During your search for bodybuilding knowledge, you’ll likely have heard many times before how important protein is in building muscle. While many refer to getting enough protein, you may also have come across the term ‘keeping a positive nitrogen balance’ in relation to protein intake, and wondered what it all meant.
What is a nitrogen balance, and, how can it affect your body?
Carbohydrates, protein and fats contain oxygen, carbon and hydrogen molecules. Protein, however, is the only macronutrient which contains the nitrogen molecule.
Around 90% of nitrogen is lost through the urine, so, the most common and accurate way to assess nitrogen balance is to take a nitrogen test, then subtract the amount of nitrogen lost through the urine from the amount of nitrogen (protein) you take in through your diet in a 24 hour period.
As long as the level of nitrogen taken in exceeds the amount being lost, then the nitrogen balance is positive. This means you have sufficient protein in your system to enable anabolism (muscle growth). If you are losing more protein through urine than you are taking in, you are in a negative nitrogen balance, and only catabolism (muscle wastage) can result. If all is equal, the best you can do is maintain muscle.
Keeping yourself in a positive nitrogen state is as simple as eating every 3 hours, and trying to get around 1-2g of protein in per pound of bodyweight, and ensuring that the protein you take in is complete proteins (egg, fish, meat, milk, whey) which contains all essential amino acids.
Of course, overall calories are important in building muscle, because you can’t build muscle with fewer calories than you need, but, muscle growth is certainly reliant upon keeping yourself in a positive nitrogen balance. During sleep you should also try to sustain your protein intake by taking in a good amount of slow digesting casein protein – which means drink plenty of milk.