The Importance of Protein in Maintaining Muscle Mass & How to Figure Out Your Protein Needs

Dr. Gabrielle Lyon is a functional medicine provider and expert in muscle-centric medicine. She joins JJ in today’s podcast episode to talk about a topic that everyone is curious about: how to optimize your protein intake to build muscle!

Listen as Dr. Lyon explains the vital roles of muscle in your body and the importance of protein, as well as the best types of exercise, for maintaining and building muscle mass.

Dr. Lyon also shares how to figure out how much protein you need and the top sources of protein, including the differences in quality between plant and animal protein.

Plus, find out the truth behind common myths about protein and your health!

Freebies From Today’s Episode

Click Here To Read Transcript

ATHE_Transcript_Ep 449_Dr. Gabrielle Lyon
JJ Virgin: [00:00:00] Hey, this is JJ Virgin. Welcome. And thanks so much for joining me. This is ask the health expert here. I put the power of health in your hands and give you access to the top. People in health and wellness. In each episode, I share safe ways to get healthy, lose weight, heal your gut detox and lots more. So if you wanna get healthy and get off the dieting for life Merry go round, I’ll give you strategies that will help you look and feel better fast.
Hey, today, we are gonna answer a question that keeps coming up and coming up and coming up. So first question I always get asked is what the heck should I eat? Beyond that. And really I wrote the Virgin diet to help you figure out which foods work for you and which foods don’t. And the next question is, okay, how much, how much of the different things, and of course, sugar impact diet is really [00:01:00] written to help you figure out where sugar is sneaking in and how many carbs you should have.
But the big question is that I get asked a lot is on protein. So I decided to go straight to my pal. The amazing Dr. Gabrielle Lyon who I had the good fortune to meet a couple years ago, cuz my other pal, the amazing Emily Fletcher of Zeva meditations, like you gotta meet my girlfriend Gabrielle. I’m like, all right.
So we went out to dinner in San Diego. I felt in love with her cuz she is just everything and we’ve been pals ever since. So let me tell you a little bit about Dr. Gabrielle Lyon. She’s, like first off, I’m gonna read kind of the basics, then tell you the amazing. So the, the basics which are amazing themselves is she’s fellowship trained board certified from wash U in St.
Louis, by the way wash U in St. Louis has the Virgin labs. My Brother-in-law Herbert Whiting III has his retrovirus [00:02:00] lab in wash U just a little aside. Her fellowship training was both clinical and research based in obesity, medicine, nutritional sciences, and geriatrics. She has a amazing private practice in New York city, but even more amazing than that, she.
Is the go-to doc for the elite military for the special ops guys, you know, the seals and the green Berets those one’s. So that is pretty crazy. And the thing that she’s known for is muscle centric medicine. So I am gonna be yaking with her today about building muscle, why this matters so much how you can do it, how you hold onto it and a protein and how much protein do you really need?
Cuz we get we get asked this all the time, so she’s. She’s my go-to on it. Now, before I dive into that, I wanna do a shout out to Ashley Allen and Ashley Allen in her screen name is Ashley Allen fit, sent a, a review in to iTunes. My [00:03:00] favorite podcast, five stars. And she says, I am a huge fan of this podcast.
It’s nourishing entertaining and very educational. JJ is an incredible host and authentically dives, deep into each topic with her guests. I recently just started my thyroid healing journey after years of dieting and over training. So these episodes are really helping me, JJ. I just love you. And I wanna thank you for all the work that you’re doing.
You’re truly making a difference and are such an inspiration to me. Big heart, Ashley Allen, Scottsdale, Arizona. Thank you. That is so awesome. And I am most excited about you doing your thyroid healing and we’ve had some incredible guests on this show, of course, with Dr. Isabella, starting with Dr. Isabella Wence and by the way, shout out for Isabella with her new Hashimoto’s protocol cookbook.
Amazing. Fabulous. Incredible book. So I just wanna do a shout out there and I wanna remind you all. We always have amazing, incredible. And amazing’s my word [00:04:00] for today. All right. I admit it. And it’s amazing. So we have amazing show notes and Gabrielle is giving the coolest gift ever. You’ll hear all about it.
