Picture this…You just ended your 28-week contest prep diet or 16-week vacation dieting phase.
Your daily protein intake is through the roof, you are sick and tired of sucking down protein shakes, your jaw is exhausted from chewing animal protein sources, and you are fed up with the extra money being spent on protein sources.
We all know by now that a higher daily protein intake during a calorie deficit has its benefits, there’s no arguing this (1).
What if we told you it may be worth experimenting with a higher protein diet during the offseason?
In this article, we will look into the protein overfeeding research, see some of the pros and cons to a higher daily protein diet during the offseason, and give you some practical applications that you can implement right after finishing this article.
(Side Note: a good tool to track your daily protein intake is with the IIFYM flexible dieting calculator)
Get your protein shakes ready!
What’s Protein Overfeeding and Why Should You Care?
Jose Antonio and his lab are doing some fascinating research on protein overfeeding and we are almost certain that if you are reading this article, you know that the recommended daily allowance on daily protein intake is 1.76 g/kg/d (0.8 g/lb.) (2,3).
Now what’s cool about what Antonio and his colleagues did was they challenged this RDA of daily protein intake notion and overfed subjects with higher daily protein intakes.
Here’s what they did in their 2015 Protein Overfeeding Study:
- They took resistance trained subjects
- Provided a sound resistance training program
- Had subjects tracked food on My fitness pal
- Took 2 groups and compared regular protein (0.8g/lb.) vs high protein (1.4g/lb.)
- They used a Bod Pod to measure body composition
The results showed:
The higher daily protein group lost an average of 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs.) of fat mass versus 0.3 kg (.66 lbs.) and ended up consuming approximately 400 calories more a day.
What’s interesting is there have been speculations over the “disappearance” of extra and higher daily protein intake which includes (4):
- A higher thermic effect of feeding (body burns more calories during digestion)
- Increased NEAT (non-exercise activity thermogenesis)
- Increased TEE (total energy expenditure)
- Increased fecal energy excretion (poop actually has more calories in it so you haven’t assimilated as much of what you ate)
- Reduced intake of other macronutrients via increased satiety
- Suppressed hepatic lipogenesis (suppressed liver fat accumulation)
- Decreased misreporting of food intake
Moreover, a year later, Antonio and colleagues conducted another overfeeding study and here’s what they concluded:
“In male subjects with several years of experience with resistance training, chronic consumption of a diet high in protein had no harmful effects on any measures of health. Furthermore, there was no change in body weight, fat mass or lean body mass despite eating more total calories and protein. Contrary to popular belief, the consumption of a high protein diet is not mutually exclusive with a diet high in fiber nor does the consumption of cholesterol above the standard recommendations results in any untoward effects on blood lipids. This is the first 1-year longitudinal investigation in resistance trained males that demonstrates the lack of harm caused by a high protein diet.”
After seeing these studies by Antonio and colleagues, it has really put together a piece to a massive puzzle that in a real-world setting, one could have a higher daily protein intake, and overconsume protein, and get great benefits from it.
A Deeper Look at What a Higher Daily Protein Intake in the Offseason Can Really Do
A 2017 study out of the International Journal of Sports Science took 19 male bodybuilders and put them into 2 groups (5):
- Group 1- Overfeeding subjects (mainly overfeeding with carbohydrates) and 0.8g/lb. of protein per day
- Group 2- Protein overfeeding subjects (mainly overfeeding with protein) and 1.4g/lb. of protein per day
- Total calories were matched and training volume was matched
The results showed that the protein overfeeding group led to increased muscle mass, reduced body fat, and improved blood panels.
What’s interesting in this study is it was done in bodybuilders, calories and training volume were matched, and if you do the math in practical terms, just as an example, Group 1- 150-pound male x 0.8 = 120g of daily protein and in Group 2- 150-pound male x 1.4 = 210g of daily protein. Which shows a 90g daily difference of protein intake.
Another interesting study was done by Beals and colleagues, where they took 30 female subjects and divided them into 3 groups (6):
- Group 1- Overweight subjects
- Group 2- Obese subjects
- Group 3- Healthy weight subjects
They gave each group 170g of lean pork which turns into about 36g of high-quality protein post workout and showed the obese and overweight subjects had blunted muscle protein synthesis responses (prohibited your body from being in a muscle growth state) and it was most likely due to the excess body fat they were carrying.
Now, obviously, this study has a lot of limitations and the ones that stand out most are:
- we need a larger sample size of people
- this needs to be replicated in athletes or resistance trained subjects
- there was no resistance training protocol
- we don’t truly eat protein in isolation
- more long-term studies need to be conducted
But, this could be a good start to a large puzzle on perhaps having a higher daily protein intake and staying leaner in the offseason to make sure you’re getting a daily response with muscle protein synthesis which over time will keep your body in a muscle growth state and lead to more muscle growth.
