Protein Supplements For Building Muscle
For decades, athletes and lifters have preached the importance of protein. The rest of the world is just now catching up. It’s not uncommon to find protein supplements everywhere these days, and to hear everyone and their brother talking about how they want to get more of it.
Fear not, because we have all the answers you’ve been looking for about this most important of all bodybuilding supplements. This is the place to start if you are serious about lifting, athletic performance, or simply looking to improve overall health and fitness.
Does Protein Powder Help To Build Muscle?
Whey protein is virtually a required supplement for anyone who wants to gain muscle, increase performance, lose weight, and improve overall health and wellness. There are a lot of studies that show that whey is extremely effective in stimulating muscle protein synthesis, which is the mechanism that ultimately leads to bigger and more powerful muscles.(1)
Because of its fast rate of digestion, whey is great for muscle-building. Whey is the fastest-digested form of protein, and its amino acids quickly break down, allowing them to be quickly absorbed into your bloodstream. These amino acids are then carried to the tissues by your blood, where they trigger protein synthesis.
Whey is a rich source of BCAAs, which are the branched chain amino acids leucine, isoleucine, and valine. This helps to boost protein synthesis. Leucine is the key to unlocking the engine of protein synthesis, according to research.(2)
Whey is merely one option, however. Any protein that contains sufficient amounts of BCAAs, (and leucine in particular), will help to increase protein synthesis and build muscles.
Muscle Protein Synthesis
Protein synthesis, in scientific terms, is the process where cells utilize DNA, RNA, and enzymes to create protein molecules. In other words, it’s the way in which the body uses the amino acids contained in protein to build new muscle.
Your body oscillates between two processes over the course of a single day: building up (through protein synthesis, also called anabolism), and breaking-down (or catabolism).
When taking a protein supplement, elevated levels of amino acids appear in the blood for a brief period (called hyperaminoacidemia). During this window, higher than normal levels of muscle protein synthesis occur.(3)
Strenuous training can be catabolic in that it causes muscle damage and breaks down muscle tissue. However, your body becomes almost instantly anabolic after training and begins to heal the damage.
This can be accelerated by having a pre- or post-workout shake or solid meal that contains sufficient carbs and dietary proteins. This is where the amino acid leucine is crucial. It is found in high-protein foods and powders.
To get the maximum benefit from the muscle-building process, you’ll need to get around 3 grams of leucine per serving, which is typically what you get from the 30-40g of dietary protein you get from your meals. Throw in a few BCAAs with your meals, shakes or supplements, and you’ll be all set.
What Are The Different Types of Protein?
Protein powders allow you to consume essential macronutrients quickly and easily. There are many options available that can suit almost any dietary preference, food allergy or flavor preference.
However, not all protein powders are created equal. While there are many protein supplements to choose from, each one has its own benefits and unique features.
Whey Concentrate – The most widely used form of protein powder. It’s readily available, mixes easily and is absorbed quickly. It typically contains 70- 80% protein. The rest of the powder is made up of fats, carbs, and water. It can be used pre- and post-workout, or as a protein-rich snack in between meals.
Whey Isolate – Low in fat and carbs, it normally contains around 85% protein. It is very rapidly absorbed, making it an excellent choice for pre- or post-workout. Additionally, it is typically one of the more low-calorie protein powders.
Whey Hydrolysate – A form of protein that has been partially broken down before consuming. It is absorbed quickly by the body to rapidly begin rebuilding muscle tissue damage.
Casein – Casein can be a great choice for a nighttime drink as it is more absorbable than whey. While whey can be absorbed in as quickly as 20 minutes, casein can take up to 4 hours.
Milk Protein Isolate – A blend of both casein and whey proteins, both of which are found in milk. It is found in many ready-to-drink (RTD) proteins), and can provide amino acids for your muscles in not only the short-term, but for several hours consuming it.
Egg Protein Concentrate – An ingredient that’s very popular in blends. Although it takes longer to digest than whey proteins, it takes less time than casein. Some athletes also consume egg protein from eggs or liquid eggs whites. Medium-sized eggs typically contain about 7 grams of protein.
How Much Protein Is Needed To Build Muscle?
You should aim to consume around 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight if you engage in strenuous training or are trying to gain size. This is approximately 2.3 grams per kg.
It doesn’t need to be exact, but if tracking your dietary protein intake was the only thing you measured, it could be the key to seeing the results you’re after.
Keep in mind that while lifting weights can stimulate muscle growth/synthesis, it can also increase muscle breakdown. If you exercise while fasting this is especially true, and your body will likely break down more muscle than is being built.
Making sure you eat protein right before and after your workout can help you maintain growth and breakdown balance.
Do Bodybuilders and Athletes Require More Protein?
Absolutely. To keep up with your physical activity, the amount of protein you consume should also increase.
Generally speaking, you should aim to get around 1 gram per pound if you are an active person. In fact, the US Government’s Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein of 0.8 grams per kg of bodyweight is far too low for weight lifters, or anyone else who frequently engages in intense physical activity.(4)
You need more protein to support your body’s recovery and repair, no matter if you are an endurance runner or a gym-goer. In fact, research shows that athletes require more than double the protein than that needed by sedentary individuals.
Additionally, the International Society of Sports Nutrition released a statement stating that an active person should consume between 1.4 and 2.0 grams per pound of their body weight. They further stated that these amount are not only safe, but may improve training ability and performance.
Also, the Dietitians of Canada, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and the American College of Sports Medicine all jointly stated that certain athletes may benefit from as much as 2.3g per kg of body weight (or about 1 gram per pound).(5)
Bottom line, the more strenuously you exercise, the more you’ll want to aim for the higher end of that range.
Should You Take Protein Post-Workout?
For decades, bodybuilders have been using the concept of an “anabolic window” to describe a short period after a workout when protein intake can be more directly translated into gains. Recent research, though, indicates that it’s not as brief, or crucial, as previously thought.
Even if you wait a few hours to eat your post-workout meal, your body still uses the amino acids from your pre-workout meal to trigger optimal growth and repair. It’s certainly okay to have a shake right after a workout.
However, you can still increase strength and size even with delayed post-workout nutrition. That said, it’s still a good idea to have a shake immediately after training, especially if you’re training in a fasted state.
If nothing else, the routine of having a shake immediately after exercising helps you remember to get your nutrients. It’s even better if you can get both a shake or a meal during the so-called “anabolic window”. And waiting for several hours doesn’t provide any added benefits anyway.
It may also be beneficial to take protein before you exercise, especially if your diet is low in calories or carbs.
In fact, taking protein alone preworkout is very beneficial in a low-carb diet. When taken at this time it leads to enhanced fat-oxidation (fat-burning) during intense exercise such as high-intensity interval training, or metabolic resistance training.
There are also low carb protein powders that are specifically designed to help you live a low-carb lifestyle. And if you’re not a fan of having a shake slosh around in your stomach while training, you can instead try using isolated BCAAs.
Which Protein Powder Is Best?
Rather than asking this particular question, you will be much better served by rephrasing it a bit: “Which is the best protein powder for my individual needs?”
The best protein supplement is the one that delivers the right nutrient profile, tastes great, and helps you achieve your personal health and fitness goals. Your aim might be to bulk up and add muscle and strength, or lose some weight, or just include some additional protein to your diet for good health.
Additionally, some supplements use fast-digesting proteins designed to be taken right after a workout, while others contain slower-digesting casein so that your body has the nutrients it requires while you sleep.
Besides that, you may base your decision upon whether it’s whey or casein, a blend, or plant-based or vegan. And don’t forget the flavors and consistency you prefer, and the price tag as well.