Are Protein Supplements Worth Taking?

Are the protein supplements you take even worth your money? More importantly, are they helping you to build muscle? Let’s take a look.

For the human body to build muscle, the body must be in what is known as an anabolic state. If this is not the case, muscle growth will simply not occur. In very basic terms, anabolism requires energy to grow and build while catabolism uses energy to break down. Hormones also play a vital role in both processes. Specific hormones associated with the process of anabolism are growth hormone, insulin, and testosterone, to name a few. There are other hormones like cortisol (known as the stress hormone) and glucagon that are associated with the process of catabolism. When it comes to bodybuilding, think of anabolism as the building up of muscle tissue while catabolism is the breaking down of muscle tissue.

Right from that last sentence you can see if you are putting in all this energy and time to build muscle mass, you DON’T WANT TO BE IN A CATABOLIC STATE, yet many people are. Too much cardio, inadequate protein intake, lack of sleep or recovery, and elevated stress, keeps the body in a catabolic state. To give the body the best chance for muscle growth to occur, the body must be kept in an anabolic state. For this to happen, you need a sufficient training stimulus, surplus of calories (especially protein), less cardio and stress, and plenty of sleep.

Are You Getting All Your Amino Acids?

Amino acids are basically building blocks that help (synthesize) form protein. There are actually hundreds of amino acids but only 20 appear in the genetic code. Of these 20 amino acids, 12 are considered non-essential while 8 are designated as essential, meaning they need to be supplied in the diet. One essential amino acid to keep an eye on is leucine. Again, the body does not produce this so it must come from the diet. Another way to ensure you get adequate leucine is through daily nutrition and protein supplementation. A protein supplement, with 2-5 grams of leucine, taken post workout will help your muscle building cause. Leucine, is a branch chain amino acid, that is responsible for “triggering” protein synthesis.

Protein Needs in the Diet

An average adult may need only 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight but anyone involved in strength training needs more. But how much more? That honestly depends on a litany of things like, training, age, gender, body size etc. Research shows that protein intake to promote muscle growth needs to be more in the area of 1.2 to 1.9 grams per kilogram of body weight per day.

“Even the American Dietetic Association, Dietician’s of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine state that protein intake must be > 1.6 grams per kg/day for gains in muscle mass.”

Journal Strength & Conditioning (2007).

Importance of Nutrient Timing During Strength Training

There has always been what’s considered a “window” for protein intake post workout to optimize results. The optimal window was considered to be 45 minutes to 1 hour post workout. Research has since shown this is not necessarily true. Research reported taking a protein supplement 3 hours versus 1 hour post workout showed no difference. As long as you’re getting some of your daily protein in during pre and post workout you’ll be good. In addition, it would be beneficial to take it a minimum of 25-30 grams of protein with each meal. Some people may need to add in an additional small meal in order to meet their daily protein requirement.

This article, along with suggested research, is favorable towards protein supplementation in order to optimize protein synthesis and promote gains in muscle mass. With any increase of protein comes an intake of water to prevent any possible long-term issues associated with the kidneys. Adequate protein is important, yes, but other keys include a training stimulus challenging enough for adaptation to occur and of course plenty of recovery between bouts of exercise and sleep are a must. Good luck. Stay Strong!