by Blane Morton
Everyone involved in bodybuilding, but sports in general has been told since their first day in the weight room that they key to building muscle is to literally eat as much as you can swallow or afford, whichever comes first. The gold standard in protein to build lean muscle mass has always been 1 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight you carry. Bodybuilders like Kai Greene are notorious for eating upwards of 1000g of protein per day or 3 times his bodyweight. Many nutritionists will tell you this is excess, so can you overdose on your protein intake?
For bodybuilders, many things need to be considered before a bland statement is made like, “Yes, you can O.D. on aminos.” First, you have to consider that while 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is considered to be the baseline for muscle growth, you have to always readjust your number as you gain or lose overall weight on the scale. If you are a 200lb bodybuilder with goals of putting on 25lb over the course of a 3 month long winter and hit your mark at the end of 90 days, your new baseline number is 225 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight.
Another factor to consider is for those bodybuilders in a cruise or maintenance period in their training. If that is the case the number of grams of protein to eat in a single day should be based around the amount of lean body mass a person carries. This is when it’s time to break out our calculators if we insist on being precise. If you’re 200lb with 10% body fat, then you should now consume 180g of protein to meet your daily requirements.
All of this sounds good for your average bodybuilder out there, but what about the maniacal extremists who ‘go big or go home’? Does the NPC bodybuilder trying to put on slabs of meat in the off season have anything to worry about? Of course your doctor is going to throw a fit when he or she hears about the number that you’ll tell them, but is any of the doomsday news really worth getting scared over?
The common thing we’re going to hear about excess protein consumption is the stress it’ll put on your kidneys. Excess protein intake can put additional stress on your kidneys; however, in healthy adults the risk is extremely low. If you have prior existing kidney condition, consuming too much protein may worsen this condition over time. If this is you, I would suspect your doctor has already recognized this condition and reflagged your consumption. Another reason to not be the bull headed bodybuilder and visit your doctor for regular blood work and checkups.
At the end of the day protein is macronutrient. It contains 4 calories per gram and anything over your required amount will be stored as body fat. Unlike your typical registered dietician who isn’t up to speed with bodybuilders, naturally our restrictions aren’t that of a normal person. If you’re on hormones, if you’re training harder or different that that average 40 year old at the YMCA, if you’re metabolism fires at a higher level than the norm, then yes, in theory you’ll be able to utilize more protein than someone lesser. Ultimately, something will have to give. Even Kai Greene and Phil Heath can get fat in the off season. If you want to eat 900g of protein per day, you’ll eventually have to adjust your carb and fat intake or you will get fatter. There’s no two ways around it. Nobody ever won Mr. Olympia eating 1000g of protein, 1000g of carbs, and 500g of fat for days and weeks on end.
Eating too much protein or in our case, overdosing can also cause a loss in calcium, which over time can lead to a deficiency. The end result of losing calcium overtime can lead to osteoporosis. Even if you increase your calcium intake through foods or supplements, if you are consuming too much protein, your body and bones will not be able to use and retain it. This is especially concerning for adult females and older females who are more often predisposed to osteoporosis and bone loss from the natural aging processes.
To answer the question, can you overdose on protein, yes, but is it something that most of us should be worried about for a long term problem? No. Most athletes or bodybuilders are not going to sustain a long enough meal plan with protein levels that can cause any long term, serious risks. But like with any extreme eating program, make sure to see your doctor to make sure everything is in good running over.