You’ve likely seen protein supplements for sale that promise to build muscle at lightning speed. But do you really need an expensive supplement to gain muscle? This depends on a few different factors. Let’s take a closer look at the science behind protein and how it relates to increasing muscle mass.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO YOU NEED FOR MUSCLE GROWTH?
Protein, fats and carbohydrates are the three macronutrients all humans need to eat in large amounts to survive. They all provide calories, which are converted into energy to help maintain your body’s day-to-day functions.
Every cell in your body contains protein, and it’s essential for repairing cells as well as making new cells, including muscle cells. After working out or strength-training, your body will start to repair and replace any damaged muscle fibers. These repaired muscle fibers will increase in thickness and number, creating muscle growth.
This means muscle growth primarily happens when you rest after a workout. That’s the time it’s also most important to have enough protein in your system to support muscle growth. So, how much is enough?
The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.36 grams per pound. This equals about 56 grams of protein per day for an average woman, and 46 grams per day for an average man.
Although, if you’re trying to build muscle, you’ll need more than that for increased muscle synthesis. A recent meta-analysis of 49 different research studies found that consuming extra protein does improve muscle growth. But the benefits stopped at a certain amount of daily protein. Consuming more than 1.62 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day, or 0.74 grams per pound, did not result in more muscle gain.
This maximum amount equals about 130 grams per day for an 80 kg (176 pound) person. And considering that, on average, men eat about 100 grams of protein per day, and women eat 70 grams, you’re likely already getting close to the maximum amount.
CAN YOU GET ENOUGH PROTEIN FROM FOOD?
Yes, all the meals and snacks you have throughout the day can easily add up to more than enough daily protein for building muscle. Today’s Dietician has a great chart of the protein content per serving of many common foods. You can also check out the protein contents of some excellent vegan foods here.
If you take a close look at your diet and find you really aren’t getting enough grams of protein based on your weight, then you may want to consider taking a protein supplement on days you fall short. But there are a few pointers to keep in mind to get the most out of your supplement.
The best time to eat a protein supplement is soon after your workout. This is when your muscles are repairing and growing, and would most benefit from a protein boost.
Protein supplements are also typically processed into an easily-digestible form of protein that’s absorbed quickly by your body. This is good for a post-workout snack, but you may want to eat it with other foods, including some fats, to slow down its digestion at other times. This will help prevent your blood sugar from spiking.
Also, most protein supplements and powders are based on whey protein, which is derived from cow’s milk. If you’re vegan or have trouble digesting cow’s milk, look for a dairy-free supplement you can tolerate.
CAN YOU EAT TOO MUCH PROTEIN?
Eating lots of protein is regularly pushed in the media. But what we don’t hear often enough is the fact that consuming excessive amounts of protein is linked to various health risks, including:
Increased cancer risk
How much protein is too much? We already learned that eating more than 1.62 grams per kilogram of body weight per day is the maximum amount that will have any benefit for muscle gain. Eating more than that is pointless, and consuming more than 2 grams per kilogram of body weight is considered excessive by dietary experts.
So, protein supplements and powders can play a role in building muscle. But you can also skip the cost and simply eat enough well-balanced, nutritious foods to get the protein you need for your strength training goals.