You’ll be able to grab it. And everything else we yak about at All right. Before you dive in, I wanna share one of my favorites with you,
Dr. Gabrielle line. Welcome to the show. I’m super excited to be chatting with.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: I can’t wait to be here. I’m so happy.
JJ Virgin: Well, believe it or not like, this is gonna sound crazy to you, but we’ve actually not talked about protein and muscle. We’ve not talked about on this podcast yet. I get asked all the time.
How much protein should I eat? Like how do I build muscle? So I’m like, I am glad that I went straight to my number one source for all this. But what I love to dive into [00:05:00] and start with is you you’re known for muscle centric medicine, and you’re my go to on all of this, but how did you get into this? I love this
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: question.
I happen to be a second generation functional medicine practitioner. My godmother, her name is Liz Galipski is one of the. Original OGs of functional medicine, nutrition. And I moved in with her when I was 17 and that really changed the trajectory of my education. I became very interested in nutrition.
Then I went to my undergraduate and human nutrition, vitamin mineral metabolism, and that was all about protein. I trained with one of the world leading experts in protein metabolism. And as an athlete, it just shaped my perspective. So in a nutshell, that’s how I got
JJ Virgin: here. Yay. Well, I am happy you’re here because again, you know, there is so much crazy, crazy misinformation out there about this.
And before we start to talk about protein [00:06:00] needs and why we need protein and all that, let’s kind of back it up and talk muscle in the first part. Muscle. Why, why is this so important on our body? And I’ll just preface it by saying, you know, back when I was in graduate school and everything back then was about, okay, if you need to wanna lose weight, you have to do lots and lots and lots of cardio.
And I go, this doesn’t make any sense. I’m down at Gold’s gym in Venice with all these body builders, they’re not doing any cardio. They don’t have, they’re really lean, you know, they’ve got amazing muscle. And I see just the opposite with all these people doing cardio. So it just blows my mind that I still feel like this crazy urban legends out there that we need to do loads of cardio.
Why is muscle so important?
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: Muscle is the largest organ in the body. Everybody thinks it is solely for locomotion for exercise, for moving, but actually it is an endocrine organ. What does that mean? It means it secretes things. When you exercise, you actually secrete [00:07:00] anti-inflammatory chemicals, that lower inflammation in the body.
So that’s one aspect. The next aspect is it’s responsible for your metabolism. Everybody heard has heard about metabolism and they hear that as you age that your metabolism change. Actually it’s your muscle mass that changes. So muscle is very important for your resting metabolic rate, your metabolism, essentially, it’s responsible for the calories that you burn at rest.
JJ Virgin: So, you know, when you look at it, then it’s like the biggest thing that you can do to really change your basal metabolic rate. And I remember seeing a picture, one of my friends was talking about the fact that marathon runners had the same muscle mass as couch potatoes. Which is just a shocking statement.
Right. But it makes sense because of what’s happening when you’re doing all that, all that, you know, cardio it’s like you’re not building muscle going out on a three hour run. Absolutely.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: And when you think about [00:08:00] longevity and postmenopausal, hormonal changes, the more muscle you have, the better you age.
JJ Virgin: It’s so let’s look at that then, because you know, you see people losing muscle as they age, but they don’t have to, right? No,
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: you don’t. There is this natural decline that will happen if you are doing a ton of cardio and you’re not lifting weights and you’re not getting your protein. Right. So muscle can be stimulated largely in two ways.
Number one, through dietary protein and number two through resistance. All of which are in
JJ Virgin: our control. Yes. Which is super awesome. Now. Let’s talk about protein because in terms of building muscle, I think there’s this idea that, you know, what you just really need to do is just eat a lot of protein. It’s like, well, you actually have to stress the muscles too, but then of course you need to give the muscles what they need.
[00:09:00] So dietary protein, how is that? You know, how is that? What’s the importance here for muscle.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: It’s really interesting. Dietary protein is really the black sheep of the macronutrient family. I
JJ Virgin: know like why the heck is that? And then, I mean, and then we’re gonna talk about like plant-based versus
animal protein too. We’ll get into that, but yeah. Why, why the heck is it that way?
