Beginners Guide To Protein For Building Muscle
How to choose the best protein powder supplement with confidence without wasting hours searching on the Internet.
You're a skinny guy who wants to get bigger, and you know protein is essential for muscle repair and growth. You also know that whole natural food is the best source of protein.
Getting from skinny to big means that you need to increase your calorie intake, which can mean 6 or 7 meals a day.
To plan, prepare and eat this number of meals is going a take a lot of time and discipline. If you're already busy with work, study and training this can be hard to keep going.
Life gets in the way and you start missing meals, taking shortcuts and progress slows because you're not getting all the protein you need.
Fortunately, a good quality protein supplement can be a fast and convenient way to get all the proteins you need without having to live like a monk.
The protein powder supplement market is huge with an overwhelming choice of products and brands.
Choosing the best protein supplement can be a frustrating and time-consuming process if you don't know where to look.
Well, the good news is you can avoid all this hassle because we’ve produced this beginners guide to protein for you.
Keep reading to learn more:
Why You Need Protein to Build Muscle
There's no escaping the fact: you will have to increase your intake of protein if your goal is to build hard lean muscle.
Not only is protein essential for repairing and building new muscle it has several other functions. These include cell renewal, DNA repair, hormone regulation and as an effective appetite suppressant prevents you putting on extra fat.
What's more, several studies show that protein intake combined with strength and resistance training is one of the most efficient ways to build lean muscle mass.
To build muscle the body needs protein a molecule comprising of smaller molecules called amino acids. These amino acids enable your body to carry out protein synthesis the process responsible for repairing and generating new muscle tissue.
How Much Protein Do You Need
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics the recommended and minimum daily protein allowance is 0.8 g per 1 kg of bodyweight (0.36g per Ib of body weight).
This works out 56 g of protein per day for the average man* and 46 g per day for the average women. These are the minimum requirements to meet your bodies basic nutritional needs and are more or less based on a sedentary lifestyle, not someone who wants to build muscle.
*Men's requirements are higher because on average they are taller, heavier and have more muscle mass that women.
So, how much protein do you need to build muscle?
If you live an active lifestyle, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends a daily intake of between 1.2 to 2g of protein per 1 kg of bodyweight.
For resistance and weight training the daily recommendation is 1.5 to 2 g per 1 kg of body weight.
How To Calculate How Much Protein You Need
The common method to calculate your daily protein requirement is to base it on your total bodyweight. Although, this can be an issue if your overweight or very tall.
Let me explain.
If you weigh 140 kgs you would calculate as follows:
140kgs (total body weight) x 2g (daily protein requirement) = 280g per day.
That's a lot of protein to eat if you're already overweight.
Also, research shows that more than 2.2g of protein per kilo of body weight provides little benefit.
Lean Muscle Weight Gives a More Accurate Figure
A more accurate calculation is to use your lean muscle weight which is body weight minus the fat.
Here's how to calculate it
If your total body weight is 140 kilos and 25% of that total is fat, you have a lean body mass of 105 kilos.
105 kilos (total bodyweight - total body fat) x 2g (daily protein requirement) = 105 g
There are several ways to calculate your lean body weight. The easiest is to use a skin fold caliper. They're cheap, and you can buy quality calipers on Amazon or eBay.
If you don't have one, just use your total body weight for now.
The next step is to understand the best sources of protein.
The Best Sources of Protein
Our body needs to utilize the full spectrum of 22 amino acids to function properly, stay healthy and build muscle.
Unfortunately, our bodies only process 13 amino acids and these are known as non-essential amino acids. The remaining 9 essential amino acids need to come from food or protein supplements.
There are two types of proteins we can source from food. However, it's important to bear in mind that not all proteins are created equal.
Here's what I mean.
Proteins are categorized as either a complete or incomplete.
Complete proteins contain all 9 essential amino acids the body needs to repair and build muscle tissue.
