It’s no secret that protein is essential for your body’s health and wellness. Whether you work out or not, you need protein to build and repair cells and muscles. The average man needs about 56 grams (or .36 grams of protein per pound of body weight) daily, and women need about 46 grams, according to the Institute of Medicine.
But when you’re looking to build muscle, those amounts aren’t enough for what you’ll need to meet your muscle mass goals.
1. Know how much protein you need, and be sure to get enough
To help boost your lean muscle mass, you should consume about 1 gram of protein for each pound of your body weight, as suggested by a review in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition. For example, a 150-pound man should try to aim for 75 to 150 grams of protein daily to build muscle mass.
Ideally, your protein comes from solid, protein rich foods like meat, fish and eggs. But let’s face it, we live busy lives and can’t always prepare the meals we’d like. And since solid foods take a lot longer to digest, many body builders choose protein powders to supplement their body’s needs.
2. Protein Supplements can help meet your daily requirements
If you’re not getting the proper amount of protein from your daily diet, you should absolutely consider supplements. In fact, supplements are vital to the bodybuilder’s arsenal.
But how do you know if you’re getting enough from foods? You can check nutrition labels on your food and calculate the grams of protein on your own. But there’s a good rule of thumb for estimating instead of scouring the labels. Remember these numbers:
- 1 (1 gram of protein for each serving of fruit or veggies)
- 5 (5 grams of protein for an egg or handful of nuts)
- 10 (10 grams of protein per cup of milk or yogurt)
- 15 (15 grams of protein per cup of beans, or half a cup of cottage cheese)
- 25 (25 grams of protein for every 3-4 ounces of meat)
If you know your daily diet won’t get the protein your body needs, get some supplements. Protein shakes are the most popular form of protein to supplement your diet.
3. Protein after workouts is essential
Yep, you’ve heard it before and we’ll keep saying it. Consuming protein post-workout is essential to repairing muscle damage. You may not realize it, but any strength workout can result in “micro tears” which are very small tears in the muscle tissue, usually caused by intense contractions of the muscles during your workout.
Since different workouts will stress your muscles in different ways, you should be aware of your fitness routine and work the protein that’s best for you.
“Research shows there is more significant muscle damage after physical activity like resistance training,” says sports dietitian Marie Spano from Atlanta, Georgia. “As a result, you’ll want to consume an extra 20 to 25 grams of high quality protein on days you weight lift to encourage the muscle repair and growth.”
So, don’t forget, once that workout is done, have a protein shake right away so you can get the protein into your muscles.
4. Protein before workouts is just as important
We know, you’re probably skeptical about this. Many websites will tell you the benefits of a post-workout protein shake, but few tell you the benefits of having one before your workout.
Consuming protein 30 minutes to an hour before your workout helps boost your energy. And that pre-workout protein, more specifically the BCAA’s (branched chain amino acids) fuel your muscles during training. They promote your workout recovery and encourage muscle growth to help support your strength and power.
What’s great about those BCAA’s is that your liver doesn’t have to process them. Once absorbed, they’ll go right to your blood stream to your muscles. This is good because it starts protein synthesis during – rather than after – your workout.
Since muscle protein synthesis can stay high up to 3 hours after ingesting the protein, you get a carry-over effect that essentially allows you to double dip. You’ll get the benefits of the elevated amino acids during your workout, plus the carryover of elevated amino acid levels after. The elevation helps prevent post-workout muscle breakdown as well.
By adding protein pre-workout, you can help promote muscle growth and reduce post-workout muscle breakdown. So, next time you workout try a protein shake before and after your workout to reap the maximum benefits.
5. Know which protein supplement to use
Choosing the protein powder that’s right for you is difficult. With so many brands to choose from, it’s no wonder people are confused as to which is best to buy. That’s why you should know what to look for. That’s where the pharmacological term “bioavailability” comes in. It tells you how much of your scoop, or the amino acids in it, your body can actually use.
The most common criteria for figuring out the quality of any protein is Biological Value (BV). It lets you know what percentage of the protein is used by your body. BV compares protein sources via the nitrogen they allow the body to store. Basically, BV refers to how quickly, and how well, your body can use the protein it consumes.
