How Does Protein Build Muscle?
It doesn't matter whether you're a professional athlete, body builder, fitness enthusiast or weekend warrior, it seems as though just about everyone is chugging down a protein shake in order to build bigger, stronger, leaner muscles.
Even dieters looking to lose a few extra pounds are hopping aboard the protein train and ditching the pasta palace in hopes of improved BMI, and with recent studies promoting High-protein diets for quick results, it's easy to understand all the excitement about protein.
But how exactly does protein improve your performance?
Protein's Role in the Body
Studies suggest that nearly 50% of the dry weight in your body is protein, and basic anatomy tells us that protein is found in literally every cell of the body - muscle, bone, blood cells, DNA and RNA - you name it!
According to experts at WebMD, "you should also realize that protein is essential to our bodies" normal functions. It assists in synthesizing enzymes and hormones, maintaining fluid balance, and regulating such vital functions as building antibodies against infection, blood clotting, and scar formation. Protein is also a building block for our muscles, bones, cartilage, skin, hair, and blood."
By overloading and fatiguing the muscles through weight training and physical activity, muscles undergo micro-trauma, or small tears in the muscle fibers. The Textbook of Medical Physiology explains that the body responds to this tearing of the muscle fibers by repairing the individual muscle fibers and then making them bigger in diameter, enabling them to resist more tension.
The basic building blocks for repair are amino acids.
There are more than 20 different amino acids, and though some are naturally produced by the body, 9 of which must be supplied by our diet, and the most complete source of these amino acids can be found in animal proteins such as milk, fish, and poultry, though plant sources such as soy, quinoa, and beans can also supply your body with these essential amino acids.
Timing is Everything
When it comes to building up muscle and improving physical performance, timing is everything.
"The adaptation of muscle to overload stress of resistance exercise begins immediately after each exercise bout," explains Young Sub Kwon, MS, "A single bout of exercise stimulates protein synthesis within 2-4 hours after the workout, which may remain elevated for up to 24 hours."
Consequently, to ensure that your body has adequate supplies of protein, you'll want to take protein at least 20 minutes before your workout (for supporting your muscles) as well as 2-4 hours after your workout to optimize protein synthesis.
Increasing Your Protein Intake
Jeffry Volek, PhD, RD, recommends that dieters and athletes alike split up total protein intake, eating half 30 minutes before a workout and the rest 30 minutes after - for a total of about 10-20 grams of protein to raise insulin levels and inhibit protein breakdown.
As for your total protein intake for the day, the American Heart Association recommends that adults eat no more than 35% of their total calories in protein, though a range of 10-30% of protein is acceptable.
While sedentary individuals may find that their protein needs are easily met in their diet when they stick to the lower end of the scale, athletes and bodybuilders who train extensively may find it beneficial to increase their protein intake through a protein supplement to restore glycogen stores and promote muscle building and speed the recovery process.
"Everyone, including athletes, can meet their protein needs without supplements or shakes," explain experts at WebMD. However, "when choosing protein shakes, read the label to select the one with the composition that meets your needs. Protein shakes vary in protein content."
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