Protein Powders and Muscle Growth: How it works.

When someone says ‘protein’, the first thing we tend to think of is muscle. Protein, bodybuilding and rippling muscles seem to go hand in hand but, as with everything in the world, there are different ways of growing, defining and maintaining muscle. 

There are over 10,000 different proteins, all performing vital jobs in making you who you are. Your hair and nails are made of proteins, proteins form parts of our vital organs, and they also help your blood move oxygen.  

Sounds a little daunting when you put it like that, doesn’t it? So, let’s break it down! 

How does the body build muscle?  

The scientific term for the way in which the body builds muscle is ‘muscle hypertrophy’. In essence, this is the tearing and repairing of muscle fibres. This happens when we exercise in a certain way – namely, by engaging in resistance training. This often takes the form of weight training, but not necessarily. Calisthenics, weighted cardio, and even yoga can all be considered a form of resistance training.  When our body works against the resistance, the muscles are damaged on the microscopic level, in the form of small tears.  

To repair the damage, the muscles fuse themselves together to bridge the gap between the torn areas, creating more muscle and increasing muscle mass - assuming you’re eating at a caloric surplus and recovering properly. Nifty, huh? 

There is a symbiotic relationship between exercise, hormone production and the way that protein is used in the body to build, repair and maintain muscle mass. Exercising not only helps to build and define muscle of its own accord, it also stimulates the production of hormones such as testosterone and human growth hormone. These hormones then improve the way that the body processes protein, helping you to recover better and increasing your energy. 

This increase in energy then gives you an extra boost to muscle protein synthesis, and it’s all because of amino acids, the building blocks of protein. These little guys are the heroes behind your muscles. Proteins are made of a combination of 20 amino acids. There are two types of amino acids, essential and non-essential. The essential amino acids are the ones that the body cannot produce on its own and need to be found in our food. This is where protein powders are particularly effective as a supplement. 

How does protein powder affect muscle growth?  

Using a protein powder as part of your daily routine helps to ensure that muscle protein synthesis (the body’s act of using proteins to create and repair muscle fibres) is greater than the rate of muscle protein breakdown. When the rate of muscle protein breakdown is higher, the window of opportunity for the body to use proteins for muscle gain is very low, meaning that your muscles cannot repair themselves or grow in size.  

So, not only does protein powder give you an extra boost of the amino acids you need, it can also help to improve performance and recovery, keeping you moving for longer and giving your muscles a helping hand in repairing themselves.  

To be clear, protein powder is not essential to building muscle: you can get all of the protein you need from a whole-food plant-based diet. However, it’s super convenient and an easy way to get in a protein boost after exercising, and to help your body build lean muscle. 

When should I have my protein shakes?  

Having a consistent approach to your protein intake is vital to build and maintain healthy muscle.  

Overall, you should be looking to ensure that you are taking in more protein than your body naturally breaks down. To ensure that you are not falling into a deficit, it is suggested that you try and break down your protein intake evenly throughout the day.  

A breakfast bowl can give you a good start to the day and snacking on nuts and seeds in moderation help keep your protein levels consistent, especially with a plant-based diet.  

However, with muscle building, there is also the need for extra protein to aid in protein synthesis, and it is therefore suggested that protein powders taken directly after a workout are the most beneficial for muscle gain.  

What is the best protein powder for muscle gain? 

Protein powders are all designed with the intention of providing a boost of protein that will improve muscle synthesis. Any form of protein can be effective in this area, but the better the ingredients, the more effective the product is likely to be. 

At Vivo Life, we prefer proteins that are packed with natural plant-based ingredients, and no binders or fillers. If you would like to explore more about vegan protein sources, you should check out our guides:

How much protein do you need to gain muscle? 

The recommended daily intake of protein is based on need, with those who live a more active lifestyle requiring more protein. The current recommended daily intake of protein is also based on body weight, with the ratio being around 0.8 - 1.2 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight depending on your activity levels. 

However, for those of us trying to build and define our muscles, it is suggested that a boost of 20-30 grams of protein after exercise is beneficial for the promotion of healthy muscle tissue and growth.  

For example, our PERFORM vegan protein powder contains 25g of protein per serving from fermented pea protein and cold pressed hemp protein. Fermented yellow pea protein aids digestion and  also contains an enhanced amino acid profile, containing 18 of the 20 amino acids occurring in the body including valine, lysine and isoleucine. These three essential amino acids are vital for protein synthesis and muscle turnover. Cold pressed hemp protein also bolsters the amino acid profile of PERFORM, and the cold pressing locks in maximum nutritional value.  

You can use this handy tool to calculate how much protein you need for the goals you are trying to achieve.  

Finally – here are 5 tips for healthy muscle gain. 

  • Understand your limits – It’s not recommended to work the same muscle groups on two consecutive days as this can damage the rate of muscle recovery and make it harder to grow and maintain muscle tone in the future. Varying your workouts is also a  great way of  keeping your brain engaged and having fun! The old adage about not skipping leg day really applies here! Yeah, that’s right, we’ve all done it.  
  • Allow yourself to rest and recover – Not giving your muscles the opportunity to rest and recover can actually prevent them from repairing themselves. Not only can this make you more prone to injury, it can also limit muscle growth entirely. Not what you want!  
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet – As convenient as protein powders are, they are not a substitute for a whole-food plant-based diet. Ensuring lots of nuts, seeds and whole grains in your diet will add to your protein intake and give your muscles a helping hand in the repair stage. Legumes in particular make for an excellent source of protein, so get those bean burritos on the go after training!   
  • Don’t expect immediate results – Two protein shakes and a couple of resistance training sessions aren’t going to turn you into Jean Claude van Damme overnight. The ‘muscles from Brussels’ will develop over a course of months, not days. Be prepared to see slow progress, but know that steadily built muscle is longer lasting and healthier. Consistency is your best friend.  
  • Add protein powders to your daily routine – Start your day with a smoothie or a protein bowl, and get your day started in a positive and energetic way. Check out our recipes channels for more inspiration on how to incorporate protein powders into your life. 

 

Sources & Further Reading: 

 

Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6566799/  

How to build muscle with exercise: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/319151#rest-and-muscle-growth 

Five plant based foods for lean muscle: https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/5-plant-based-foods-for-lean-muscle 

Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872778/  

The Chemistry of Amino Acids: http://www.biology.arizona.edu/biochemistry/problem_sets/aa/aa.html 

The best time to take protein: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/best-time-to-take-protein 

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