Typically, complete proteins come from animal-based foods such as meat and dairy. Although, some plant-based proteins provide the full set of essential amino acids.
Incomplete means the protein doesn't have the full spectrum of amino acids or the quantities are insufficient to fulfill the bodies needs.
Being incomplete doesn't mean they're inferior.
All you need to do is combine two or more to get the full spectrum of amino acids.
Here's are a few delicious combos to get you started:
- Hummus and whole grain pita bread
- Whole grain noodles with satay sauce
- Lettuce leaf salad with chopped almonds
- Peas and rice
How Does This Translate Into The Food I Need To Eat
Most animal sources such as meat and fish contain approximately 7 grams of protein per oz.
For every ounce (28.35 grams) of meat or fish, 7 grams will be protein.Therefore, an 9 oz (255 grams) steak gives you 63 grams of protein.
Below is a list of foods and their corresponding weight in grams per serving.
Do I Need A Protein Supplement?
If you’re getting enough quality protein from your diet, you don't need to supplement.
If you're not eating enough protein in your diet , then you either eat more foods high in protein or take a supplement to fill the gap.
Reasons To Supplement With Protein Powder
- You don't have the time to plan, prepare and eat several meals a day
- You don't have access to good quality or particular types of high protein food, i.e., grass-fed beef, wild salmon.
- Budget is tight.
- You're allergic to animal proteins.
- You're a vegetarian or a vegan
Vegetarians and vegan bodybuilders can also benefit from supplementing their diet as they're more likely to be protein deficient because they can't eat meat or dairy.
Overview of Protein Powder Supplements
Protein powder supplements are a multi-million dollar market.
The choice of products is now overwhelming that finding the best supplement for muscle building can quickly turn into a frustrating, time-consuming nightmare.
Fortunately, this guide is going to you into a protein supplement expert. You'll know more about protein supplement powders than 99% of weekend warriors.
Picking the best supplement becomes a fast, straight forward process so you can spend more time where it matters, in the gym building muscle.
Key Benefits of Using Protein Powders
Types of Protein Powder
There are several types of protein powders available.
The most common and popular are milk based proteins. However, plant-based proteins are increasing in popularity, especially among vegetarians and vegans.
Here's the list:
That's quite a long list, but for building muscle, you only need to focus on the big two - whey and casein.
Both come from the source, which is milk.
Let's start with whey.
Whey Protein Powder
Whey is the most popular protein supplement for building muscle.The whey is a liquid by-product of milk that separates during the process of making cheese.
Open any yogurt carton that's been sitting for a while, and the clear yellowish liquid you see forming at the top is the whey.
Whey makes up 20% of milk while the remaining 80% is casein, which I'll go into in more detail later.
Whey is not only rich in amino acids it also contains many nutrients that support muscle recovery and growth.
When the whey is extracted from milk, it is dried and turned into a powder, and this is the whey protein powder which can be added to shakes.
3 Types of Whey Protein Powder
- Whey Concentrate
- Whey Isolate
- Hydrolyzed Whey
The process to create each one is slightly different. However, this affects the rate of absorption, protein content, taste, and texture.
Here's a quick explanation of each type:
1. Whey Protein Concentrate
Whey concentrate has less processing and is 70 to 80 percent protein. The remaining 20 to 30 % comes from fat, lactose (milk sugar) and carbohydrates making whey concentrate the best tasting. The lack of processing also means whey concentrate has higher levels of nutrients.
2. Whey Protein Isolate
Isolate has higher amounts of usable protein than concentrate. The reason isolate has more protein per gram is because it goes through extra processing to filter out the fat, lactose, and carbs. Isolate has a minimum of 85% pure protein, and the best whey isolate powders contain up to 97%.
Isolate is easier to digest and absorbed more rapidly than whey concentrate because it has lower levels of fat and lactose. The major downside with WPI is the taste. It doesn't taste or mix as well as WPC and is more expensive.
