Myth Busting: Protein & Muscle Size
For decades, there’s been a myth that adding tons of protein to your diet can result in bigger muscles. The truth is that exercise builds muscle. Protein helps – but only in appropriate amounts as part of a balanced diet.
Regular exercise does increase the body’s need for protein, which helps fuel muscle growth and recovery. Consuming adequate calories, especially carbohydrates, can give the body the tools it needs for optimal muscle growth and recovery. Without these necessary calories and carbohydrates, the body will be forced to use a significant amount of protein for energy – making it hard, if not impossible, to improve musculature and strength. This is a main reason why a high- protein, low-carb diet is not recommended, particularly for those who exercise regularly.
Most recreational exercisers as well as athletes can meet their protein needs with a balanced diet. Below lists the protein needs per pound of body weight for the different categories and the amount of protein in certain foods. Remember to meet protein needs every day – the body won’t store it away like fat to be used later.
Timing your protein intake around activity will have a significant impact on muscle preservation, growth and recovery. According to The Position of the American Dietetic Association and The American College of Sports Medicine, it’s best to incorporate some protein with your carbohydrate meal before and after exercise. This will cause a greater increase in muscle glycogen, which is the storage form of glucose in muscle cells. Having enough glycogen in our muscles allows us to increase our endurance. It will also help in greater protein synthesis (i.e. muscle building) after exercise. For endurance athletes, even a little protein during your exercise has been shown to have a positive effect on muscle maintenance and growth. Exercise researchers are still studying this effect.
Whether you are a recreational exerciser or a serious athlete, protein is an important component to your diet. But remember – protein alone can’t build and repair muscles unless you eat a balanced diet that includes carbohydrate, protein and fat.
Written by Sabrina Zaslov MS, RD, CDE. Sabrina Zaslov MS, RD, CDE is the registered dietician for LWI Peak Performance at Lifewellness Institute. Sabrina has over ten years of experience providing nutritional counseling to athletes of all levels. She loves running, especially half-marathons and marathons. For more information or questions, visit www.lwipeakperformance.com or email Peak Performance at [email protected].