Proteins with high BV are great for promoting muscle growth. The higher the BV, the better your protein is being digested and retained in your body. What this means is you’ll gain more lean tissue.
6. Whey can help your muscles get larger and stronger
Whey is a great protein because it absorbs quickly. A protein shake will only take about 30 minutes to reach your muscles after you consume it. Whey is a favorite supplement for people who want to build muscle mass, as well as improve their overall health.
It’s also a complete protein with high BV, so it has all your essential and nonessential amino acids. Typically, Whey’s BV is about 104. To put that in perspective, the BV of casein is only 77. The best food comparison is eggs, which have a BV of 100.
Whey has the highest branched-chain amino acid content as well.
A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that people who used whey protein after a workout experienced improved blood flow to the muscles in their forearms. This enhanced the delivery of nutrients like oxygen and hormones, which help build muscle.
Many believe that anabolic effects of weight training increase when you consume whey protein, because its amino acids are quickly delivered to the muscle tissue.
The end result: By using whey protein your muscles get larger and stronger, faster.
Using a whey protein powder that’s specifically formulated for athletes helps build and maintain muscle. Many bodybuilders use grass-fed proteins, with natural ingredients and no hormones or artificial sweeteners.
7. The benefits of using casein protein
Now that you know the ‘whey’ to go pre-and post-workout, you’re probably wondering what benefits you’ll get from casein.
What’s great about casein protein is its slow breakdown. It can take 5-7 hours for full breakdown, so your body keeps absorbing and using the nutrients. You can use it as a meal replacement, because it will help you feel full longer. It also keeps that constant protein supply in your body, so your muscles are getting the proper nutrition.
Casein is also considered a bedtime protein. Drinking a casein protein shake before bed will give you that prolonged release of proteins while you sleep. You’ll stay anabolic throughout the night, which aids in your muscle recovery and growth.
8. Don’t be afraid to blend
You can probably see the benefits of both whey and casein, and maybe you’re still up in the air about which you want to use. Don’t think we’re crazy when we say there’s a benefit to blending.
Mixing whey and casein can give you the best of both worlds, and you can reap the benefits of them rather than taking either one of them by itself.
Since casein breaks down slowly in the body, and whey gives you the faster supply of amino acids, it makes sense that a combination of the two gives the body its maximum dose of amino acids for both immediate and longer-term muscle growth.
There are some protein powders that contain both, but you can always use your favorite whey and casein powders and mix them together.
9. Vegans and vegetarians don’t have to skip the protein powder. Vegetable proteins are available.
Animal proteins are typically considered a complete protein, which means they have the essential amino acids we need to make new proteins. However, as Spano says, some vegetable proteins may be lacking some. What does that mean for vegetarians and vegans? You’ll have to consume more vegetable proteins to reach the goal you’ve set.
“Where you’d consume 20 to 25 grams of whey protein, you’d want to double it – maybe go up to 30 or 40 grams – with vegetable proteins like rice, pea or soy, which are still exceptional protein options,” says Spano.
Thankfully, even if you don’t want to consume animal products, it won’t hinder your muscle gain. Just be sure to know how much more vegetable protein you need and find the supplement that gives you the most benefits.
10. Know when to use the supplements and when to get protein from foods
This probably sounds like a no-brainer, but you’ll be more satisfied with high-protein foods like meat, eggs and peanut butter, because they have a higher fat content and will take longer to digest than shakes.
Shakes are a great way to make sure you’re getting the protein you need to start your day. That morning protein helps boost your metabolism and gives your muscles the energy you need throughout the day.
But try to get as much protein from your foods as possible, with high protein lunch and dinners whenever possible. Remember, supplements are meant to help boost the protein you’re not getting throughout the day, but they shouldn’t be your main source of protein.
Maintaining your protein intake in general helps support the days you miss out
Don’t worry if you have a rare low-protein day. If you maintain the appropriate amount of protein in general, your muscle growth won’t be affected if you don’t hit your goal now and then.
The only way your muscles are going to get smaller is from lack of use, major calorie restriction or injury. So be sure to get enough sleep, get the proper amount of protein and keep those muscles healthy and strong.