3. Whey Hydrolyzed Protein
Hydrolyzed is a highly processed and refined whey supplement powder.
Hydrolyzed is a processing technique that partially digests the protein molecule. The bonds connecting the amino acids together are separated creating smaller protein molecules and are rapidly absorbed by the body.
Hydrolyzed protein has a slight edge over Isolate when it comes to faster absorption but is more expensive and tastes less palpable.
How They Compare
The following comparison table shows you the difference in the protein content, absorption rate, fat and carbs content and cost of the three types of whey protein powders.
up to 80%
slower than isolate and hydrolyzed
approx 20gs per 100g
90 to 95%
faster than Isolate slower that Hydrolyzed
approx 10 t0 5gs per 100g
more expensive than Concentrate cheaper than Hydrolyzed
90 to 97%
approx 10 -3 g per 100 g
Whey Concentrate vs. Isolate vs. Hydrolyzed
Lets look at a snap shot of the pros and cons of each of the three types of whey powder protein.
- slower absorption than Isolate and Hydrolzed
- Unsuitable if you're lactose intolerant
- more expensive than concentrate
- Does not taste as good as concentrate
- Not suitable for vegans
- Not suitable for vegans
- Worst tasting
- Not suitable for vegans
Which 'Whey' Should You Choose?
Reasons To Choose Whey Concentrate
- You're on a budget
- You're bulking so you want a carb and calorie heavy whey.
- You prefer a less processed form of whey
- Taste is important
Reasons to choose Whey Isolate
- You can afford the extra cost
- You're lactose intolerant or experience bloating digesting dairy
- You want to limit calories, carbs and carbohydrates
- You want a higher concentration of protein
- Taste and texture is not a big issue
Reasons to choose Hydrolyzed Whey
- You want the highest concentration of protein per gram
- You want the fastest absorbing whey protein
- Cost isn't an issue
- You're lactose intolerant
- Taster and texture is not an issue
Casein is a highly concentrated form of milk protein. Unlike whey protein, casein takes longer to digest and is a slow releasing protein. Casein absorbs slowly into the body over several hours providing a sustained release of proteins into the muscle cells.
Because of its slow releasing nature, Casein is best taken before bedtime. This way the slow absorbing casein will drip-feed essential amino acids into your muscles overnight to promote new lean muscle while you recover from the effects of your workout.
Also, avoid taking a casein protein supplement during your pre and post workout. Instead, you need faster absorbing properties of whey to kick start protein synthesis as soon as possible.
Casein makes an excellent pre-bedtime protein shake, especially if you're not getting sufficient levels of protein during the day. It's also a good choice on the days you don't workout.
CASEIN vs WHEY
- Slow absorbing
- Higher protein content
- Greater effect in minimizing muscle breakdown
- Best taken before bed, hours before a workout or following last meal of the day
- Add to recipes to boost protein levels
- Fast absorbing
- Lower protein content
- Greater effect in eliciting protein synthesis
- Best taken shortly before or after a workout
- Perfect for protein shakes or added to recipes
Both have similar and different qualities. To ensure you're getting around the clock protein synthesis and muscle breakdown protection use both.
Key Differences Between Casein and Whey
Both are sourced from milk, have similar amino acid profiles however, the latest research shows that they have different qualities.
The main difference is their absorption rate. Whey is a fast absorbing protein and casein is a slow releasing protein.
The absorption rate is important because it influences when you should take the protein. For example, faster absorbing proteins are best taken shortly before or after a workout so your body can fuel protein synthesis as quickly as possible.
Another key difference is the concentrations of certain amino acids. Whey has higher concentrations of Leucine, a key amino acid that plays an essential in protein synthesis. Whey also contains nutrients that protect the immune system.
However, compared to casein, whey has a lower concentration of protein per gram.
Their Role In Building Muscle
Another significant difference is the role they play in the muscle building process.
