Real talk: no, protein will not make you bulky. Only your type of workout can achieve this result.
In fact, limiting dietary protein for fear that it will cause you to bulk or grow huge muscles is one of the biggest nutrition mistakes you can make. Let’s take a quick look into protein’s role in your diet, and the truth about how muscle growth (also called hypertrophy) actually works.
What is protein and what is its role in a balanced diet?
Protein is one of three macronutrients (along with fat and carbohydrates) that are the main nutrients that fuel our bodies and are required for the structure, function, and regulation of the body’s tissues and organs. Once protein is consumed, it is broken down into building blocks called amino acids. These amino acids perform various functions within the body, including muscle repair.
Muscle hypertrophy, or growth, occurs when the fibers of the muscles sustain damage or injury. The body repairs damaged fibers by fusing them, which increases the mass and size of the muscles. Protein aids in the repair and growth of muscles in this case. However, this type of muscle fiber tearing is usually achieved by purposefully following a bodybuilding, powerlifting or weightlifting program. It rarely happens by accident or by eating 5 ounces of chicken breast at lunch. Muscle growth is ONLY achieved only by purposefully breaking down muscle fibers and
building them back up.
So if I am not a lifter or a body builder, why should I bother with all those protein shakes and chicken breasts?
When you eat food, it will fall into one of 3 macronutrient categories: fat, carbohydrates or protein. Of these 3 macronutrients, protein is the most thermic, meaning it requires the body to utilize the most calories in order to break it down into those amino acids we talked about. For every 100 calories of lean protein you eat, the body expends about 20 to 30 calories just to process it. The same amount of carbohydrates expends 5 to 10 calories, and fat between 0 and 3 calories.
And even though we usually think of protein as “the muscle builder”, it really is the "calorie burner". If you are not lifting heavy weights or on a purposeful strength regimen, you will not “accidentally” create bulky muscles. But by adding more protein into your diet, you could see weight loss or body recomposition benefits, simply by shifting some of your calories away from the less thermic carbohydrates and fats and into the more thermic category of lean protein (check out this article for more info on quality carbs). Cool!
When you try adding more lean protein into your diet, let us know how it goes on social media with #ARYAfitforgood. We're big fans of protein!
Sheb is the Arya® Resident Nutrition Coach and record holding powerlifter. Her company, Shebnation® Nutrition was founded in 2017 and she has helped countless people reach their nutrition and weight loss goals, all the while fostering an environment of science based knowledge and empathetic support for her clients. If you're interested in learning more about Shebnation Nutrition, visit Shebnation.com or find @Shebnation on Instagram.