 90s used it. It is still available, but in much more limited production, having been replaced by whey. I use egg whites every day. It gives me a cholesterol-free way to boost my intake. I would strongly suggest that egg white be in anyone's program, simply because it is all protein without the cholesterol. The only other cholesterol-free choice is soy, and as we will see in a bit, there is great controversy surrounding soy protein. The only choice you have to make is one of time versus money (just like everything else). Do you want to spend time separating 15-20 eggs a day (like I do) or spend the money and buy the egg white protein powder? Both choices are good ones. Just don't skip the egg protein.

Whey protein replaced egg protein in the early 90s as king of the bodybuilding protein world. It tasted good and had a BV of 104. It's made by taking whey (a diary side product) and processing it, separating the protein from the fat and carbohydrates. Remember Little Miss Muffet who sat on her tuffet? She ate curds and whey (cottage cheese). The liquid portion of the cottage cheese is one form of whey. Whey, once separated from the fat and carbs, can be further cross-filtered and made into 100% whey protein. Whey protein is a relatively inexpensive option for bodybuilders since there are many companies producing it. Just check the list this site has! The two drawbacks are that it probably does contain cholesterol (although there are a few that do not), and it can bother people who are lactose intolerant. The bottom line is, if you tell me you are serious about bodybuilding, and you ever invite me over to your house and I don't see at least one 6 lb. jug of protein sitting on top of your refrigerator, I going to have a hard time believing you. Drink whey.

Soy Protein isolate is the final protein option I want to address (I know there are others, but after reading this hopefully you can sort out the ins and outs of those choices on your own). Let me say, soy is great. But it has gotten a bad rap in some circles. It started off as baby formula base, and I don't know of one mom who has bottle fed their baby who has not had to clean up a nasty mess after the baby cacked it back up. Today's soy is not baby formula. In my humble opinion, Soy Protein Isolate unfairly gets labeled as inferior to whey.

True, it doesn't rank as high on the BV scale, somewhere around 80-85 depending on who you ask, but it does have qualities that make it desirable: extremely high amounts of the BCAA's L-Glutamine & L-Arginine, and it is a protein without the risk of raising cholesterol. (Side note: I keep talking about cholesterol in a protein article.

If you are not eating enough protein to be concerned about what to do to keep your cholesterol normal, you are probably not eating enough protein.) A big dig has been that soy contains phytoestrogens, substances that can act as estrogen in the human body.

Time for chemistry class, boys and girls.

Every person has testosterone and estrogen in their bodies, guys and girls. Guys just have a lot more test than girls and girls have a lot more estro than boys.

Each body has a T/E balance (in girls its actually a estrogen, progesterone, testosterone balance, but who's keeping track). When this balance goes off balance, the body tries to compensate. That is the reason that some bodybuilders using artificial testosterone (steroids) have ended up with man breasts. They elevated their test artificially, and as long as they were on the drug, the T/E balance was suppressed. Once they went off cycle their own natural test production plummeted while their body scrambled to produce enough estrogen to compensate for the artificial test.

At that time if they failed to suppress their own body's estrogen while waiting for their test production to kick back in, they could have developed some female characteristics. This is important because this is what has fueled the controversy: if soy contains phytoestrogens, will it cause men trouble? The researchers are still far away from a conclusion.

You can find all sorts of reports on the web that soy is bad for men, and it should only be considered a girl protein. You can also find conclusions that since the male body produces some estrogen anyway, that phytoestrogens just take the place of the estrogen in the male body, and that men end up producing less of their own estrogen, which would be beneficial.

Read, study and try to come to some conclusion. I have used soy, I like it, and I have never had any kind of girl symptoms from it.

In conclusion, protein is a MUST EAT food. You can cut fat and build muscle and lose weight. Or you can cut carbs, and build muscle and lose weight, but you absolutely cannot skip protein and build muscle, it won't happen. So make sure you're getting more than enough quality protein and measure you're results closely, so that you know where you stand at all times. Like the old saying goes... that which is watched, and measured closely and consistently, tends to improve.

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