What Is Protein and How Does It Build Muscle?

Some men exercise to stay fit, while others are in it to build their muscles and achieve a certain look. There’s a lot of different advice on how to create muscle, and along with that there are all kinds of misconceptions regarding the subject. As a result, men have turned to protein diets as well as protein shakes, probably the hottest thing in the fitness market right now. So what’s the real story behind protein?

Explain Me A Thing About Proteins!

It’s true that proteins help the body build muscle, but they also play other vital functions in a person’s body.

A protein can be described as a large and complex molecule that is required by the body for regulation, function, and structure of organs and tissues.

Proteins are comprised of very many small units known as amino acids. These are attached in the form of a long chain. A single protein chain can be made of approximately 20 kinds of amino acids.

Some of the functions of protein include:

  • Storage/transport – Protein binds and carries small molecules and atoms throughout the body and within cells.
  • Messenger – Protein facilitates transmission of signals that synchronize biological processes between various organs, cells, and tissues.
  • Tissue maintenance and repair – Protein plays a crucial role in the development and repair of various tissues in the body such as muscles, hair, eyes, organs, and the skin.
  • Source of energy – Protein is the main source of energy for the body. Once a person has consumed more protein than is required for bodily functions and tissue maintenance, the extra is converted into energy.
  • Formation of antibodies – Proteins form antibodies which, together with immune system cells, assist in preventing infection, disease, and illness.

How Proteins Are Translated Into Muscles

Step 1: Protein breakdown/digestion

Digestion enzymes in the small intestines and the stomach break down proteins to make peptides. The body then uses the amino acid chains as a kind of mortar and brick for muscle fiber rebuilding.

Step 2: Transport

The amino acids are transported to the liver and from there, propelled to the hungry muscles.

Step 3: Muscle repair

Micro tears, caused by workouts, send signals to the immune system to repair the muscle using amino acids.

Step 4: Body remodeling

Imagine a construction site with a foreman; a person’s DNA plays the role of a site foreman. It directs and deploys particular amino acids to the muscles. These are then used to weave bundles of protein filaments, called myofibrils, that play a vital role in the construction of muscles.

Step 5: Construction

Continuing with the construction site analogy, imagine a damaged wall that has additional mortar and bricks added to shore it up. This wall is then stronger, in spite of the initial damage. The body works similarly. Myofibrils merge with the damaged parts of the muscles, and in the process of being repaired, the muscle is made stronger than before, facilitating eventual muscle growth.

How Much Protein Is Required To Build Muscle?

There is a misconception that eating or taking excessive amounts of protein will stimulate even more muscle growth. The truth is that excess protein is converted to fat, promoting weight gain rather than muscle growth. Taking in too much protein will translate into weight gain while taking in too little can result in an essential amino-acids deficiency in the body, thus impairing repair and growth.

We have already established that the body requires proteins to build muscle, but how much protein is required to do so?

Mark Tarnopolsky, a nutrition and exercise scholar at McMaster University, points outs that a highly trained athlete thrives on around 0.7g of protein per day per pound of weight. That is to say, an athlete who weighs 150 pounds, should consume approximately 115.5g of protein per day.

A man who works out regularly for at least an hour most days of the week requires about 0.55 grams of protein per pound while one who only exercises for less than an hour, 3 to 5 days of the week, will need about 0.45g/pound.

Protein Intake To Lose Fat And Build Muscle

Regardless of whether you are looking to lose weight and gain muscle or just drop some pounds, it is essential that you maintain a healthy protein intake. The level of protein that a man should take is dependent on their weight and the specific goal they are trying to achieve, e.g. fat loss.

A person looking to look weight should consume more protein than carbs. Increased protein intake increases satiety hormones and reduces levels of the hunger hormone. This reduction in hunger is what ultimately promotes weight loss and fat loss. An increased protein intake has also been proved to boost metabolism levels, thereby increasing the number of calories burned in a day.

While weight loss is perceived to translate to fat loss, one tends to lose a bit of muscle too. It is therefore important to consume sufficient amounts of protein to prevent muscle loss. Combining a high protein intake with strength and resistance training will ensure that as your body loses fat, it also builds muscle.