Whey protein has a direct effect in stimulating protein synthesis, while casein indirectly affects muscle growth by reducing muscle protein breakdown.
Again, the absorption rate is a key factor. Let me explain.
Fast releasing whey provides the body with a quick injection of amino acids which is great for stimulating protein synthesis.
In contrast, casein is more anti-catabolic in nature because the slower release of amino acids into the bloodstream reduces the rate of protein breakdown.
The Delicate Balance of Optimal Muscle Growth
Optimal muscle growth depends on the delicate balance between maintaining protein synthesis for as long as possible while minimizing protein breakdown.
The best way to achieve this balance is to combine casein and whey into your daily protein supplement regime.
Blended protein powders containing whey and casein are becoming increasingly popular.
However, blended protein powders may not be such a good idea.
To extract casein from milk requires a process of heat and acid. The process creates a gelatine-like substance that gives casein its slow absorption properties.
When taken together casein slows the absorption of whey, therefore, canceling out or minimizing the proteins quick releasing properties.
However, there is a way around this problem.
The best way to get the most out of whey and casein's unique properties is to use them at different times of the day.
If you do choose a blended protein supplement ensure the formula contains a higher ratio of whey to casein. Otherwise, use a separate supplements.
Combining the Powers of Casein and Whey For Serious Muscle Growth
This method works better when you combine both whey and casein supplements with food.
Most whole protein foods are similar to casein in that they digest slowly and deliver a constant stream of amino acids into the muscle cells.
But unlike casein, whole foods don't coagulate in the stomach or slow the breakdown of proteins.
For this reason, eat a high protein meal with some carbs and shortly afterward drink a whey protein supplement shake.
The whole foods will drip-feed amino acids into your system while helping to minimize protein breakdown.
Adding carbs will increase the rate of insulin, a hormone with anti-catabolic (muscle loss prevention) effects on muscles.
Insulin also regulates the rate of protein synthesis and research shows elevated insulin levels before drinking a whey protein powder shake creates a greater anabolic environment. (1)
As the whey protein is absorbed and synthesized by the body amino acid levels quickly drop off. However, this isn't a problem because you're getting a constant stream of amino acids from the meal you ate earlier.
Not only is this prolonging protein synthesis it's slowing the breakdown of muscle proteins.
Buts here's the thing.
Many are led to believe that constantly flooding the body with amino acids sustains protein synthesis.
In reality, protein synthesis only lasts between 2 to 3 hours then levels off dramatically even if amino acid levels are high.
New research reveals that amino levels need to drop before protein synthesis can be re-ignited. But not too low, otherwise the rate of muscle breakdown increases.
It's a delicate balance, but it's possible.
Here's how to do it.
Take a casein laden meal (cheese, yogurt, etc.) or a casein protein shake within 3 hours of the whole food meal and whey protein shake.
The time gap allows the amino acid levels to drop. The intake of casein produces another amino acid spike that kick-starts protein synthesis again.
Other Types of Protein
Whey and casein are not the only players in town.
Nowadays, you can choose from a broad range of other milk alternative sources ranging from egg to several plant-based proteins.
Plant-based proteins are an excellent choice for vegetarians, vegans and people will milk allergies.
Below is a list of the most common types:
Egg protein is a good alternative to whey or casein because it's also a complete protein source. It's made by separating the egg white from the yolk.
- Not suitable if you have an egg allergy
- Not suitable for vegans
- Limited flavors compared to whey or casein
- Not as tasty as whey
- Certain brands are expensive
As well as being rich in protein, eggs are also abundant in amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
The egg white is then dehydrated and turned into powder. Egg protein is easily digested by the body and gives you a slow release of amino acids.
A popular choice if you're vegan or lactose intolerant. What's more, soybeans are one of few plant based proteins providing a full range of amino acids.
- Soybeans are often genetically modified to increase yields. If this is an issue for you, check the labels to ensure the soy is GM free.
