Ideal Protein Intake, Meatless Days & The Best Split Routine for Adding Muscle — Q&A
Q: You recommend lower protein intakes than other experts. Can you clarify your position?
One of my mentors, Dr. Jeff Godin, once told me, “Protein isn’t like money.” (At the time I was sucking back way too many protein shakes to heed his warning!)
Protein in a sense has been a bit of a safe haven across the last two decades for fitness professionals. For the previous 50+ years we demonized fats—blaming saturates and cholesterol for just about all that ails us and educating dietitians within that paradigm. Then, when evidence began to pile up in the private sector that we may have it all backwards, we began pointing the fingers at carbohydrates and convention as the new evil.
As pendulums swung and continue to swing between high carb and low fat, and low carb and high fat, most of the loudest camps in the space have more or less left protein as an innocent bystander. With the general public perhaps more confused than ever, along with food intolerances and gut disorders rising disproportionately, protein intake is now enjoying its turn on the rollercoaster.
As it relates to my position on protein, it’s important to convey that at at the core of my teachings is emotional health and sustainability—not weight loss, not maximally high-performance, not body building, not reversing auto-immunity, and not aesthetics. This differs from many other experts who may be greater proponents of high protein.
My aim is to empower the greatest number of people to live a long and healthy life. With that in mind, I interpret the evidence, combine it with my experience, and make recommendations that I am confident will be the most useful to the most people. Most importantly, these recommendations cannot be short-sighted, or that I can foresee regretting later on or situationally.
Taking longevity as an example—longevity is far more associated with caloric and protein restriction than it is with the consumption of excess protein. This suggests that living on the lower end of the scale allows us to balance health and fitness, more so than living on the higher end. In this same vein, if you were to ask just about any well-versed proponent of wellness and functional medicine what they would do if they were diagnosed with cancer tomorrow, most would tell you they would cut protein almost entirely and eat high-fat, plant-based.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to impact nearly 20,000 people’s wellness journeys. In fact, I was managing 15,000 people’s nutrition during a single two-year stretch in my career. During that time, I noticed that intuitive consumption of protein—the amount of protein those individuals would consume if left alone to fuel an active, healthy lifestyle—averaged between 50g to 100g per day. And those who were eating on the higher end (150g to 200g) per day did so because they believed it was healthy. More often than not, those individuals were taking in a disproportionate amount of calories from white meat chicken and protein shakes.
With all the variables that could shroud proper intuition aside, I do find it hard to believe that such a large number of people could be off the mark to the tune of needing up to 3X more protein than than their gut lead them to eat. When I would ask people who were consuming 50g to 100g protein per day (from high-quality sources) if they could consume more, they either said no or became the chicken-loving protein shake drinkers! Advising those folks to stick with 50g to 100g enabled them to invest in greater quality proteins at one or two meals a day, versus lower-quality meat at every meal. As a result, the belief and investment in the program was heightened because people were comfortable and confident in the prescription, it didn’t feel too far off from their intuition, and they believed it was actually sustainable—unlike eating a pound or more of flesh protein per day. Lastly, even conventional doctors and nutritionists could look at the program and give their full support.
The RDA recommendation for protein, almost the only RDA I reference and more or less stick with, is .8-1.2g/kg/day. I also layer in a minimum intake of 50g of protein per day for women and 75g for men, regardless of bodyweight.
Q: You also mentioned “meatless days” being a big part of your program. What’s that about?!
I consumed a lot of protein for a lot of years. A few years ago I started eating more and more plant-based foods and less and less protein, namely to avoid conventional animal products while traveling. However, I noticed that every time I reduced protein, my energy improved and I felt more energetic and happier. I think in part, I’d simply been too high protein for too long. While this period of steady improvement did steadily decline, it illustrated an interesting concept.
How many people do you know that make the switch to plant-based (or vegan) and cannot wait to tell you how “amazing” they feel?
The first few months of a healthy vegan diet are usually very nutrient dense, fiber-rich, and non-inflammatory. Individuals who are inflamed or dealing with gut issues may experience some healing in the first few weeks. In reality, people feel better for two primary reasons. Sure, maybe some of the boost is from what they’re adding to the diet (like leafy greens that they may not have been eating before), but even more importantly, it’s what they’re NOT consuming that’s responsible for the improvements! (Ironically, this also why I suspect many feel so great on the carnivore diet.)
Digging into this, I stumbled onto some compelling research about hunters and gatherers, both ancestral and from those living today, that really got my wheels turning. The trend that was reported was that protein intakes were indeed often up to 30% of total calories, however it was noted is that their intake was measured on an annual basis—not daily. Hunters and gatherers do not hunt everyday, and even when they do, they’re not always successful. In the end, women and children bring home a majority of the family’s daily calories via the gathering of tubers and fruits. Then, when the hunts are successful, protein and fat intakes go up. Combine this with the protein/caloric restriction from longevity research and it seems periods of higher protein and lower protein are the way to eat in most accordance with our nature.
So yes, for most of the year I choose to eat close to vegan around three days per week, and on the others I may have bone broth, fish oil, butter, colostrum, a few eggs, and a rib eye steak or cut of wild salmon. During periods of heavy training or muscle-building, such as when I am prepping for an RKC, I will cut into those vegan days and bump protein. On up to 5-6 days a week I’ll bump protein to 1.2-1.8g/kg/bw for a 6-8 week block immediately prior to competition. Then, cycle back to my normal longevity-focused routine.
Q: What’s the best split routine for adding muscle?
I believe four days in the gym per week with a push-pull split is the best way to bulk up. This also prioritizes total body function and boosts the hormonal response from the training. Best of all, you get to train legs four times a week!
Try this routine:
Day 1 (Push): 3x8 Front Squat, 3x8 Bench Press, + 3x AMRAP Hand-Release Push-Ups, 5m High Plank Accumulation.
Day 2 (Pull): 3x5 Deadlift, 5x5 Weighted Chin-Up, 3x10 Chest Supported Row + 3x100m Farmer’s Carry, 3x15 Hanging Knee Raises.
Day 3 (Push): 3x6 Military Press, 3x10/side Rear-Foot Elevated Split Squat + 3x12 Suspension Tricep Extensions, 5m High Plank Accumulation.
Day 4 (Pull): 5x2 Sumo Deadlift + AMRAP BW Pull-Up, 3x10 Glute-Ham Raise + 3x15 Hanging Knee Raises.