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: It’s because it’s the only macronutrient that is emotional. Everybody knows that too many carbohydrates are bad for you. That excess sugar is bad for you. We used to think that fat was bad for us, but we know that a moderate amount of fat is good.
And then the last kind of the black sheep is protein. And it’s because it has a face it’s very emotional for people and that skews their ability to make good decisions that are evidence based. Versus feeling
JJ Virgin: based. Mm. All right. So the other side of it too [00:10:00] is, I mean, when I look at everything, I think, all right, actually, protein’s the easiest thing when you really look at it because, and I’d love to hear how you dose protein, but to me, that’s the most stable thing that we have and carbohydrates will.
Right. You know, based on what’s going on, but like, you need to get that consistent protein in. So what, when you look at how much protein someone needs, cause again, this is like this question. I get asked all the time and oh my gosh, you read, you read the different research or not research. You read the different recommendations by all the health experts and.
You know, some are like never eat animal protein, then someone’s like, you need to eat lots and lots. Like, like, okay. okay Experts. It’s very confusing for people. It’s very confusing. Let’s talk about first, before we get into like how much protein let’s talk about the difference in bioavailability. Like what’s the difference between protein and animal protein and then good animal protein and bad animal protein.
I am so [00:11:00] glad
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: you asked that.
JJ Virgin: Often can, can you tell that the hot button for me, I am so sick of people, you know, to me, when I look at the whole vegan versus paleo, it’s like you have a vegan pulling out and comparing, you know, saying it’s, you know, meat is bad, but they’re looking at factory cow meat. I’m like, well, you know, yeah, if you shove cows in close confine and shoot ’em up with a bunch of stuff and feed ’em GMO food, it’s bad.
That’s not what we’re talking about. So, okay. Now, now I’m gonna breathe and let you just go on your rant. So, the
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: very first question you asked me was why is protein important and why is it important for muscle? Well, protein is so important for muscle because if you think about it, like feeds like so animal sources feed our muscle tissue.
And the reason that is so important is because it’s based on something called branch chain, amino acids. And I don’t wanna get. Too deep into the signs, cuz I want this to be usable for everybody. But the quality of protein is determined by [00:12:00] that very thing, which is the branch chain, amino acids. Those branch chains are different in plant versus animal.
For example, one chicken breast around that has around 30 grams of protein. Let’s say that’s around four ounces and. To get the equivalent amount of plant protein you would need between four and six cups of quinoa to get the quality of the protein that you need. Because the branch chain amino acids are lower in plant
JJ Virgin: protein.
Which by the way is gonna slam you over how many carbohydrates you should be eating a hundred percent just slam you. You know, that’s the biggest challenge I see with this stuff. I’m like, all right, how do you get in the protein you need without going excessively high in carbohydrates? Or, you know, if you’re trying to lower your carbohydrates, how do you get it without like your fat will be off the chart?
So you have to really
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: get the. Quality sourcing that we talked about and plant source or [00:13:00] sorry, animal sourcing is of a very high quality, and that could be in the form of
JJ Virgin: lean meats,
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: Turkey, chicken, eggs, even whey protein that has a, a, a great amount and a balanced amount of branch gene, amino acid, which are necessary to feed the muscle and especially important as you age.
So when you think about dosing, the minimum. amount that an individual should have, who is say over the age of 35 would be 30 grams of protein per meal. And that’s between four to five ounces
JJ Virgin: per meal. Now something we need to clarify there because it’s very different to eat lean chicken breasts versus a fatty piece of wild salmon.
Yes. Because you’re gonna have a fat in there as well. Right.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: And fish has around five grams of protein per one ounce. So you need more. And now if it’s salmon, you’ve [00:14:00] now double or tripled your fat intake. So I tend to choose leaner quality. Leaner cuts of protein for that
JJ Virgin: exact reason. Okay. And so how, how about like, what is gonna make your protein needs?
Very like obviously I’m looking at you and you’re a little bitty thing. I am not , you know, I’ve got like what, like eight inches on you and you know, women versus men. Athlete versus non athlete or someone healing from say surgery or what what’s, what changes our protein needs. How do we know how much for our individual needs?