- Soy is known to increase estrogen levels which can increase the risk gyno in men.
- Soy can also increase the levels of fat storage
The soybean is hulled then concentrated and formed into soy flour.
Pea is a vegetable based protein with a high amino acid profile.Similar to casein, pea protein absorbs slowly into the body making it a good pre-bed time protein shake.
- Deficient in particular amino acids
- Need to combine with other protein sources
- Not a great taste
The plant-based protein is hypoallergenic so its suitable if you're a vegan, vegetarian or have allergies to animal-based proteins.
We often associate rice with being a carbohydrate. However, the protein is sourced from brown rice which has about 8% of protein per 100 grams.
The protein in the rice is isolated and ground into a rice protein powder.
Not only an excellent source of complex carbohydrates brown rice also contains vitamin B which helps the body digest and utilize protein.
- Deficient in certain amino acids
Rice protein also contains cysteine and methionine. They are sulfur based amino acids essential for the synthesis of other amino acids.
Unlike soybeans, rice is not a complete protein. As its deficient in specific amino acids, rice protein shouldn't be your primary source.
However, you can get all the amino acids you need by combining rice with pea protein.
This high fiber plant based protein comes from the hemp seeds of the cannabis plant. But don't worry, THC the chemical compound that makes you high is removed.
Hemp protein has become popular over the years and is high in proteins, fiber, essential fatty acids, and minerals. It's also hypoallergenic which means it's easy to absorb.
- Deficient in leucine an important amino acid for muscle growth
Hemp is vegan-friendly and an excellent choice if you've got a low tolerance to milk based protein powders.
Other Ingredients Contain in Protein Powders
Supplement companies add other ingredients to increase overall performance or to tailor the product to a particular target market.
The most common ingredients added to protein powders are as follows:
Creatine - Often added to weight gainer products to increase muscle mass, boost strength and fuel high-intensity workouts.
Probiotics - Natural occurring friendly bacteria that improves digestion and nutrient absorption.
L-Carnitine - Naturally produced compound helps boost energy levels and athletic performance by freeing up fatty acids from fat cells
Timing - When Should You Take a Protein Supplement
There's a lot of confusion about the best time to take a protein powder supplement.
Many advise to take it continuously throughout the day. Others say you only need before or after your workout.
The fact is, it's near impossible to give a 'one fits all' answer. There are too many variables involved such as age, diet, the rate of metabolism, lifestyle, etc.
The best way to figure this out is by being aware of the delicate balance between muscle protein breakdown (MPB) and muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
During the night the rate of muscle protein breakdown increases. Therefore, a fast-acting protein powder like whey is beneficial to have in the morning following your breakfast meal. Also, add some carbohydrates as this will help kick start protein synthesis.
After your intensive workout protein synthesis begin again as will muscle breakdown. Therefore, eat a meal that's high in casein followed by a fast absorbing post workout whey protein shake.
An hour before bedtime, take a slow releasing protein such as casein. This keeps protein synthesis at normal levels, and muscle protein breakdown doesn't drop too low.
Generally speaking, that's all you need to think about.
Everyone is different, and no one size fits all. You just need to ensure you're meeting those protein requirements.
It takes time, trial and error. If you don't see natural gains in 3 weeks, increase calories from food or an extra scoop with each protein shake.
Which Protein Powder Do You Need
There are many factors you can choose such as the absorption rate, taste, price, etc.
However, the most important factor is the goal you want to achieve. There are now a range of protein powders designed to help you achieve specific goals whether that be bulking, building lean muscle or cutting fat.
To help you decide, we've listed the most common reasons to use a protein supplement powder:
Best Protein Powder For Gaining Mass
If your goal is to bulk choose a whey protein powder. If you're skinny or a hard gainer use a weight gainer.
To add serious mass use a whey concentrate powder as its higher in fat and carbohydrates.
