The End Of The Protein “Debate”?

Protein intakes – especially as it relates to strength athletes and those involved in regular resistance exercise – has been a hotly debated topic for decades. That’s due in large part to nutritional authorities simply ignoring the data… While the bulk of the data suggests strongly that there’s benefit to protein intakes well above the RDA for protein for those involved in resistance training looking to improve  body composition, not all of the studies agree. Why?

The reason for that appears to be explained in the recent paper by Bosse and Dixon which covers the protein “spread” and “change” theories as it applies to the bulk of studies that examined the issue. This excellent review postulates the “spread” and “change” theories accounts for  why some studies find clear benefit to higher protein intakes, while others failed to.
Although  the bulk of the studies finds benefits to higher than “normal” protein intakes for those hitting the weights intensely, not all studies find the effect. This review examines why, and answers it.  I highly recommend people read this paper, and stick it under the nose of the next person who tells you  ‘there’s no benefits to additional protein,’ and I have posted the (provisional) abstract below with link to full study.

Finally, my article on protein myths, also explores some of the issues surrounding studies on the typical myths of protein and athletes, and there’s additional articles and vids covering the topic here on the BrinkZone.


J. Bosse, B. Dixon. Dietary protein to maximize resistance training: a review and examination of protein spread and change theories
. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 2012, 9:42 doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-42
Published: 8 September 2012


“An appreciable volume of human clinical data supports increased dietary protein for greater gains from resistance training, but not all findings are in agreement. We recently proposed “protein spread theory” and “protein change theory” in an effort to explain discrepancies in the response to increased dietary protein in weight management interventions. The present review aimed to extend “protein spread theory” and “protein change theory” to studies examining the effects of protein on resistance training induced muscle and strength gains.

Protein spread theory proposed that there must have been a sufficient spread or % difference in g/kg/day protein intake between groups during a protein intervention to see muscle and strength differences.
Protein change theory postulated that for the higher protein group, there must be a sufficient change from baseline g/kg/day protein intake to during study g/kg/day protein intake to see muscle and strength benefits.
Seventeen studies met inclusion criteria. In studies where a higher protein intervention was deemed successful there was, on average, a 66.1% g/kg/day between group intake spread versus a 10.2% g/kg/day spread in studies where a higher protein diet was no more effective than control. The average change in habitual protein intake in studies showing higher protein to be more effective than control was +59.5% compared to +6.5% when additional protein was no more effective than control. The magnitudes of difference between the mean spreads and changes of the present review are similar to our previous review on these theories in a weight management context.
Providing sufficient deviation from habitual intake appears to be an important factor in determining the success of additional protein in enhancing muscle and strength gains from resistance training. An increase in dietary protein favorably effects muscle and strength during resistance training.”

Full paper found HERE

And if you don’t wanna read the full paper, the “money” quote that made me smile:

The ‘lay’ recommendation to consume 1 g protein/lb of bodyweight/day (2.2 g/kg/day) while resistance training has pervaded for years. Nutrition professionals often deem this lay recommendation excessive and not supported by research. However, as this review shows, this “lay” recommendation aligns well with research that assesses applied outcome measures of strength and body composition…”

  1. Dennis 11 years ago

    good stuff……….in unison I like to move my whey powders around for variety so thats what I do. I can get some supposedly “better” whey’s from puritans pride as they carry many brands at usually a better price. I dont really make “laws” out of any of this stuff. I do hi light interval tng. though. In all its variables. I’m 60, have competed in N. England competitions, etc. Spend more time on recovery than tng. Recovery is part of tng. Take away………….find your own particular groove and go with it. On the whole…………there are no magic bullets out there. This aint Pentagon stuff…………..

  2. James Kilcoyne 11 years ago

    I am brand new to your site. I found you while doing some research on testosterone boosting products. I find your use of peer reviewed research to be excellent. You also challenge all companies to let you be involved in their research to get to the bottom line; there is no hiding the facts here. I will be watching out for more great insight on your part.
    James kilcoyne

  3. chris 11 years ago

    i think all this type of stuff is bull to sell and promote products exercise hard and eat right.look at the old school bodybuilders reg parks etc they didnt follow any of this new stuff are they not human

    • Author
      Will Brink 11 years ago

      What “stuff” would that be exactly? There was no real nutritional research for Reg and company to follow then, so they had little choice to just eat what they felt “worked” for them, which FYI, was to eat well above the recommended amount of protein at the .
      There’s a reason athletes of all kinds have continued to improve on all levels since “old school bodybuilders” roamed the earth, and one of those reasons is the huge strides in knowledge regarding sports nutrition.
      Your comments make no sense in the context of this review or my vid. Just sayin’… 🙂

      • Dennis 11 years ago

        tell the guy they used too have horse & buggy too

      • Mike 11 years ago

        Your right on the mark Will. All anyone has to do is look at the athletes today. They are bigger and stronger, and a big part of that is because of nutrition. I love all your articles and have learned so much. Thank you for all you do in the fitness world.

    • Jim 11 years ago

      What does “eat right” mean?

  4. Jeremiah 11 years ago

    Liked your video, Will. However, I have a couple of questions though (and would like to play Devil’s Advocate a bit if you do not mind). I do understand that the bulk of the information does support higher protein intake. Ironically though, we do not know exactly HOW protein builds muscle but it seems that higher intake is associated with muscle growth. What I would like to ask is, “does not genetics play a vastly superior role in building muscle as to make constant focus on protein intake a fairly mute issue?” After all, I have known several of extremely muscular people who tell me they consume a mere 100g a day when they weigh 240 and they are quite strong (and continue to grow). Which leads me to the next question, “isn’t the issue of muscle growth so much more than protein intake (with a plethora of variables) that the issue of high protein plays a minor role in overall growth?”
    Thanks for your time, Will!

