DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am a devoted bodybuilder. I spend three hours a day in the gym, and I have made real gains. I have a question about protein. How much should I eat? I know you need it to build muscle, but when I read about it, the terms are confusing to me. Can you simplify protein intake for me? Thanks. – M.J.

To clear the protein air for you, I’ll explain some of the words you’ll run into when you read about the subject. Amino acids are the bricks that build protein. There are 20 of them. The body can make 12. The other eight have to be obtained from food. Those eight amino acids are called “essential.” They’re not hard to find. If you eat a variety of foods, you’ll get the entire 20 amino acids. Since most articles on protein express protein weight in grams, you can convert grams to ounces by dividing by 30.

During strength exercise, muscles break down. Strength exercise is also a stimulus for muscle-building. For muscle-building to take place, you must provide amino acids. They come from protein foods. The optimum amount of protein for an average person is .36 grams for every pound of body weight. For one like you, who engages in Herculean exercise, .6 grams wouldn’t be unreasonable. A person weighing 150 pounds, therefore, should get 55 to 90 grams of protein a day; a 200-pounder, 72 to 120 grams.

Meats, dairy products, fish and eggs are the best protein sources. One egg provides 6 grams of protein; 1 ounce of cheese, 7 grams; 8 ounces of skim milk, 8 grams; 3.5 ounces of ground beef, 24 grams; a grilled-cheese sandwich, 11-19 grams. I not pushing the following foods, but I list them to give you a clear picture of protein content: one Burger King Whopper, 27 grams; One McDonald’s Big Mac, 25 grams; one Kentucky Fried chicken breast, 36 grams.

Most people get more protein than they need. Someone like you has to pay a little attention to protein intake to provide the basic material for muscle-building.

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