The Boost Your Muscle Needs: Building Healthy Muscle with Protein Supplementation

ROSS-Bailey-headshot

by Ross Bailey


Do you consume adequate levels of protein to build strong and healthy muscles? You do not need to be a competitive bodybuilder or a hardcore athlete to want the best protein for building muscle. From the active child to the resting senior, building and maintaining muscle is important for a wide variety of reasons. After all, a strong and healthy body is a strong and healthy you!

We all know that protein is important for your body, but just how much protein is needed to build muscle? What is the best protein powder for building muscle? And what are some of the best ways to use protein powder to gain muscle, naturally? Let’s strengthen that mind-muscle connection and learn how protein supplementation can benefit your lifestyle!

woman in active wear drinking protein from plastic bottle

Supplementing your diet with protein can help you build strong and healthy muscle!

Protein pro-tips

Protein is found in a wide variety of foods throughout the diet. Proteins are especially numerous in meats, fish, eggs, nuts, and dairy products. They can also be found in legumes, grain products as well as in supplements! Check out popular sources of protein and learn how to calculate protein needs, here. Remember, while protein is certainly important for maintaining, growing and building healthy and strong muscle, it is also important for a wide variety of other reasons! For example, it is used for building collagen, which is the protein used in connective tissue such as skin, ligaments, and hair. Collagen supplements are now a widely used form of protein supplements too!

The current Acceptable Macronutrient Distribution Range (AMDR) for protein shows that healthy adults should acquire between 10-35% of their energy needs from protein. Most adults should try to ingest at least 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight per day as a bare minimum. In practice, it has also been proposed that the ideal ingestion amount for growing muscle can be upwards of 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day (1). Diets high in protein can prevent age-related sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass, reduce body weight and alter body composition as well as improve athletic performance (2).

Of course, dietary needs for protein will range from individual to individual. Factors that can play into your dietary needs can include sex, age, physical activity level, type of physical activity and more. Protein supplementation may be necessary if you are not meeting your recommended intake range. Inadequate protein intake can occur due to a variety of factors such as appetite (e.g., the elderly population), diet (e.g., vegetarians have a higher risk of protein deficiencies; vegetarian and vegan protein supplementation can be an important way to ensure adequate intake of protein), or high levels of physical activity (e.g., athletes).

Growing muscle and improving strength is especially beneficial when protein supplementation is combined with resistance training (3). Increasing muscular strength is most often observed in resistance training compared to aerobic training, although a combination of both is best for optimizing a more comprehensive positive health profile (4). When it comes to building muscle, 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, your net muscle protein balance (i.e., muscle synthesis to breakdown ratio) will be negative (5). This means that muscle can be degraded and used for fuel instead of compiled in your musculoskeletal system!

MAN WORKING OUT WITH PUSH UPS AT THE GYM

Resistance or weight training induces increased muscle protein synthesis. You should consume adequate amounts of protein to ensure your muscle can rebuild itself after a workout!

There is no magic supplement that can be used on its own to ensure that you have healthy and strong muscle. 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. The saying “move it or lose it” is quite accurate when it comes to maintaining or building your muscle mass as well as increasing muscular strength.

Supplementation has become a convenient and easy way to incorporate more protein into your diet. There is no shortage of protein supplements that you can choose from to maintain and build healthy muscle. We’re here to help with highlighting some of the things that you should know and look for when choosing to supplement your diet with protein!

Protein supplements in your diet

There are a variety of protein types that you can choose from in your supplements. These include whey, casein, egg, pea, soy and rice proteins.

protein shake in clear glass with protein powder in the back and fresh fruits (apples, bananas and blueberries) surrounding

Supplementing your diet with protein powder can improve muscle growth and strength. There are a variety of sources that you can choose from to match your dietary needs!

Whey

One of the most popular protein types found in supplements is called whey protein. There are a few different kinds of whey protein. This includes whey concentrate, whey isolate, and whey hydrolysate, each of which is more and more refined (in this order). Whey proteins are some of the most widely studied proteins and are considered as fast-acting proteins that are digested and absorbed to produce quick rises in circulating amino acids in your bloodstream (6). Some studies suggest that whey protein produces the highest muscle protein synthesis compared to other types of protein (7).

Casein

Similar to whey proteins, casein is a milk-derived protein. This type of protein seems to exhibit different kinetics when ingested in the body compared to whey, and while it does not necessarily produce the same level of protein synthesis, it can confer other benefits! Compared with whey protein, casein is absorbed much more slowly. This means that circulating amino acid concentrations will not reach the same peak as with whey protein, but can have a more sustained timeframe. Additionally, casein has an inhibitory effect on the body’s breakdown of protein (6).

The prevention of protein breakdown can confer an effect of sparing muscle protein, especially as seen when exercising in underfed states. In a study with participants undertaking a hypocaloric diet, the ingestion of casein protein increased muscular strength with a resistance training protocol more than the group ingesting whey. Again, it is suggested that in the underfed state, casein proteins may be more beneficial at retaining muscle proteins (8).

Egg

While the 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 found in milk, beef, soy and wheat proteins, egg proteins are the most easily digested and absorbed (9), making them an excellent choice to ensure ingested proteins are less likely to go to waste!

It has been shown that approximately 20g 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 grams 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 grams of protein (10).

Pea

Pea proteins are a popular choice in supplements as they provide a reliable source of protein for vegans and vegetarians. A study with 161 men has shown that it can increase muscle thickness to a similar degree as whey protein (11). Similar results have been recently found in a 2019 study with men and women performing high-intensity interval training (12). It has been shown that pea proteins exhibit digestive and absorptive properties that are more slowly absorbed than whey protein, but more quickly available than casein (13). Furthermore, the proteins derived from peas were found to increase satiety levels — suppressing your appetite — to a similar degree as whey and casein.

Soy

Similar to pea proteins, soy proteins have been widely used as a popular source of protein and an alternative to whey protein for vegan and vegetarian consumers (14). It appears that the literature seems to conflict with regard to the benefits of soy supplementation. Some studies show that soy may not induce body composition changes as compared to whey or placebo (e.g., 15), while other studies do indicate that it confers similar composition and strength benefits to whey (e.g., 16). As a popular alternative to whey, more research is certainly warranted with this type of protein source to show its merits or lack-thereof!

Brown rice

Brown rice proteins provide another vegetarian option for protein supplementation. While brown rice proteins have been scarcely studied, they have been shown to confer similar benefits to body composition and strength parameters to whey protein following 8 weeks of resistance training (17). This study also showed that there were no differences between rice protein and whey protein groups with regard to the perception of muscular soreness and readiness to exercise. Again, brown rice proteins certainly show promise, but more high-quality research is needed to fully validate their effects.

meal with protein rich foods

Building strong and healthy muscle starts with foods that are high in protein. Protein powders can conveniently boost your muscle-building capabilities and strength!

Final considerations for building healthy muscle

Remember, 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, vegetables, as well as healthy fat and protein from food sources, and, if necessary, supplement thereafter. Combine this with a regular exercise routine and you will be well on your way to meeting your muscle development goals!

 

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