We need a
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: great rule of thumb is one gram per pound of ideal body weight. Assuming that you are not. Extremely heavy. So if your body fat percent is 18% or lower 20% or lower, and maybe you are struggling with a little bit of weight issues or you are lean, then your [00:15:00] recommendation a great recommendation is one gram of protein.
Per pound of ideal body weight. So for example, me, I’m tiny, like you said, 120 pounds. My ideal body weight is around 120 pound is around 120 pounds. And my grams of protein is equivalent to that. And that is a great rule of thumb for anybody. The more calorie restricted you get. So if someone is on, say a diet where they’re going lower calories, the more protein you.
because you need to protect that muscle
JJ Virgin: tissue. And what about if someone is say recovering from, you know, surgery or an accident, something like that, does that shift things.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: That absolutely does. So that would increase the protein need and you could have an extra 40 to 50 grams to really of high quality protein.
So we’re not talking about plant-based protein, an extra 40 to 50 grams on top of what your ideal [00:16:00] body weight would be. If you’re going through a surgery or an illness that should really be your focus macronutrient.
JJ Virgin: What about as you age? I love this question. I mean, because okay. And, and why, so we are losing it as we age. I’m not. No, you are definitely not losing it.
I’m just like every year I go, it’s like, okay, well now 50, five’s the new 30. But you know, I, but are people losing it as they age because of. Inactivity because of hormone shifts, what is going on? That’s making them lose muscle as they age?
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: Well, as individuals age, there is a decrease in your sex hormones, and that definitely affects muscle tissue.
There’s also something interesting that happens called anabolic resistance. And what that means is that as you age your body and your muscles become less efficient at utilizing the protein that you ingest, changing the. [00:17:00] First of all the amount of protein you eat at one meal is essential as an individual ages, having any less than 30 grams of protein per meal.
And the ideal is gonna be between 30 and 50. And this is really interesting because it’s independent of, if you are male or female or your size, the overall amount of protein is. Dependent on your size, but the amount at one time is independent. So what that means is that as you age, no matter what your male or female, your protein need would be between 30 and 50 grams per meal, to overcome that anabolic resistance, that happens as
JJ Virgin: we mature. And you’re saying per meal.
So I wanna bring that up. Because is there an upper limit as to how much you can assimilate at any one time? Is this something that you wanna make sure that you’re getting it distributed throughout the day? What’s important here.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: In [00:18:00] terms of any, you absorb all the protein that you
JJ Virgin: ingest the yeah, because that was a big, you know, it’s like, I know we’re gonna talk about some myth busting.
Yeah. But I look at, I look at old myth busting that there used to be the, one of the big myth busting things or myths and vegetarian and, and veganism was you had to like, eat these, exactly this like combine everything at each meal. And then the other one was like, don’t eat over this amount of protein at a meal.
Body won’t assimilate it. So very complicated. Very complicated. You’re like, you know, it’s like you get fearful at a meal. Like what happens here? You know, it’s like, it’s ridiculous.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: So in terms of distributing over time, that’s actually key. If you are eating two meals a day, then
your amount of protein per meal needs to obviously be higher. I typically have individuals either eat two to three meals depending on the, the person. and it should really be scheduled four hours apart, four to five hours is ideal. It allows for that [00:19:00] muscle to reset and then you get an optimal stimulation so that you can continue to build
JJ Virgin: muscle as you age.
Yeah, I remember. I actually helped, I used to work with pro boxers. Believe it or not. I have like, had bizarre, a bizarre background in, in health. And I used to work with a lot of sports. Guys. I worked with the us Olympic swimming team. I worked with pro boxers and then I helped Superman get his muscle.
And when I did that, I was having them eat every four hours and making sure that we, they got enough muscle in. But I think now, and I love that you brought that up because this idea that, well, you know, I think we’re both anti snacking, this breakfast lunch now. Absolutely, absolutely ridiculous. But I love that you brought in.
Two to three meals because you don’t need to eat three meals necessarily. Right. So that’s the other piece of it, right? That’s absolutely right.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: It’s challenging to get enough protein in, especially if you, as you age. But if you, you know, when I think about protein, I think really protein over carbohydrates and protein [00:20:00] over fat protein has so many excellent qualities.
