As you probably know, protein is essential for muscle building. In fact, protein is essential for building all of the body's tissues, from muscle to bone, skin and all of our organs, and also for maintaining our tissues. The typical Western diet provides plenty of protein for the average person. However, recommendations that endurance athletes and bodybuilders up their intake of protein in order to support increased muscle growth are correct. How much protein should you really consume, and in what form? Are protein powders the best way to build muscle? What is the role of protein in the diet?
How much protein do I need?
Sedentary people need about 80g of protein a day for a 90kg person. However, exercisers and particularly those who practice endurance and resistance training will need more protein to be able to repair damaged muscle tissue, build new muscle, and maintain that new tissue. Athletes will need around 1.2-2.4 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Endurance athletes will need lower amounts of protein than strength athletes. Don't be fooled into thinking that eating more protein will automatically result in more muscle mass. In fact, if you consume too much protein, your body cannot store it and so it will be excreted. A recent research study on strength training showed that there were no effects of varying protein intake on lean body mass indexes in bodybuilders.
What kind of protein is best?
The most important thing to note is that everyone, including strength and endurance athletes, can meet their needs for protein without supplements or powders.
It is worth noting however that protein powder supplements contain a much higher quality protein than can be obtained through foods. The other advantage is that the rate of absorption of protein powder supplements can be significantly faster than from food, being highly beneficial following exercise.
There two main sources of protein: Animal protein, plant and vegetable protein. Animal proteins include beef, poultry, fish, eggs, and dairy products. Animal proteins are said to be of high biological value because they contain all of the essential amino acids needed that cannot be synthesised by the body. Plant and vegetable protein sources may not have all nine essential amino acids, which is why vegetarians and people who get their protein from non-animal sources need to carefully plan and combine their foods in order to get the protein they need.
Protein powders are made from various combinations of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. The protein in powders comes from casein, milk, whey, egg, and soy. Soy protein is not as effective as animal protein due to a lower quality (or biological value).
Many athletes believe that consuming extra protein in the form of protein powders will help them get stronger, faster, without adding too many calories. While the consumption of protein powders and shakes may seem like an ideal way to get a concentrated amount of animal protein, if this is consumed in excess, this will not be advantagous to muscle development goals.
There is no danger from taking a protein powder as directed by the manufacturer or by your personal trainer. However, it's important to remember that protein is protein, and the powders won't provide anything drastically different from dietary protein in terms of promoting muscle repair, building, and maintenance. If you choose a powder for convenience, increased quality or absorption rate reasons, that's fine. Keep your total protein intake in mind if you do supplement, since consuming more protein than your body needs won't result in greater muscle mass - your body cannot store excess protein, and it will only be excreted.