If you're a hard-gainer, a whey protein may not be enough. You may need to use a weight gaining supplement.
Weight gainers contain a blend of slow and fast absorbing proteins with added creatine to pack on size and strength. They're also carb heavy and high in calories to increase body weight.
Weight gainers are popular with professional athletes. For example, bodybuilders use them during bulking cycles while high-performance athletes use them to avoid a calorie deficit.
Mass gainers are an excellent choice if you're struggling to build muscle no matter how hard your training or how much food you eat.
This is a common problem if you've got an ectomorph body shape as you tend to burn more calories than you consume. Taking a weight gaining supplement makes it easier to stay in a calorie surplus.
If you want to successfully build muscle you've got to eat more calories than you burn.
Easier said than done, but you can optimize your gains and minimize fat by eating low GI (glycemic index) carbohydrates, low-fat proteins, and high-quality fats, which all good quality weight gainer supplements should contain.
To learn more about weight gainers and mass building protein supplements click the button below:
Best Protein Powder For Building Lean Muscle
If your goal is to build lean muscle choose a whey isolate powder or whey hydrolyzed if you're not on a tight budget.
Building lean muscle without adding unwanted fat is a challenge. To achieve it you need your diet and training regime to dialed in.
However, the right protein supplement can make the challenge considerably easier.
The best protein powder supplement for lean mass should be high in protein, low in fat and calories. On its own, protein isn't enough to fuel the intensive workouts you need to kick-start protein synthesis.
You still need carbohydrates, but these have to be the correct ones. You should avoid sugar based carbs and look for complex carbohydrates that provide sustained energy levels.
For example, high-quality whey isolate is a fast absorbing high protein option that's also low in calories and fat. Even better is whey hydrolyzed protein, although its more expensive.
Another option is to use a lean mass gainer. These specialized supplements contain a blend of fast and slow release protein concentrates and isolates to promote rapid muscle growth. They're also low in fat and contain complex carbs to sustain energy through your workouts.
Best Protein Supplement for Weight Loss
If you're goal is cutting fat choose a hydrolyzed whey isolate. It has high concentrations of protein and is low in calories and carbohydrates.
If the goal is cutting fat, you have to enter a calorie deficit so that you're burning more calories than your consuming.
However, being in a calorie deficit means your protein needs are higher than if you were bulking.
The reason for this is simple, in a calorie deficit there's a greater risk of burning muscle for fuel. By increasing your intake of protein, you prevent this catabolic (muscle wasting) state from happening.
To lose fat, you'll probably need approximately 2 to 3 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight.
The best protein for weight loss would be hydrolyzed whey isolate. It has the highest concentration of protein and is lower in calories and carbs than concentrate.
Best Protein Powders For Vegans and Vegetarians
Choose a soy protein for highest concentrations in protein or a vegan blended protein powder to receive the full spectrum of essential amino acids.
In the past, vegans and vegetarian were mostly limited to soy based protein powders. Nowadays, there are a much wider variety of Vegan-friendly alternatives to choose from.
Most plant-based proteins contain lesser amounts of amino acids compared to milk based proteins. Combining two is recommended to ensure you're getting the optimum amount of amino acids.
Choose soy protein if you're looking for the highest concentration of protein per gram.
Even better, are the vegan blended powders that are now coming onto the market. They combine many of the most popular plant-based proteins and are offering stiff competition to the established when proteins. Many are GM free as well.
The biggest advantage plant-based protein has over milk protein is it's far easier to digest. If you're lactose intolerant or feel bloated when digesting animal proteins, these are an excellent choice.
Dairy-free alternatives don't taste as good as whey or casein, but their getting better. In the end, base your choice on your goal, dietary needs and if you're taking protein shakes every day the taste will be a major factor.
Department of Surgery, University of Texas Medical Branch and Metabolism Unit, Shriners Burns Institute, Galveston, Texas 77550, USA -An oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism after resistance exercise. (1)