A great way to experiment with this is most likely having a higher daily protein intake like the overfeeding studies suggest and really taking advantage of the protein adaptations.
Pros and Cons of a Daily Higher Protein Intake During the Off Season
This area of research really interested us, so we ran our own individual experiments for a full month.
Now, keep in mind we controlled as much as we possibly could, these weren’t actually in lab-controlled experiments, and it was only a month.
We made some interesting observations with a high protein intake during a surplus, along with what the current data says about protein overfeeding, along with the two studies above, and we have compiled some pros and cons to having a higher protein diet during the offseason:
- Leads to less overeating, due to more satiety and protein being the number one most filling macronutrient
- Increased TEF (Thermic Effect of Food) due to your body working harder to break down protein
- If you have a personal preference to consume higher protein amounts, then this may work for you
- There’s something about being more accurate with tracking food when you have a higher protein goal, so this may lead to eating less processed and packaged foods and being more accurate with your macros and calories as research shows misreporting is a big reason why people don’t get results (7)
- Don’t quote us on this, but a higher protein intake during a surplus combined with a proper high-volume resistance training program may lead to further muscular adaptations. Yet, Roberts and colleagues showed there was no major difference between a high vs moderate protein intake in resistance trained subjects (8). More long-term and replicated studies need to be conducted in this specific area
- Eating a higher protein intake post diet phase leads to lower weight re-gain due to increased muscle mass, increased REE (Resting Energy Expenditure), increased TEF (Thermic Effect of Food), and Increased satiety (9)
- Higher protein intake may not be a viable option if you don’t have a personal preference for a higher protein intake
- Higher protein intake in a surplus won’t be feasible if you are vegetarian or vegan
- Higher protein intake in a surplus could get financially expensive since protein is the most expensive macronutrient
- The theory of a “Muscle Full Effect” could come into play (10). Some researchers have proposed that muscle protein synthesis tops out at approximately 20-25 grams of protein per serving for young adults. Protein consumed above this dosage is thought to be oxidized for energy rather than used for tissue-building purposes – a phenomenon called the “muscle-full” effect. In what is often cited as the definitive support for this contention, Areta et al investigated the effect of different protein boluses on resistance-trained men (11)
- All subjects performed a bout of resistance training and were then confined to rest where they consumed 80 grams of protein over a 12-hour recovery period in one of the following three conditions (11):
- 8 servings of 10 grams of protein every 1.5 hours
- 4 servings of 20 grams of protein every 3 hours
- 2 servings of 40 grams of protein every 6 hours
- Over the course of the recovery period, the greatest effect on stimulation of muscle protein synthesis was seen in the group consuming 4 servings of 20 grams of protein. This would seem to indicate that there was no added benefit to consuming the higher dosage (40 grams) and that the additional amino acids were indeed oxidized for energy (11)
- Trained individuals may have a lower requirement for protein due to increased efficiency of use of protein. Several studies have shown that resistance trained athletes, consistent with the anabolic stimulus for protein synthesis it provides, actually increases the efficiency of use of protein, which reduces dietary protein requirements (12). If indeed, regular heavy resistance training enhances efficiency, there would be no effect of added protein and body comp alterations
If you are interested in trying a high protein intake during the offseason or having your clients try it, we recommend first setting your daily calorie surplus and then setting protein at 1.4g/lb.
Ex.) You are consuming 3,000 calories and you weight 175 pounds, multiply 175 x 1.4 = 245g of daily protein and multiply that by 4 (4 calories per 1 gram of protein) = 980 calories. You are then left with 2,020 calories for carbs and fats.
Then Set fat after that, anywhere from 20-30% of calories.
Then set the remaining calories as carbs and partition more of them around workouts unless you have a personal preference for other times of the day.
Experiment with it for a month or so with yourself or your clients, get both objective and subjective data from it, controlling everything as much as possible then re-evaluate everything.
Don’t expect more muscular adaptations from the higher protein intake, as this will most likely be from the calorie surplus and increased training volume in your resistance training program.
We highly recommend this for clients or those out of a long contest prep where one lost a significant amount of weight and calories became very low so most likely metabolic adaptations occurred from satiety signals being down, hunger hormones up, and reward system cravings for highly palatable foods were increased (13).
We also recommend experimenting with a higher protein intake for clients or someone that has a tendency to binge or overeat especially those post prep or dieting phase.
Now that you have the secret ninja tips (HIYAAAA) to try a higher protein intake during a surplus, the biggest piece of advice we can give after self-experimenting with this and diving into the research is to have an open mind and just try it out for a month.
See how you respond to it. See how you feel. See what kind of observations you make out of it all. And just have fun with it all as this is what a flexible fitness journey should be about. Taking valid scientific research and implementing it into practice.
There’s only one thing we ask of you after having a higher protein intake during a surplus, don’t come knocking on our door after you see your weekly grocery bill?