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Experiment: Body Composition
I’m an experienced lifter, and I added 3.5lbs of lean mass in 6 weeks by increasing my supplemental protein intake.
I’ve been lifting weights for 30 years. For the last 5+ years, I’ve been focused on eating a healthy diet, getting high-quality sleep, drinking enough water, and working out consistently while minimizing injury. I haven’t been particularly concerned with gaining muscle mass; I’m happy with the amount of muscle I have, and I’ve been pretty stable. However, since we’re building a platform for health and performance data, I wanted to take the opportunity to better understand the levers available to me in an area that I’m very familiar with.
We’ve all read that for building muscle, we should be getting around 1g/lb or 2g/kg of protein per unit of bodyweight. I did some further research and found that, while those nice round numbers were easy to remember, the real upper bound of the benefits of more protein ended around 0.75g/lb, even for advanced bodybuilders. There’s a great write-up on this here.
I was at just under 180lbs at the time, putting me at a target of 135g of protein per day. I knew I probably wasn’t getting that amount in a day.
My workout schedule (2-3 intense weight training sessions/week) and diet were consistent. I tracked whole food protein intake for a couple of weeks and estimated that I eat about 80g of protein a day on average. I also have a morning shake that has around 20g of protein, for a total of approximately 100g of protein per day. So I needed to add 30 - 40g of protein a day to hit my target, which would be pretty straightforward, just an additional 1.5 - 2 protein shakes a day.
The experiment was straightforward - would I gain lean mass if I increased my supplemental protein intake from 20 grams to 50-60 grams a day while keeping my diet and workouts steady?
I decided to try it for 6 weeks and track my results using the Realize Me platform.
First things first, I needed to be able to track my body composition, supplemental protein intake, and workouts.
I have a Withings body composition scale connected to my Realize Me account.
A note on taking body comp readings with bio-electrical impedance-based scales: these scales are generally accurate for total weight, but they give variable results based on several factors, especially hydration levels in the body.
My approach to reducing and smoothing out some of this variability is two-fold:
1. I always take my readings first thing in the morning; it’s an easy process - I wake up, urinate and step on the scale every day.
2. I almost exclusively look at weekly averages, which helps smooth out some of the day-to-day variability.
Ultimately, I’m looking for relative change, not absolutely correct BF readings.
Supplemental Protein Intake
I have all my supplements set up in Realize Me, and I track consumption each day.
My Bridge (where I track all my weight training workouts) and my Apple Health data are in the platform too.
The results, while intuitive, were better than expected:
So the end result was that I added 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs) of lean mass in 6 weeks. I expected an increase, more protein is likely to assist muscle mass growth if you’re not getting quite enough; but this was more than I thought I would see, given how many years I’ve been lifting weights.
While there’s undoubtedly variability in the measurement of body fat percentage (and therefore lean mass) using bio-electrical impedance-based scales, my total weight increased a roughly equivalent amount. Visually, I looked equally lean and notably more muscular. In retrospect, if I knew I’d be posting about this publicly, I would have thoroughly tracked my food intake and had DEXA scans done at the beginning and end of the experiment ... next time!
While I don’t plan on maintaining that level of muscle mass long term, viewing my consolidated data in order to identify the strong correlation (for me specifically) between supplemental protein intake and body composition is precisely the type of insight I want to gain through Realize Me.
This is the first in a series of posts exploring various experiments I’ve run on myself to affect a variety of biomarkers ... blood pressure is next!