Protein, when. how much and does it matter? N=1 observations


I’ve been interested in what Don Layman has to say about protein requirements and in particular the “triggering” of muscle protein synthesis by leucine and metabolic regulation. In a nutshell, his view is that we need around 3g of leucine in a meal (about 35-45g of protein) to protect against lean muscle loss, particularly in adults over 50. In his view this is particularly important in the first meal in the day following an overnight fast when muscles are in a catabolic state.

My typical keto day is a light breakfast and then a more substantial meal in the middle of a day: protein and fat heavily weighted towards the later meal.

For the last 2 to 3 weeks I have ensured that I have a high protein breakfast and have the following observations: First, I have gained 5lbs; second I haven’t gained any “inches”. Very subjective but I feel like I have gained a little muscle. I don’t feel I have gained any fat. I think my calorie intake is much the same as before.

Ok, it’s N=1 and not very scientific but interesting to me. I plan to continue this experiment for a while.


I’d agree with that all day long, Starting the day with a protein burst is always beneficial after hours of not getting any, more protein more MPS, the bro’s figured that out decades ago which is why the Casein shakes before bed became a thing.

Gabbie Lyon pretty much says the same thing, lot of protein first thing in the AM, she practices “Muscle Centric” medicine.

If you truly gained muscle, and not because you were intentionally earning it, then that’s a sign you lost muscle you shouldn’t have, because we don’t just add muscle for no reason, or because you randomly eat more protein. MPS is an adaptation to muscular stress, so if you added it doing your normal day to day thing, then you were earning it the whole time and didn’t have what it took to build it.

(Bacon is a many-splendoured thing) #3

My understanding is that all three branched-chain amino acids (which means iso-leucine and valine, in addition to leucine) are required for muscle-building. But isn’t it exertion that triggers the actual growth? The branched-chain amino acids are essential, but I didn’t think we needed all that much of them, except when building muscle. They also cause fatty liver disease when over-consumed (and not utilised).

And the catabolic state is indicated by a low ratio of insulin to glucagon. Either fasting, or a ketogenic diet will produce such a state.

Obviously, the weight gained was either added muscle or an increase in bone density. Both are much denser than fat. Muscle growth will eventually result in tighter clothing, but not the way fat does (and not in the same places, either, lol!), and bone doesn’t get thicker, just denser and stronger (being calcium in a protein matrix).


I like 100+ g protein in my first meal but it’s just for my good days when I don’t have many meals…

I never eat a breakfast (under normal circumstances but when I do, it’s tiny so the protein is very low too), my first meal is usually lunch, sometimes an early dinner. But usually lunch, at 3pm on weekdays, earlier in the weekends.

It seems to me that only my daily protein intake matters, protein per meal is irrelevant (and it’s usually proportional to the size of my meal. but I eat high protein on low-cal days too). Protein is something I can’t really control in my eating (among others) and it’s fine as my body gets what it wants.

Did you track your daily protein intake? You could draw conclusions if you tried different things while keeping the other factors… I can’t do that, I am strongly against and can’t eat breakfast and prefer and often need more substantial meals, 35-45g would give me a small meal that just makes me hungrier… (It depends on the fat too but not very much as it doesn’t satiate me well.)

So, high protein breakfast, fine but what about your other meals before and after, at least protein wise? What did you have before, very low protein breakfast or nothing?

I am with @lfod14, you shouldn’t gain muscle just because you eat protein, there had to be some problems. Or your weight gain wasn’t muscle. It’s not always muscle or fat, maybe your body decided on retaining more water. I don’t know but protein alone doesn’t build muscle the body doesn’t need, we need to work for it, hard and slow.


Yes but Layman’s research has shown that leucine is the trigger. He says that he believes it is an absolute amount of at least 3g that is needed for the trigger, not an amount relative to body mass.

Well, there is normal protein turnover, not just muscle building to consider. If you have insufficient high quality protein in your diet then lean muscle will be lost. His interesting point I think is that it is not just the amount consumed in a day but the amount consumed in a meal which is important. Three or four meals with insufficient leucine in a day may well contain “enough” protein in total but it will not necessarily be sufficient for daily muscle protein synthesis if each meal doesn’t have sufficient leucine to trigger it.

Well either would be a good result but I have no way of knowing. It could be either or both of those, or water or fat. It’s just an observation that I gained weight when splitting the protein content of my meals and must be assumed to be correlation rather than causation without more data.

That may be right. I’m pretty active in that I walk 20-25 miles, do 2 hours of gym cardio and an hour of resistance work every week.