And it’s not just about building muscle. It increases the amount of fat that you burn in your body. It helps your immune cells. It helps repair your gut. It does all these amazing things. So if I had to pick one thing to eat, I would. Air higher on the protein than I would the fat or
JJ Virgin: the carbohydrates. So any other weird myths that we could bust out there that come to mind?
yes. How
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: about this one? Protein is bad for the bone we know in fat.
JJ Virgin: Oh yes. What about protein? Bones and kidney bones. And yeah. Talk about that.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: bone is actually made from protein. Those individuals that consumed higher protein throughout their life had highest bone density. That’s a massive myth. And the other one that I hear all the time is protein is bad for the kidneys.
[00:21:00] In fact, we know that if you have good functioning, kidneys, protein actually helps increase their efficiency.
JJ Virgin: Where did all this come from?
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: The myths or the
JJ Virgin: science, the the, the myths. I mean, the myths on bone health. I’m assuming the bone health one came from the people being concerned about the acidity of protein.
But I would assume that that is very easy to offset. If you’re eating vegetables, like you should be.
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: Absolutely. Absolutely. And we know that the acid. Alkaline story. Isn’t really true that the body does a very good job at buffering. And if you’re eating any kind of green vegetables or a green drink, then that really does offset it.
The other thing that people talk a lot about is that protein causes cancer and that is a hundred percent not true. In fact, there’s never been any data to prove that that has been done in humans or. You know, when you look at the, the [00:22:00] statistics, the statistics, if you actually look at the papers, it’s not true.
I’ll give you an example. There is something called a risk ratio, right? And that just means that the higher, the number, the more likelihood that it’s correlated to cancer or that thing, smoking and cancer has a number of 12. right. Protein and cancer has a number of 1.3 in order for anything to be considered significant.
It has to be two or above all that in saying that protein absolutely does not cause cancer. There’s never been any evidence that shows that or indicates that.
JJ Virgin: Hmm. So let’s flip back over to muscle. Because obviously diet’s key here, but, but someone, someone wanted to make sure as they age that they are not losing muscle that they’re holding onto or building muscle, or as they’re trying to lose body fat, what are some tips you can give [00:23:00] them around that?
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: Do resistance training. I think that you can do it three to four days a week is a great place to start. There is science that shows it doesn’t actually have to be heavy as long as you’re putting an effort and going to failure as you age, that’s really important. This is research out of Canada uh, McMaster university, which is phenomenal.
They have recently published a study that shows that as long as you are putting in effort to failure, Then you still get the benefits of protecting your muscles, protecting against sarcopenia. So three to four days a week of either. Heavy lifting, heavier lifting or lighter load, more repetitions.
JJ Virgin: And, you know, I get asked all the time, so I’m glad you said it that way.
People are like, how much weight should I lift? I go, whatever you can in good form, you know, right. I mean, it’s like it, there isn’t a weight. It’s the weight that you can’t, that [00:24:00] you can lift and I like to have people work in the eight to 12 repetitions. I always say, if you can’t get to eight. Lighten it up and if you get past 12, make it heavier.
Yeah, because when I was doing my graduate work, I had to build muscles quickly as possible. Well, you have
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: a lot of muscle, you really do. You’ve been training your whole life, so you.
JJ Virgin: Yeah, well, this was for people I was bringing in. I was bringing in students and I had to help them put on muscles quickly as possible.
And that was definitely the range that seemed to help the most. So, and,
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: and then having protein after your training session, because the blood is now in the muscle, so the nutrients can actually get to the muscle. So after you weightlift, then having a protein meal is absolutely ideal. And this is where shakes come in.
In an excellent way. So individuals who don’t want to eat after they train, still get the amino acids.
JJ Virgin: Yeah. Yep. That is my favorite recovery is to use a supplement, a shake supplement after your workout. It’s like, [00:25:00] cuz it’s just so easy to do. So I love all of this and I am. Super excited that you have a, an amazing gift for everybody.