    • Author
      Will Brink 11 years ago

      Genetics plays a key role, but it’s a separate issue from the major anabolic driver in our nutrition per se. Protein intakes are but one variable, and the authors of this review – as well as most of my materials – make that clear. Great genetics can overcome doing just about everything wrong, but optimizing your nutrition – along with training, rest, etc, – is the best way to get the most from the genetics you were handed! I hope that answers yours Q.
      I don’t think this review actually tells us anything we didn’t already know, but it’s one major piece of the puzzle as to why not all studies find the effect, and yet another nail in the coffin of the “additional protein above the RDA has no benefits to athletes” crew 🙂

  5. Dan 11 years ago

    Will, Thanks for getting this info out. I have always believed this and it’s nice to see the reserch. The place that I get lost in this debate is do you eat 1 gram per pound of actual bodyweight or lean body mass? I’d love to read the answer to this question. Is there research looking at the question from this point of view? Thanks

    • Author
      Will Brink 11 years ago

      This review suggests body weight, and unless you’re obese, the difference is going to be fairly minimal if you think about it.

  6. scott 11 years ago

    I heard that a high protein diet is hard on your kidneys.Is this true?What protein powder would you cosider?I do have type 2 diabetes,high blood pressure,anxiety/panic disorders,possibly sleep apnea,possibly bipolar disorder,and slow metabolism.So what do you think should be the course of action? I am under the doctors care for these aliments.Who do you think makes the better supplements?There’s so many companies to choose from.Any help is greatly appreciated.Thanks.

    • Author
      Will Brink 11 years ago

      High protein diets lower BP for example, and I know of know data to show they would harm your conditions, but I don’t give medical advice over the ‘net and I’m not your doctor, so consult with with your doc on any medically related issues you have. There’s proof at all higher protein diets harm the kidneys of healthy people, and I cover that in more depth in the article linked above. Good luck

      • Walter W. 11 years ago

        I believe Will meant “There’s NO proof at all…”

        • Author
          Will Brink 11 years ago

          Yup! My bad

  7. Alex 11 years ago

    This seems to give closure to an issue that all of us experienced bodybuilders know as a FACT..
    I would just like to know your oppinion on how to fight the acidic effect of a higher protein intake ?

    • Author
      Will Brink 11 years ago

      I discuss that some in my article on sarcopenia. A search will bring up the article.

      • Alex 11 years ago


  8. NJJoe 11 years ago

    Once again Will, bull’s eye! The “1 g protein/lb of bodyweight/day” seems to be the consensus, and reasonable. For example, a 175 lb. man, height 5′ 10″, and good shape, moderately active, has a full time job, & works out just 3 days a week, would be ingesting (from whole foods or otherwise) 175 grams of protein per day. That would equal just 700 calories. That’s less than 1/3 his total caloric intake per day (2200 to 2500) required just to maintain his weight.

  9. Eric Sell 11 years ago

    What is the best protein source (product)? I’m aware of current info from nutrition pros saying ‘all way is not alike’ and that vegetarian protein doesn’t provide essential bcaa’s.
    Thx for efforts and contributions to the field!
    Eric Sell

    • Author
      Will Brink 11 years ago

      There’s no “best” source. A well rounded balanced diet is what’s best. eating a variety of sources. In terms of whey, you can download a free copy my latest report on whey called “50 Shades Of Whey” which comes on various E Pub formats. A search will find it quickly. I cover whey pretty much A-Z in that new free report. Lots of whey info here as articles and vids also if you search around a bit.

  10. Gary 11 years ago

    Hi Will, thanks for another informative article. Does age affect the efficacy of protein supplementation? Should the supplement be daily or only on training days? All the best. Gary

  11. Wallace Viagas 11 years ago

    excellent info as usual. BTW i loved your report 50 shades of whey. i have a question. where the bulk of these studies meta analysis? i have a relative who is a registered dietician who says in their profession they only follow meta analysis studies, otherwise they do not view studies as reliable or holding enough weight. although any advances in nutrition within the fitness industry seem to go contrary to her profession. i refuse to talk about this stuff with my relative because everything i learn seems to be dismissed by her with comments like ” no real evidence has been shown yet” How come studies and general consensus within fitness industry is viewed in this manner by RDs? im sure she’ll rubbish this update and mention that excess protein will stress kidneys. thanks Will.

    • Author
      Will Brink 11 years ago

      As usual, my general lack of faith in RD’s is not misplaced. Show’s a serious lack of basic knowledge of science and the research methodology to claim they only follow meta analysis. There are some good RDs out there, but they are rare frankly, and sadly, most RDs are the last person to get advice from on nutrition, much less supplements. Ironic I know, considering that’s supposed to be their area of expertise.
      As far as protein and kidney issues, link above to my article covers that as well as other myths.
      As 50 Shades Of Whey is free, why not send her a copy?

  12. World Champ 10 years ago

    Will I can appreciate your expertise in the areas of health and nutrition. The question about protein was a no-brainer. The real question is for our bodies is the way God designed us are natural food sources the best way to enhance what we do as athletes? Perhaps you have written on this subject before for uploaded some YouTube videos. Anyone that knows me I’m not one that supports isolated, fragmented, synthetic forms of nutrition.

    • Author
      Will Brink 10 years ago

      I’m not really clear what the Q is. The majority of your cals should come from wholes foods yes, if that’s what you were asking.

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