It’s critical to time your protein intake, especially if you work out regularly. According to researchers, consumption of about 30 grams of protein triggers a synthesis that lasts about three hours. Studies show that while the body digests all the protein taken in, it does not necessarily need all of it, so some of it is broken down and stored as fat, therefore taking in 60g of proteins may have the same effect as consuming 30-40g.

Nutrition and fitness experts recommend splitting protein intake between before and after a workout. For instance, eating a sandwich with protein 30 minutes before workout is ideal since carbs increase insulin, slowing down the breakdown of protein, hence boosting the growth of muscles after exercise. Furthermore, the body breaks down the carbs rather than expending stored proteins.

Best Sources Of Protein

Some men rely on meat for their protein, but there are other foods that are high in proteins and also suitable for vegans.

Vegan sources of proteins

Let’s get these out of the way first, as they apply to fewer people…but are still great to know.

There are various myths regarding plant-sourced proteins. A lot of claims have been made about the need to consume a variety of foods for the formation of complete proteins. Inasmuch as the claim may have some truth to it, there are several sources of plant-based proteins that are complete. Some of these plants rich in proteins include:

  • Pumpkin seeds – 10 grams of protein per quarter cup
  • Sunflower seeds – 10 grams of protein per quarter cup
  • Soybeans – 16 grams of protein per cup
  • Almond butter – 7 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons
  • Chia seeds – 10 grams of protein per 2 tablespoons
  • Buckwheat – 23 grams of protein per cup
  • Lentils – 18 grams of protein per cup
  • Tempeh – 10 grams of protein per 2 ounces
  • Quinoa – 7 grams of protein per every cooked half-cup
  • Chickpeas – 13 grams of protein per cup
  • Kale – 5 grams of protein per cup
  • Tofu – 10 grams of protein per 3 ounces
  • Rolled oats – 7 grams of protein per cooked half-cup
  • Spinach – 5 grams of protein per cup
  • Millet – 5 grams of protein per cooked half-cup
  • Rye grains – 5 grams of protein per cooked half-cup
  • Plant-based protein powders also exist and are good sources

Animal-Based Proteins

Much more popular, and packed much more full of protein, are the animal-based options you’re probably used to hearing about. These include:

  • Meat
  • Pork
  • Beef
  • Turkey
  • Chicken
  • Jerky
  • Dairy (i.e. milk, cheese, yogurt…even whey and casein protein powders)
  • Seafood such as whitefish, shrimp. tuna, and salmon
  • Eggs

5 Common Myths About Protein Intake And Muscle Building

Here a few common protein myths:

1. Diets high in protein can leach bone calcium.

False. Dietary protein is essential for bone health. Clinical studies show that higher protein consumption leads to an increase in bone density and fewer occurrences of fractures.

2. High protein diets can damage your kidneys.

High protein diets are risky to people with a history of kidney issues. Kidneys helps the body to remove urea, which is a protein by-product. If a person’s kidneys are not healthy, less urea is removed, leading to greater stress on the kidneys. If you have no pre-existing kidney problems, it’s likely that a high protein diet won’t affect your kidneys, but consult a doctor if you have questions.

3. All proteins are the same.

Not all proteins are the same. During workouts or post workout, proteins such as whey are more convenient since they tend to assimilate faster than other proteins. These types of proteins that are assimilated faster in the body are known as quick release, while the rest are known as sustained release proteins. Sustained release proteins such as casein are slowly assimilated into the body and hence are more appropriate for downtimes.

4. Cooking protein changes it quality

Eating foods such as raw beef does not add any value to your body and increases your chances of developing E. coli. Properly cooked protein retains the same nutritional qualities as raw protein.

5. Proteins such as casein and whey make females become jacked

Getting ripped involves a lot more than just consuming protein shakes. While soy has some connection to estrogen levels, it is not enough to lead to broadening of shoulders in women.

What Does It All Mean, Basil?

While there are many myths around protein intake, not everything works for everyone. The important thing is to first distinguish between truths and myths, then establish a diet and workout routine that is most efficient for you as an individual. The needs of a man who just wants to tone may be quite different from one who needs to lose fat, for instance.

Consulting a nutrition and fitness specialist can help you avoid fad diets and non-effective workout routines. Remember that proteins play an essential role not just in the building of muscles but in boosting other functions of the body. Strength workouts and other exercises, combined with a great, balanced, protein-high diet, will go a long way to ensuring that you get the desired results.


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