Layman’s research says that is incorrect. I’d like to see more work done on this but until such time it is confirmed by other research, his argument is convincing to me. You may reasonably take the other view that until it is confirmed then he is wrong :grinning:

I don’t routinely track anything. For this small experiment I simply upped my first meal protein by “robbing” from what I would be eating later, so broadly I feel my protein intake stayed the same.

That’s 35-45g of protein, not 35-45g of food. For example you would need to eat nearly 200g of fatty pork or well over 100g of lean to get that much protein. You could of course eat more, just not less than that according to Layman.

(Bob M) #6

I’ve seen plenty of studies where dieters who ate more protein maintained and even gained muscle mass.

For a completely different view, find Amber O’Hearn’s information. She believes high fat is what we should be eating, which is supposedly protein-sparing.

(Bacon is a many-splendoured thing) #7

If it were fat, you’d have gained centimetres as well as pounds, no?


I am aware… I don’t care if I eat 200g or 2000g food, I need lots of protein and fat in it for me to get satiated. A pound of meat may be enough. 5 eggs just make me hungrier. (Both work for me, meat and eggs alike though it’s not so simple but that’s not the point now.)

That’s good, I only eat less in extreme situations (though carnivore triggers extreme situations like tiny meals sometimes).

(Bacon is a many-splendoured thing) #9

That advice of Amber’s needs to be taken in context. There is a minimum amount of protein each person requires (there is quite a large bit of individual variation here), just for replacing lost nitrogen. Then there is the even more proteinrequired for adding muscle, which Gaz is talking about.

In any case, Amber’s advice is not “eat less protein,” it’s “eat even more fat.” And it is specific advice intended for people in a specific situation: people who’ve been keto or carnivore for a while, and who find their serum glucose inexplicably creeping up on them. Her speculation is that the glucose increase is the result of not getting enough fat for energy, and it has nothing to do with the amount or quality of protein they need for preserving or building muscle. And it’s not general advice for everyone to follow.

It’s also probably worth reminding everyone that “high fat” is a relative term, since equal weights of protein and fat are 31% protein and 69% fat by calories. In the context of dietary advice to get no more than 13% of calories from fat, that is extremely high fat, indeed.


But that’s not high enough fat for Amber and her followers :slight_smile:
Whenever I hear “high fat” I am unsure what that means there but some carnivores in the carnivore thread try a high fat approach now and that’s really fatty, twice as much fat in grams. Most of us need to focus on eating that much (or not doing it in the first place, it would result in serious overeating in my case as I eat high protein and can’t change it and it’s probably right that way).
I agree with your comment, of course, we obviously need our protein, it’s our only macronutrient with the precious nitrogen we need in it.
Eating much fattier may be counterproductive if people get satiated easier and eat less protein in the process. Indeed, the advice is just for some people, not all of us. As far as I know, keto is great at sparing protein - but we still need to consume enough protein and energy or else the body don’t have any more options but taking some of its needs from our muscles.

I have no knowledge about what the body does when it gets its protein in multiple smaller or a few or one bigger dose during the day, it’s an interesting topic for me but in the end I only can eat in the way what is comfortable for my body… It’s just nice to know things and we actually have more or less control… But I am always wary about following something I just can’t be sure and I won’t do that if my body is against it. But at this point I still don’t have knowledge anyway. I would think the body is smart and handle things with few or many meals alike, maybe not with the same efficiency but if I eat high protein, even complete protein, I can’t have protein problems without some major health problems regarding to using the protein I consumed.

Sometimes I wonder how different other mammals are. Some of them have zillion tiny meals. Some of them only eat rarely but very much at once. And there is the human with something in-between and probably our needs are around that…? Where are the ranges where things still work I wonder… Too bad we don’t even know enough about even humans (no wonder as it’s complicated, we change something and the result easily can be very different)…

(Bob M) #11

You should read her Twitter feed, then. She certainly acts as if everyone should be eating high fat. She’s constantly saying how great carnivore is and particularly high fat carnivore. Was even saying you could get the benefits of fasting through high fat carnivore.

But if her theory is that eating more fat means there’s less protein being used for energy, what wouldn’t that be good for everyone? Including those wanting to build muscle mass?

Personally, I find high fat = gaining weight. I also find high protein makes me feel better. And, I can have digestive issues with high fat (hotdogs, suet come to mind). But Amber O’Hearn is completely different from me:


I’m exactly the opposite.

But the original poster might not have tried higher fat, so maybe higher protein is not better for that person? Don’t know without trying it.

(Bacon is a many-splendoured thing) #12

Ah, well, now I understand where you’re coming from. I don’t do Twitter, so the stuff of Amber’s that I’ve seen has been in a different context. And my impression has been coloured by Bikman’s thinking on the same subject. I just assumed they agreed.

