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Supplements You Should Be Taking: Protein Powder

by Anthony Yeung on May 3, 2013
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Do you want to gain more muscle, build more strength, reduce fatigue, and lose more fat with just one supplement? Take protein powder.

Unlike many training supplements (the ones with “0’s,” “X’s,” or “Xtremes” in their title), there’s significant evidence that protein supplementation offers great benefits in fitness, strength levels, and muscle mass. With only one scoop, you can get lots of protein and amino acids, which support your health and help in muscle growth.

Fitness Improvements

A 2009 study from Finland found that protein intake significantly increased muscle size from resistance-training and could be “advantageous for muscle hypertrophy.” In another study, protein intake before and after a training session also increased muscle size.

Are you looking to burn more fat? Consuming protein powder before a workout increases post-exercise energy expenditure, which is the number of calories you burn after a workout – this is known as the “afterburn effect.” After resistance-training, your metabolism increases as your body returns to pre-workout levels. If you take protein before a workout, however, you’ll burn even more calories afterward, helping you lose more fat and improve body composition.

How about soreness or fatigue? Protein powder can improve muscle recovery in strength and power athletes – in 2010, researchers found that protein supplements “consumed before and after a resistance training session significantly [contributed] to improvements in exercise recovery 24 and 48 h post-exercise.” Researchers from the University of Texas found that, mixed with carbohydrates in a shake, protein powder also reduced muscle damage.

Because of its benefits, it’s also useful for special populations. A 2012 study from the Netherlands found that with “frail elderly people,” protein powder “is required to allow muscle mass gain during exercise training.”

Even in a study that concluded protein supplementation didn’t increase muscle mass and strength in elderly people, there was a bigger increase in Type I fibers the protein group than the placebo group after 12 weeks.

Amino Acids

protein powderProtein powders contain lots of BCAAs (branded-chain amino acids), which are “essential amino acids” – we have to get them from our diet since our body doesn’t make them. Consisting of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, they elevate protein synthesis and help us build and maintain muscle.

During on a calorie-restricted diet, French researchers concluded that BCAAs helped elite wrestlers maintain a high level of performance while shedding body fat.

They also improve recovery. A study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition also found that BCAAs reduced muscle damage and accelerated recovery in men who did resistance-training. Australian researchers also concluded that amino acids reduce delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS) and muscle damage.

Yet aside from the amino acids it contains, protein protein may have additional benefits. In the elderly population, a study from Arizona State University concluded that whey protein improved muscle growth “through mechanisms that are beyond those attributed to its essential amino acids content.”

What To Do

All this evidence leads to the big question:

How much protein should you take?

There’s research that shows the optimal amount of protein for muscle protein synthesis is 20-30 grams. (See here and here.) Does that mean you should only consume 20-30 grams of protein post-workout or per sitting?

No.

Just because it’s not optimal doesn’t mean that consuming additional protein won’t do anything. More protein can help you lose weight because you expend more energy to digest it. It also contains plenty of micronutrients and incomplete proteins.

Also, if you only eat 20-30 grams of protein, where is the rest of your caloric intake going to come from? Carbs? Fat? No thanks.

I recommend drinking a protein shake after a workout. It will start the recovery process earlier and help you switch from a catabolic state to an anabolic state faster. If you’re looking to gain mass, I’d drink one or two protein shakes everyday to increase your caloric intake while giving you the protein needed to build muscle. If you’re looking to lose fat, I’d substitute some carbs for protein, whether through food or supplementation – that will help prevent muscle loss and keep you feeling full.

Also, if you’re struggling to get enough protein in your diet, protein powder is easy to consume, cheap, and has almost no adverse effects. And if you have a sensitive stomach, it also comes in many varieties: whey, casein, soy, vegan, beef, etc.

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Anthony Yeung
Anthony J. Yeung, CSCS, is a fitness coach and writer featured at AskMen, Men's Fitness, Muscle & Fitness, LIVESTRONG, and the Art of Manliness. For the best musings on life and boba, visit his blog at www.anthonyjyeung.com.

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