Protein and weightlifting almost go hand in hand today. I think people understand that in order to increase muscle you need 2 things: weights and protein. Weights to overload the muscles and create little tears and then the protein to come in and repair the muscle to get abused the next workout. But the questions always arise; Should I start taking a protein supplement and which one should I take? Hopefully this post will help you answer those questions and a few others.

Before we start off here are some basics on protein. Protein is made up of amino acids which are used in the body. When protein is digested, it is broken down into amino acids and then transported all over the body. Amino acids are used in just about all the processes of the body from hair growth to the immune system. Amino acids are classified as either essential or nonessential. Essential amino acids need to be taken in through diet because the body cannot produce them and nonessential can be produced by the body.   For the purpose of this post I am going to focus on the essential amino acid Leucine, which is more or less the switch to turn on muscle synthesis which equals bigger muscles.

When should you start taking protein?

When you’re first starting off in the weightlifting world, protein supplementation won’t provide you any additional benefit. Although this study was only performed for 4 weeks, it backs the fact that the strength increase in an untrained individual in the first 2 months of weight training is primarily due to more muscle neuron connections. This increase in neuron connections increases the force the muscle can produce. This muscle neuron connection is also called muscle memory. This is why you cannot forget how to ride a bike. After about 2 months of weight training, the connections hit a saturation point and then the only way to get stronger is for the muscle to get bigger. At this point the muscle really start to grow.

So for the first couple of months supplementing with protein won’t benefit your gains. Save some money and concentrate on the training and making it a habit which will benefit you more in the long run. After you hit a plateau in your strength gaining then I would add in some post workout protein powder.

When should I take protein?

Before we get into nutrition timing, I’d like to address the difference between whey and casein protein. Both of these proteins are generally made from cows milk, although there can be made from goat’s milk as well and have all essential amino acids including Leucine. The proteins are separated out (whey from casein), sweeteners added and then dehydrated to make a powder. HAAAZZZAAAA you have the formula for a protein company. Whey is a fast digesting protein and casein is slow digesting. Casein forms a gel in your stomach, which is why it digests slowly. It has the same texture as Metamucil. I’d rather you not ask why I know that. Digestion is the only difference between whey and casein.

So back to timing, protein from food should be eaten every 3-4 hours for someone trying to put on muscle. This approach provides a constant flow of protein into the body. As far a supplementation with a protein powder, right after a workout (within ~90 minutes) is the optimal time for whey. The leucine in the whey turns on the protein synthesis and helps repair the muscles. This helps recovery big time.

Casein on the other hand is better suited for nighttime. A casein protein shake before bed will ensure a constant flow of amino acids to the muscles while you’re sleeping so muscle breakdown is limited. The bodybuilding world over exaggerates caseins importance in my opinion. While sleeping, the body processes slow down so the amount of muscle broken down for fuel isn’t much. Plus the body would rather use fat as an energy source for the brain and other bodily functions than to breakdown muscle, synthesize a source of energy and then use it, but I digress.

How much should I take?

The amount of protein required varies just like asking 10 people what their favorite color is. Truth of the matter is, it really depends what you do and what you are looking to do. Athletes require 1.5-2 g / kg (body weight in pounds / 2.2 = weight in kg) of body weight of protein, although most body builders will tell you that is not enough. Personally I take in almost 3 g/kg when I am cutting to make up calories but normally I hang around 2.5g /kg. Not saying what I do will work for everyone, but it works for me. The U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance for protein is 0.8 g/kg. This will supply your body with enough amino acids to survive but who wants to just survive?

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re bodybuilding or trying to add muscle, eat as many grams of protein as you want to weight. This is as simple as it gets. So if you want to weight 180lbs then consume 180 g of protein over the course of the day. So if you’re eating 6 meals a day then you roughly need 30g per meal.

Now for post workout supplementation, 25g of protein or 10g of essential amino acids will provide the most optimal concentration for muscle growth. For most whey proteins out there that is usually 1 scoop.

Which whey protein should I get?

Like any other food, check the label. When you buy a whey protein you want the most protein per scoop. Above 75% protein per scoop weight is good. So if the label says a scoop weighs 30 g and you want to get at least 22g of protein. Going by this rule of thumb will limit the amount of carbs and fillers in the protein that are used for taste and cost cutting efforts. Fats in your whey will slow down the digestion of the protein which over time will equate to less gains. And no one wants less gains. Where you get your protein doesn’t matter. Walmart’s protein is just as good as GNC. Not the same varietyor price but the quality is the same. I know some Walmart locations are carrying the MusclePharm brand now, which is a very good supplement company.

Well I hope I have been able to answer any questions you have with protein. If not stop by Aesthetic Physiques and send me a message.