The problem is in the definitions. “High fat” means a lot of calories from fat. Do you consider 1:1::protein:fat by weight to be high fat? Because the calories in a gram of fat are more than double the calories in a gram of protein. So that right there distorts our thinking.

Secondly, under normal circumstances, the body does not use protein for energy. It costs much more ATP per gram to metabolise protein than it does to metabolise either glucose or a fatty acid. This is because the amino acids all need first to be deaminated, then to be converted to either glucose or a fat (some amino acids are lipogenic, others are glucogenic, and still others are both), and only then can they be metabolised. Sure, the body can do it, but it prefers not to. Glucose and fats are much easier to metabolise, and protein is mostly needed for structural purposes, though a small amount gets used for gluconeogenesis and for the nitrogen (nitric oxide helps keep our arteries relaxed, and we can get our nitrogen only from amino acids; the nitrogen in the air is useless to us).

So my understanding has been that if the body is metabolising protein (above and beyond the minimum required for gluconeogenesis and NO production), that means our diet is inadequate. Yes, we need enough protein to replace nitrogen loss and to make new tissue (muscle, bone, soft tissues, and so forth), but we should be getting our energy needs met from glucose (carbohydrate intake) or fatty acids (fat intake). And we all know which we prefer, lol! So Bikman’s take—which I also assumed Amber was saying—is that people on a keto or carnivore diet who find their glucose levels rising for no obvious, apparent reason need a bit more energy intake; in other words, eat more fat.

But again, given that eating equal amounts of protein and fat by weight is already a very high-fat diet in the sense that nutrition scientists and dietitians use the term, perhaps we should specify what we mean by that term, every time we use it. I get the impression that a lot of people think “high-fat” means something like 2:1::fat:protein, and hence they quite understandably baulk at that amount of fat. By the standards of the U.S. dietary guidelines, “high-fat” means more than about 15% of calories, which is a proportion of 0.44:1::fat:protein (by weight), given that protein also generally amounts to 15% of people’s caloric intake.

So yes, if eating a bit more fat will spare muscle loss, that is indeed a good thing. But “high fat” is in the eyes of the beholder. I would consider a U.S. dietitian’s “high-fat” to be inadequate. I find that Phinney’s advice to eat a reasonable amount of protein and then satisfy my hunger with fat to be workable for me. I don’t gain weight, and I don’t go hungry, either. If I ignore my satiety signals and snack a bit too much on something fatty, then I sweat a lot in bed at night. That’s my definition of “high-fat,” lol! :grin: My weight cycles within the ten-pound range centred on 223 lbs./101.36 kg.

In sum, how much extra fat do people really need to eat, in order to boost their energy intake? If you need 90 extra calories, that’s 10 g of extra fat. Is that too much? I suppose it could be, for some people, but not for me. And I’d rather get those calories from 10 g of fat than from 22.5 g of extra carbohydrate.


I looked it up (on YT as I am there most) and the result hinted at you being right… Oh well, I never followed absolutely anyone :smiley: Obviously NO woe is good for everyone.
When I saw Amber, she was a guest in someone else’s video (I think Kelly Hogan) and it totally was said that it’s for certain people, not everyone. But it’s obvious anyway.
Very high-fat triggers serious overeating in me. I need to avoid added fat and choose the leanest meat I like and can afford - and then take back a step if I am too successful but even if that happens, it’s temporal, I love fat too much :slight_smile:

65-81% fat is pretty normal to me. I am around 65% myself (I used to have 65-70% days all the time but now I can go lower, yay! I would never lose fat with 65-70% as it’s just way too much fat/energy for me) but this is a nice range for a ketoer/carnivore IMO. If it suits them, of course. But many of us usually are there I suppose. As we normal ones don’t have a very high protein need compared to our energy need…

Isn"t that below the absolute minimum need for many people? It can’t be high if it’s too low to be healthy…

It wouldn’t work for me. I need my minimum amount of protein and should keep the fattiness low enough to avoid overeating fat but high enough to get enough fat to help with satiation. With the right meat as my staple, it works :slight_smile: Too fatty meat triggers overeating, too lean (without enough egg and dairy) triggers “protein overeating” (it’s not too bad or super high just a bit too unnecessary and costlier), probably but I almost never eat too lean, more like the opposite :sweat_smile:. But I need my fatty meat to get my lard, it’s the simplest way to get it, to render it myself… It’s lovely meat anyway, I just should try to track when I eat it (I barely ate a little of it from my viewpoint with a few bites of other things and bam, 150g fat for lunch and I didn’t even get satiated, well the protein was only 80g so no wonder. it may or may not work). Except when I want some impressive numbers as it’s fun sometimes.

