We’ve all heard phrases such as ‘getting your body summer-ready’ or ‘new year, new you’ and after a few days of effort, we shrink back under the duvet covers and wait for the next motivational quote.
Every new year we get hit with the adverts for gym membership and some of us lift our heads above the parapet and join-up only to sadly see the direct debit taken every month and our lack of participation play on our conscience.
However, for the serious and committed gym-goer, there are goals to be met and targets to smash. And muscle growth is usually on the agenda.
Most people who visit the gym not only want to lose weight and increase their overall fitness levels, they also want to build muscle in a healthy and sustainable way. Used intelligently, protein powders can play an important role in helping you achieve those goals.
There’s a number of misconceptions about both protein powders and building muscle so we wanted to dispel these and give you the low-down on what the real truth is. We’ve put together a no-nonsense guide to do just that. Dig in…
Is muscle growth just for gym buffs?
Protein powders were once unfairly associated with people who spend lots of time at the gym endlessly working out to try and achieve the perfect buff body. In reality, few of us have the time or inclination for that kind of commitment. Instead, what we’d like is to lose weight, get fit and gain some definition in the process.
Importantly, muscle growth helps to speed up your metabolism. The speed of your resting metabolic rate is, in part, determined by the percentage of lean muscle that you have. Whatever your weight, the more muscle you have on your body and the less fat, the higher your metabolic rate will be. This is because muscle uses more energy than fat. Therefore, any muscle growth will help you lose weight and keep it off.
As well as its health and fitness benefits, increased muscle growth can help us feel more confident about ourselves and bodies. While there are no shortcuts to muscle growth, protein powders can support you as you get fitter and build muscle.
What role does protein play in muscle growth?
Protein is a vital component of a healthy diet and plays a key role when it comes to building and maintaining muscle. Crucially, it contains amino acids which are the building blocks of muscle growth. In total, around 20 different amino acids can be found in protein and these all play a role in not helping you build muscle, but also to recover from exercise.
Each time you exercise, tiny muscle fibres get torn. It’s the amino acids that are found in protein that repair these fibres, and each time this repair work is done, the muscle grows stronger and bigger. Through this constant rebuilding of muscle is how exercise works to build muscles. So protein is a key ingredient to muscle growth.
What if you don’t get enough protein?
Many people attempt to seriously build muscle without considering their diet. A diet that’s insufficient in protein will not provide enough of the amino acids to support consistent muscle growth, no matter how hard your exercise. Without enough protein your body won’t be able to effectively build and repair muscle tissues.
Ensuring you get enough protein in your diet should be a key priority for anyone who is looking to support muscle growth.
How do you make sure you get enough protein in your diet, particularly if you’re exercising regularly and looking to build muscle?
How does protein powder help to build muscle?
There’s a huge body of research evidence supporting the role that protein powder can play in building muscle. A 2018 analysis of 49 studies supported the use of protein powder for aiding muscle growth. The research indicates that protein supplements can significantly improve the muscle size and overall strength in healthy adults who are undertaking resistance exercise training.
The effects were seen in both men and women, with only modest reductions in effectiveness as people age. Older adults have higher protein requirements than younger people.
So no matter how good your diet already is, protein powder can help support your exercise programme as you seek to build muscle growth, lose weight and keep fit.
Which protein powder is best for muscle growth?
The benefits of protein for muscle growth are well established. There are a range of different types of protein powders available, with different mixes of ingredients, some of which are better suited for different outcomes compared to others. How do you know which type of protein powder to choose if you’re looking to increase your muscle growth?
When considering different types of proteins it’s important to consider how various elements impact on their overall effectiveness. As well as amino acids, there’s leucine content, digestion rates, their effects on hormones and any other properties such as phytoestrogens and fibre content. Each of these different properties will have some impact on how the proteins function and the benefits they might have.
Whey and casein protein
When people think of protein powder, they often think of whey powder. It contains high levels of amino acids and has been shown to promote muscle growth. Because it’s acid soluble it’s digested quickly, enabling amino acid delivery into the blood and muscle tissue. It also contains significant amounts of leucine which has been shown to be a strong regulator of muscle protein synthesis.
Our bodies require a specific amount of leucine to help stimulate muscle protein synthesis, and signal to our bodies to create new muscle tissue. If our diets are low in protein and low in leucine we will have difficulties laying down new muscle fibres.
Similar to whey, casein protein is another milk derivative protein that can help stimulate muscle growth. The key difference between whey and casein is that the latter is digested less quickly. As a result, casein protein is not believed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis to the same degree. However, casein has been shown to inhibit whole body protein breakdown.
It’s important to remember that as well as growing muscle tissue, we also lose it on a daily basis. So increasing overall body muscle density also involves reducing the amount of muscle breakdown per day.
