Do you consume adequate levels of protein to build strong and healthy muscles? From the active child to the aging adult, building and maintaining muscle is important for athletic performance, musculoskeletal function, balance, immune health, and longevity. (13) Continue reading to learn more about the benefits of protein, how much protein you need to build muscle, and how to choose the best protein powder for building muscle.
What is protein?
Dietary protein is a macronutrient that is essential for maintaining, growing, and building healthy and strong muscles. It is also necessary for maintaining the structure, function, and regulation of tissues and organs. (26)(27)
Protein is found in a wide variety of foods throughout the diet, especially meat, fish, eggs, nuts, and dairy products. It can also be found in legumes, grains, and dietary supplements. Diets high in protein have been shown to prevent age-related sarcopenia (muscle loss), help with weight management and optimal body composition, and improve athletic performance. (21)
How much protein do I need?
The current Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for protein recommends that adults acquire between 10 to 35% of their energy needs from protein. (29) For someone consuming 2,000 calories per day, this translates to approximately 50 to 175 g of protein per day.
As a general rule, most adults should try to consume at least 0.8 g of protein per kg of body weight per day. (29) For an adult weighing 68 kg (150 lbs), that equates to about 54 g of protein per day. (20)
While these are helpful general guidelines, dietary needs for protein will range from individual to individual. Factors that can play into your dietary needs can include:
- Certain health conditions
- Physical activity level
- Pregnancy and lactation
- Sex (20)
How much protein do I need to build muscle?
Athletes and individuals who participate in high levels of physical activity or are trying to gain muscle mass may require additional protein in their diets. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine recommend that physically active individuals consume between 1.2 to 2.0 g/kg/day of protein. (5) For example, an individual weighing 68 kg (150 lbs) would need to consume 81 to 136 g of protein per day.
When it comes to building muscle, a positive caloric intake is needed in order to grow. Single bouts of exercise can stimulate muscle protein synthesis, however, if your ingestion of food is inadequate, a negative balance between muscle protein synthesis and breakdown can occur. (22) This means that existing muscle can be degraded and used for fuel.
Growing muscle and improving strength is especially beneficial when protein supplementation is combined with resistance training. (15) Increasing muscular strength is most often observed in resistance training compared to aerobic training, however, a combination of both types of exercises typically produces greater benefits. (9)
To learn more about popular sources of protein and how to calculate protein needs, visit the Fullscript blog.
Best muscle building supplements
Protein supplementation may be necessary if you are not meeting your recommended intake range. Some populations may find it challenging to consume enough protein per day. For example, older adults have lower rates of protein synthesis and may experience a suppressed appetite, making it difficult to consume enough protein. (16) Individuals following certain diets, such as a vegetarian or vegan diet, may also find it difficult to reach their protein intake goals. (8)
There is no magic supplement that can be used on its own to ensure that you have healthy and strong muscles. While it is true that protein supplementation can assist with keeping your muscles strong and healthy, this should always be recommended in conjunction with regular physical activity. (18)
Supplementation has become a convenient and easy way to incorporate more protein into your diet. There are a variety of protein types from which to choose, including whey, casein, egg, pea, soy, and rice proteins.
One of the most popular protein types found in supplements is called whey protein. There are a few different kinds of whey protein, including whey concentrate, whey isolate, and whey hydrolysate, with whey concentrate being the least refined and whey hydrolysate being the most processed and refined. (19) Whey proteins are some of the most widely studied proteins and are considered as fast-acting proteins that are digested and absorbed, increasing circulating amino acids in your bloodstream. (3) Most studies have found that whey protein produces the greatest muscle protein synthesis compared to other types of protein. (25)
Similar to whey proteins, casein is a milk-derived protein. While it does not necessarily produce the same level of protein synthesis as whey, it can confer other benefits. Compared with whey protein, casein is digested and absorbed much more slowly. This means that circulating amino acid concentrations are sustained for a longer period of time, thus preventing muscle protein breakdown more effectively than whey protein. (3)
Research suggests that in an underfed state, casein proteins may be more beneficial at retaining muscle proteins. In a study of participants following a hypocaloric (calorie-restricted) diet, the ingestion of casein protein, when combined with a resistance training program, muscular strength increased more than in the group ingesting whey. (6)
While egg protein is not quite as widely studied as whey and casein, it is another popular ingredient included in protein supplements. Compared with other sources derived from milk, beef, soy, and wheat, egg proteins are the most easily digested and absorbed. (24)
It has been shown that approximately 20 g of egg protein is enough to produce the maximal protein synthesis response following exercise. In a study with healthy participants, protein drinks with 0, 5, 10, 20, or 40 g of egg protein were provided to participants following periods of intense resistance training. While there is a positive dose-response relationship between muscular protein synthesis and protein consumption, this response plateaus after about 20 g of protein. (14)
Pea protein is a popular choice for supplements as it is a suitable source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. A study with 161 men demonstrated that pea protein can increase muscle thickness to a similar degree as whey protein. (1) Similar results have been recently found in a 2019 study with men and women performing high-intensity interval training. (2) It has been shown that pea proteins are more slowly absorbed than whey protein but more quickly available than casein. (17) Furthermore, the proteins derived from peas were found to increase satiety levels to a similar degree as whey and casein. (17)
Similar to pea protein, soy protein has been widely used as a popular source of protein and an alternative to whey protein for vegan and vegetarian consumers. (7) The literature is conflicting with regards to the benefits of soy supplementation. Some studies show that soy may not induce body composition changes as compared to whey or placebo, (28) while other studies do indicate that it confers similar composition and strength benefits as whey. (4) More research is needed to confirm its potential benefits as a supplemental source of protein.
Brown rice protein provides another vegetarian option for protein supplementation. In one study, they were shown to confer similar benefits to body composition and strength parameters to whey protein following eight weeks of resistance training. (11) This study also showed that there were no differences between rice protein and whey protein groups with regard to the perception of recovery and muscular soreness. (11) Brown rice proteins certainly show promise, but more high-quality research is needed to fully confirm their effects.
Hemp seeds, which are harvested from the Cannabis sativa L. plant, contain approximately 25 g of protein per 100 g, making them a great source of plant-based protein. (23) Hemp protein is typically well-tolerated by individuals with food allergies and may be a suitable alternative to milk and soy-based protein supplements. (12) At this time, there is limited evidence to support the use of hemp protein for modulating exercise performance. (10)
The bottom line
While protein is certainly valuable for building muscle and strength, maintaining a healthy and balanced diet is also extremely important. Muscular function, metabolism, and synthesis rely on adequate levels of energy, as well as sufficient sources of vitamins and minerals. To optimize your muscular health, consume a variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as healthy fat and protein from dietary sources. If necessary, muscle building supplements in the form of protein powders can help you reach your daily protein intake goals. Combine adequate protein intake with a regular exercise routine and you will be well on your way to meeting your muscle development goals. If you’re a patient, consult your integrative healthcare provider before beginning a new exercise routine or adding supplements to your regimen.
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