(Bacon is a many-splendoured thing) #14

I am fortunate that overeating fat merely revs up my metabolism. But then, I haven’t tried Sam Feltham’s experiment of eating 5000 calories a day, either. Perhaps I should, lol!


It’s the same for me but I need to lose a lot of fat. I can’t do that if I overeat fat. I just maintain. Maintenance is super easy to me, on and off keto alike. Losing is the problem. (And gaining muscle doesn’t go at a decent speed either but I am not the most disciplined when it comes to my workouts either so I have no right to complain :wink: )

Anyway, I don’t want to eat wastefully, only as much as I need.

(Megan) #16

Regarding Amber O’Hearn: on her KetoAF (Keto Animal Foods) facebook group, which has a focus on moderating/lowering protein and increasing fat, to help folks on carnivore to lower blood glucose levels, lose weight they have gained on carnivore, break weight loss stalls, improve low energy levels, be in ketosis whilst eating a carnivore diet and other things, she says to eat 1.4-1.6g of protein per kg ideal weight as an initial target, and 2 or more grams of fat per gram of protein. Some people are eating less protein than 1.4-1.6g per kg of ideal weight, and whilst she fully supports people to do n=1 experiments, she cautions people not to drop their protein too low for more than short periods of time.

High fat, in the absence of moderating protein intake enough, causes weight gain in many people, so it’s not just about eating more fat. Also the fats she says to eat are animal fats. Butter can be used but the general trend on the facebook group is to eat actual animal fat.

There was a discussion about Don Layman’s thinking and Amber’s response was it was the opposite of what she was trying to achieve with the 2 or more grams of fat to 1 gram of protein macro. I might resurrect the discussion and get more info from her regarding why and how it is the opposite.

Just my 2 cents worth of contribution to this thread. Half asleep, hope it made sense.

(Megan) #17

Amber just posted this summary on the KetoAF facebook group.

KetoAF : the goal

The goal of KetoAF is to arrive at eating to satiation where your body is deriving its energy as much as possible from fat, and as little as possible from protein, ideally without having to track anything, but relying solely on your hunger signals.

When one overeats protein, the metabolism responds by using protein as energy, even if there is enough fat available. Because the body can only incorporate so much protein, the remainder must be metabolised. This means that simply matching fat at 2:1 (or 80% — see the macros post) can sometimes simply result in the fat being stored instead of used.

This protein burning can put us in a vicious cycle, because the metabolic state (regulated by hormones) that uses high protein levels is more glucose dependent than fat dependent. It’s less ketogenic as a byproduct of that. So it then predisposes you to use incoming protein as energy.

The way to break the cycle is to lower daily protein and provide enough fat to manipulate the regulating hormones into the fat prioritising mode.

However, initially this would mean you have to actually limit protein to below what you might be inclined to eat. Likewise, especially if you have difficulty using your own fat for energy (more on that elsewhere) you may need to eat more fat than you’re used to eating.

This process can be like an additional keto-adaptation where you may crave more protein for a few days as your hormones adjust. And the additional fat may require digestive adjustment.

A good initial guess for how low to go in protein is described in the “macros” post. In that post I also briefly describe the “fat-first” method, which seems for many to work to get the right metabolic state at the meal level, literally by eating fat first until you reach “fat satiation”.

Exactly how much protein you need and can tolerate and how much added fat you need is an individual, empirical question, and that’s why it’s important to eventually move to eating to satiation, which should normally be a very good indicator of needs, so long as protein hasn’t overwhelmed the system out of the ketogenic state.

The ultimate goal of KetoAF is to be able to eat intuitively at ketogenic levels.

(Ohio ) #18

Makes sense to me, but watch yourself: Smearing high protein intake here leads to accusations of being a peta vegan.

(Bacon is a many-splendoured thing) #19

I’m not sure why protein is so controversial. Raubenheimer and Simpson claim their research shows that all mammals, including human beings, have an instinct for getting the right amount. In human beings it is somewhere in the vicinity of 15% of calories, apparently. This hypothesis is the basis of Ted Naiman’s P:E ratio, by the way.

(Megan) #20

Hey Paul, I think part of why it’s not a simple issue is due to the ways some ppls’ bodies are broken/damaged. It’s insane to me how some folks on carnivore develop rising blood glucose levels, to the point of being pre-diabetic. Some dairy has some carbs, like the unsweetened greek yoghurt I have every few days (1.5 grams per 100 grams) but it’s happened to folks who don’t even eat dairy. So, if it’s not the carbs, what else can it be?