Both whey and casein are dairy products which makes them both a poor choice for the environment. They also can’t be used by anyone with lactose intolerance, and even if you’re not lactose intolerant they can be hard for your gut to digest.
At Protein Rebel, we don’t include whey or casein in our products for these reasons. In fact, we’re so passionate about supporting sustainable alternatives we’ve put it in our manifesto.
Soy protein is often avoided by some protein powder consumers because it contains phytoestrogens. In large quantities this may decrease testosterone and increase estrogen. Soy protein also contains less leucine compared to some other options, which are the key amino acids when it comes to signaling to your body to lay down new muscle. However, soy protein may still have some beneficial effects, particularly if you’re lactose intolerant or vegan and are looking for an alternative to whey and casein.
The phytonutrients it contains may also be beneficial for the elderly, or for someone with an increased risk of heart or reduced bone density. It may also help to increase bone mineral density and reduce some of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease in post-menopausal women.
While all of these are net positives for health for some people, what about muscle growth? As explored above, soy protein might not be the best choice to achieve this goal for a range of reasons.
Eggs are a valuable source of protein, so it’s not surprising that egg based protein powders can help support muscle growth. It contains adequate levels of leucine as well as other essential amino acids. Eggs contain a range of nutrients and have been shown to improve healthy HDL cholesterol and may reduce an individual’s overall risk of heart disease.
Pea protein is frequently used in mixed plant proteins. It’s a beneficial food source due to its low allergenicity and high nutritional value. It has been shown to increase muscle mass while contributing to weight loss. Crucially, it’s also been shown to be an environmentally friendly source of protein.
Pea protein powder doesn’t contain any of the top eight food allergens – peanuts, eggs, fish, shellfish, cow’s milk, wheat, soya and tree nuts. When used in conjunction with the appropriate forms of exercise, pea protein has been shown to support muscle growth.
Animal studies have indicated that pea protein powder is effective at reducing a range of risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol. Pea protein is a complete protein, meaning that it contains all nine essential amino acids.
Another planet-friendly choice is hemp protein, which offers very high levels of amino acids and, as a result, can assist muscle growth. Our 100% vegan Replace protein contains both pea and hemp protein making it a smart choice for anyone looking to support healthy and sustainable muscle growth. Our pea protein based Recover powder is ideal for anyone undertaking endurance training.
Cricket protein is derived from cricket flour which comes from farmed crickets, the nutrient rich insects that have been used as a food source for thousands of years. They have a range of benefits for humans, being a complete protein source, rich in minerals, high in vitamin B and minerals, a great source of fatty acids and supportive of gut health.
Because it contains all nine essential amino acids, cricket protein is considered a complete protein. These amino acids are isoleucine, valine, methionine, tryptophan, threonine, lysine, histidine, and phenylalanine and essential when it comes to muscle growth, leucine. These are considered vital, as your body can’t produce them independently, so you need to ensure you get them from your diet. Cricket protein offers a great source of all these amino acids.
Research conducted by Aelius Biotech in partnership with Protein Rebel, has demonstrated that the digestibility of powdered crickets in a small intestinal model is over 50 per cent higher than a standard whey protein. This means that not only does cricket protein contain all the essential amino acids you need to support muscle growth, it’s actually more effective at delivering them than whey protein. This is significant because for the past couple of decades, whey protein has been regarded as the most effective when it comes to muscle building due to its fast digestion.
With its high mineral content, cricket protein is an all-round nutritional supplement that not only helps to support sustainable muscle growth, it also gives you a range of other health benefits.
As a rich source of protein but without the associated environmental costs of meat based protein, cricket protein is a sustainable choice. For that reason it’s being championed by environmentalists and food professionals who want to promote healthy, environmentally friendly alternatives to large scale meat production.
Our Reload protein powder is a clean, sustainable protein made from highly-effective pea protein and cricket protein powder. It contains 44 sustainably farmed crickets per serving, giving you a nutrient rich burst of protein power that can support muscle growth, a rigorous exercise programme, and an all-round healthy lifestyle.
So which is best?
Your choice of protein powder will depend on your individual circumstances and dietary requirements. However, plant based protein powder that includes a number of key enzymes and cricket based protein powder offer a fantastic means to support muscle growth, improve your overall health and help you lead a healthy lifestyle. They also have some key sustainability advantages over some of the alternatives.
That’s why at Protein Rebel we’ve developed high-quality, targeted protein powders to support active, health and planet conscious lifestyles.
We hope our guide has given you more confidence about protein powders and what they can do to support your muscle growth goals. There’s a lot of false info on the internet so we wanted to set the record straight and give you the science facts about how and why they work. We hope that we’ve done just that.
Why not take a look at our products to find out more? And if you’ve got any questions about this article or any of our protein powders, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.