Do I need to consume protein supplements for gaining muscle mass?

In this brief guide, we will answer the query “Do I need to consume protein supplements for gaining muscle mass?” Additionally, we will present relevant information such as what are the protein requirements for muscle gain, and a brief example of how to fulfill those requirements with whole foods. Finally, we explore the potential benefits of protein supplements, and the importance of a complete nutrition.

Do I need to consume protein supplements for gaining muscle mass?

No, there is a disbelief that protein supplementation is mandatory for gaining muscle. It is true that supplements can facilitate the process, but it is not strictly necessary to consume them for gaining muscle (1,2,3).

What are other requirements for gaining muscle mass?

Muscle hypertrophy relies on three pillars: training, nutrition, and rest. In the case of training, when you exercise, the mechanical stress results in muscle damage (muscle fiber breakdown) which must be repaired by your body (4,5).

Nevertheless, your body needs the building blocks for repairing those damaged muscle fibers; in this step, nutrition is crucial. You should provide your body with valuable nutrients like carbs, fats, and proteins (4).

Carbs and fats are good energy sources to support metabolic processes like refueling your glycogen stores, and creating tissues, respectively. On the other hand, proteins provide amino acids, which are the components of muscles, thus, they are critical for muscle repair and hypertrophy (4).

Something that might not be taken into account for hypertrophy is sleep. A healthy sleeping pattern, such as 7-8 h sleep and between 10 pm and 6 am, have a huge positive impact on muscle hypertrophy (5).

When you sleep, your body is sensitive to anabolic hormones like testosterone and insulin, which helps to create new muscle fibers and promote muscle hypertrophy. On the other hand, if you do not sleep well, your body will be more sensitive to hormones like cortisol which tends to break down muscle fibers (5).

What are the Daily Protein Requirements for Muscle Gain?

The recommended daily protein intake for muscle gain is between 1.2 and 2.0 g of protein per kg of weight; however, some studies state that there is no significant improvement if consuming more than 1.6 g/kg (1,2).

Hence, if you weigh 80 kg, you should consume between 96 and 128 g of protein. 

What are the effects of Individual Factors in Protein Needs?

Your individual factors such as sex, age, physical activity, height, and type of exercise will greatly influence your protein needs (6).

Generally, taller people require more energy and protein; similarly, males normally require a higher amount of proteins and energy than women. Regarding age, children, adolescents, and elderly people require more protein than young and middle-aged adults (3,6).

Of course, if you do exhaustive resistance training you will require more protein than someone who does moderate intensity cardio (6).

As you can see, there are plenty of factors affecting your protein needs. Therefore, you should look for professional advice from a sports nutritionist to define your protein needs.

What is The Role of Whole Foods in Meeting Protein Needs?

Whole foods can provide you easily with your protein requirements, in fact, protein supplementation should be used when you cannot fulfill your requirements, or when you are experiencing gastrointestinal symptoms due to a high volume of food (1,2).

Let’s assume that you weigh 80 kg, and you want to consume 1.5 g/kg of protein; you should consume approximately 120 g of protein a day. In the following table, you can see how to meet your protein needs with whole foods.

FoodProtein provided (g)
150 g of chicken breast46.5
2 boiled eggs12.6
150 g of cooked Tilapia39.3
1 cup (0.24 l) of Milk8 g
100 g of Greek yogurt9.95
Total protein intake 116.35

Adapted from USDA FoodData Central (7-11)

With these foods, you are fulfilling 97 % of your daily protein requirements (assuming you weigh 80 kg and consuming 1.6 g/kg of protein). Besides, there are protein sources not quantified such as cereals, legumes, and oil seeds like peanuts or nuts.

What are the Benefits of Protein Supplements for Muscle Building?

Protein supplements can provide some benefits over consuming whole foods. For example (12):

  • Because it is a high load of protein, it will definitely help you to reach your protein goals.
  • Protein supplements are high-quality protein; therefore, it could be a good option for vegetarians because most vegetable proteins are not high-quality proteins.
  • It is easy to prepare, so it is a good option if you don’t have enough time to prepare all your dishes
  • If you are an athlete with a vast quantity of food in your meal plan, protein supplements can help you to fulfill your requirements and prevent discomfort, such as abdominal inflammation or excessively fullness sensation.

What is the Importance of Complete Nutrition for Muscle Growth?

Muscle growth is not only dependent on protein, you should have a complete diet because you also need carbohydrates and energy (6).

The main energy store of your muscles is glycogen made of carbohydrates, hence, if you consume carbs your body will use it to refuel your energy. Then, proteins can be focused on muscle repair and hypertrophy rather than converted to energy (6).

Regarding energy, creating tissues like muscle fibers is metabolically expensive, so you will need energy to perform all the metabolic processes. Fats are the most energy-dense nutrients, so they are a good option for providing energy to your body (6).

You can prioritize healthy fats like olive oil and avocado, since these fat sources have plenty of antioxidants that can provide you with health benefits. For example, olive oil and avocado are associated with lower risks of obesity, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes (13).

If you want further information regarding carbs and healthy fats, please visit our following articles on: carbohydrates in sports performance, and why you should use olive oil.

Conclusion

In this brief guide, we answered the query “Do I need to consume protein supplements for gaining muscle mass?” Additionally, we presented relevant information such as what are the protein requirements for muscle gain, and a brief example of how to fulfill those requirements with whole foods. Finally, we explored the potential benefits of protein supplements, and the importance of a complete nutrition.

References

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  1. Stark M, Lukaszuk J, Prawitz A, Salacinski A. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2012;9(1):54.
  1. Villanueva MG, He J, Schroeder ET. Periodized resistance training with and without supplementation improve body composition and performance in older men. Eur J Appl Physiol, 2014;114(5):891–905.
  1. Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing muscle hypertrophy: A systematic review of advanced resistance training techniques and methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health, 2019;16(24):4897.
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