Protein is a vital component of bone, muscle, and skin and it’s no secret that professional athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and bodybuilders incorporate protein supplements in their regular training routines. One of the most common forms of these supplements is protein powder, which comes in various forms, such as whey, soy, and casein protein. The main reason behind the increasing popularity of the powder supplements is that they’re water-soluble, meaning that they can be easily mixed with milk, water, or juice to make a tasty, nutritious shake. Besides promoting muscle growth, protein powders also help repair tissue and boost the body’s production of enzymes, hormones, and other vital chemicals.
But just how exactly do protein powder supplements work? Let’s find out.
Fundamental Protein Math
First off, in order for any protein supplement to work, you need to know exactly how much protein your body needs. If you consume too much of it, your body will merely break down the protein for energy, and you won’t be seeing the physical improvements you want. In recent studies, researchers have noted that, for the average adult, once the protein levels exceeded 1.6 grams for each kilogram of their body weight, the participants didn’t experience any additional benefits. Plus, unnaturally high doses of protein can be extremely hard on your kidneys and liver.
The amount of protein a person needs is a debatable topic among scientists and nutritionists. The standard for an average adult is about 0.8 grams of protein for each kilogram of their body weight per day. However, 0.8 grams is probably going to be insufficient for those exercising regularly or looking to lose weight while preserving lean body mass as much possible.
Recreational athletes and fitness enthusiasts typically need 1.1 to 1.4 grams of protein for each kilogram of body weight while professional, competitive athletes need a higher protein intake of 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram. Athletes participating in ultra-endurance sports and hardcore bodybuilders need 1.5 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of weight daily.
Protein powders are equally effective in men and women; however, the degree of effectiveness decreases with age. This means that the math may differ for older adults because the older we get, the more protein our bodies require. Besides your age, your desired amount of calorie deficit, your overall fitness level, and how often and how hard you exercise are also factors that can determine the amount of protein you need.
Optimizing Protein and Calorie Intake
Due to the complex nature of estimating the optimal protein intake for the average athlete, a general range of 1.6 to 2.4 grams for each kilogram of body weight is typically recommended. However, protein intake at the higher end of this range can be difficult to achieve. As the fitness specialists and expert nutritionists at Myprotein explain, when you’re following a strict diet, you’ll find that whole food that is rich in protein such as animal meat and dairy products comes with additional calories. Moreover, due to the satiety effect of eating protein, you may sometimes find yourself feeling too full before having consumed your optimal protein intake. This is where protein powders can help.
Drinking a protein shake is an easy way to control your calorie consumption, optimize your protein intake, and manage your weight. Protein shakes can also help you stay full for longer time periods. Some studies even indicate that whey-based protein powders can reduce body weight and total fat mass in overweight individuals.
Increasing Muscle Growth and Maintaining Muscle Mass
Protein is an essential macronutrient for muscle growth, which is perhaps the most prominent reason why many athletes and gym enthusiasts consume protein shakes. Research supports the use of protein powders by both men and women for the purpose of boosting muscle growth and maintaining muscle mass; here’s why.
When protein powders are digested, the protein is quickly broken down and converted into amino acids, which can promote quicker and stronger natural muscle growth. It’s also suggested that consuming protein powder supplements before a workout, especially if it’s a resistance training workout, is a great way of optimizing muscle growth.
In our bodies, the breakdown of protein in our muscles is an ongoing process. If you don’t provide the body with an extra boost, such as strength training or protein consumption, your body’s muscle protein breakdown will exceed the rate of muscle protein synthesis, resulting in overall negative protein turnover and a potential loss of lean muscle mass. To maintain a positive rate of protein turnover, you should consume protein at regular intervals throughout the day, ideally, every 3 to 4 hours.
Improving Muscle Protein Synthesis and Muscle Recovery
Besides contributing to muscle growth, protein powders can also aid in the recovery of damaged muscles and tissues. The protein provided by the powder supplements works together with other nutrients to help your body produce the essential amino acids needed to build and repair muscle tissue both quickly and efficiently.
Due to the intensive physical activities they perform, athletes usually require higher than normal levels of protein. This is why they can greatly benefit from the easy and convenient intake of protein shakes. With protein powders, athletes can speed up the recovery time for their sore muscles by reducing muscle damage, boosting muscle performance and strength, and improving muscle protein synthesis.
A word to the wise— protein supplements should never be used to replace whole food sources of protein altogether; nothing can really substitute the natural vitamins and minerals provided by a balanced diet. Before incorporating a protein powder in your fitness lifestyle, take the time to investigate the best options available and consult with a nutritionist to help you select the right kind for your dietary needs and fitness goals.
Lastly, whichever protein powder you choose, strictly follow the supplement provider’s instructions to make sure you consume the right amount because, unlike the common belief, more protein doesn’t necessarily equal more muscle mass. In fact, too much protein can potentially overload your kidneys and liver, causing permanent damage. So, consume wisely to reap all the benefits and none of the side effects.