It’s really cool. And I want you actually to describe it. You’re going to give out your lion protocol the four week optimal protein nutrition program design to reset your metabolism. So what are they gonna get? They
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon: are going to read this and know exactly how to plan out their protein meals they’re going to have from the beginning to the end.
How their day looks. There’s some recipes in there, reasons why muscle’s important, how to eat it, how to eat it over the day. It’s really a great program based in. 30 years of science.
JJ Virgin: So it’s, and it’s free to everybody. It’s free. That’s right. Oh my gosh. Thank you so much for that. So you can grab that at
I know we went through a lot of things here, too. I’ll put an optimal list of great clean animal protein. I [00:26:00] hope that’s one of the key takeaways here is that what, what you eat, like I always say you are what you eat ate. And we gotta make sure that we’re eating clean animal protein. It is non-negotiable like, I just did a TV show today and the host was saying, oh, but the grass fed and finished beef is so much more expensive.
I go, cuz it’s worth it. Like you can’t eat the other stuff. It’s garbage. Yes. So again, you can grab all of this at and Gabrielle. Thank you so much for all your amazing information today. I so appreciate you. Thank you.
This is the time where I answer a listener’s question. And this one came up when I was doing Facebook live. You know, I grab a lot of these from my Facebook and Instagram live. I like to simulcast that. So join me over at on Insta or JJVirgin official on [00:27:00] Facebook. I try to go on a couple times a week and I’m have some I have a bunch of fun guests on.
So it’s a good time. Come join me. Anyway, someone jumped in and was like, all right, what do you eat for a protein? So here’s what I do. You know, my, my trifecta is clean protein, healthy, fat, and fiber from loads and non-starchy vegetables and a little bit of slow, low impact carbs. And so. My typicals are this.
I do my bone broth protein powder, my JJ Virgin, all in one protein powder. And we’ll put the smoothie recipe for this in the notes where I throw in some green, some avocado. Sometimes I throw in some berries. I tend to not do that though. My, I put cherries in for my hubby. He loves those But I tend to do coconut milk and a little bit of green banana for the resistant starch, little avocado.
I keep that frozen. It works really well. And then my bone broth protein and some ice. And then what I really love to do is swirl in some almond butter. Salty. [00:28:00] Love that combo sweet salt. So that’s one of the things that I do. And then the other thing I tend to do is have a salad on a regular basis. Now I, the protein sources I tend to eat the most are, and what we like to do is make protein and then I’ll have the leftover.
The next day is pastured pork will do like once a week, wild salmon. Or halibut. I try to do fish a couple times a week. Pretty much the fish I eat are wild salmon halibuts and then scallop, shrimp, lobster or crab. My favorites, there are these like big stone crab claws that I dip in ghee. grass fed ghee.
Oh my gosh. I will do chicken. I think chicken’s the hardest find thing to find really clean. But pastured chicken. And then while grass fed beef, I feel the best getting grass fed beef in a couple times a week, but I do very clean grass fed and grass finished beef. And so that’s where I tend to eat my protein.
And then I, if I’m cooking some at dinner, we like to make [00:29:00] some that’s left over for the next day makes it easy peasy. So a lot of times lunch is a salad with that. And then I’ll throw in some nut cheese. Or some nuts. And so I get my healthy fats, my protein loads of non-starchy vegetables, easy. And then dinner is always some kind of slow, low carb, wild rice, some squash, some potato, and then some loads of non-starchy vegetables, cauliflower, rice,
brussel sprouts and broccoli are kind of our go-tos. I love shaved broccoli, that’s stir fried, and then some kind of protein. And that’s it, man. That’s how simple this really is. I just get really clean protein and I keep it in the freezer. Shout outs to my buddies over at vital choice for my wild fish, the best wild fish, anywhere.
Amazing and we’ll put some of the resources of the Protein sources that we really like in the show notes and how to get them. There you go. So it’s easy for you to do all right. I wanna remind you again, [00:30:00] to grab those show notes. And I would love to shout you out on the next show.
So if you haven’t left a review yet, please do. And if there’s something you want me to yak about or a guest you want, just let me know and I will go hunt them down. All right. It’s been great. I so appreciate you. Bye.


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