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Following the protein craze

By Nikki McDonald

Trying to build thick muscle fast and think a steady diet of protein shakes will do the trick? We wouldn't blame you if you did. With bodybuilder magazines pushing high-priced protein shakes and bars like they're the miracle cure for the 98-pound weakling, you'd be forgiven for thinking that an all-protein diet is the only way to bulk up.

"Believe it or not," says Manuel Villacorta, a San Francisco-based registered dietician/nutritionist who works with many athletes serious about weight training, "there is such a thing as too much protein, even for bodybuilders." You can drink as many protein shakes as you can stomach, he says, but there's very little research to indicate that going over recommended amounts results in bigger muscles.

In fact, because your body doesn't excrete unused proteins, he says, you're more likely to gain fat than muscle. That’s because your muscles can only use so much protein, and your body stores away the extra protein in the form of unwanted fat.

Even though some sports shakes, which contain unhealthy amounts of sugar, now brag that they contain upwards of 150 grams of protein per shake, you're probably already getting your recommended allowance of proteins from the foods you eat every day, says Villacorta. For every ounce of meat or cheese you consume, for example, you take in seven grams of protein. A glass of milk or yogurt gives you about eight grams of protein, and a half cup of beans gives you about seven grams.

So how much protein is enough? If you're doing light weight training, says Villacorta, you'll want to consume between 0.7 to 0.9 grams of protein per day for each pound you weigh. If you're serious about bulking up and are actively trying to gain muscle, you'll want to go up to one gram of protein per pound of bodyweight.

And, advises Villacorta, the next time you're thinking about where to get those proteins, pass on the sugar shake and sit down to a plate of sushi or cooked salmon instead.

Nikki McDonald is a freelance writer and editor based in Minnesota. She has previously worked as the editor in chief of Digital Photography magazine and executive editor of MacAddict magazine, among others.

Manuel Villacorta is a registered dietitian/nutritionist located in San Francisco, California, providing nutrition counseling in weight management and various nutrition-related topics. He can be found on the web at