Most athletes know that protein is essential for building muscle strength and size, and for powering the process of muscle recovery and repair. But simply eating protein won't magically build muscle.
For protein consumption to be effective, it must be part of an overall strategy that includes these three factors:
Many people seem to think that simply consuming more protein post-workout will automatically build more muscle. This couldn't be further from the truth. Your body can only digest about 20 to 25 grams of protein in one sitting. Anything above that is either stored as fat or removed via urine. Maximize the benefits of your protein intake by spreading out your daily consumption (.8 grams per kilogram of body weight) over five to six meals.
Research shows that consuming 20 to 25 grams of fast-digesting whey protein within 30 minutes after a workout is best for building muscle. After the 30-minute window closes, there's a diminished effect; and after two hours, you lose virtually all the muscle-building and repair benefits. Learn how you can use nutrient timing to build muscle.
For a workout to be effective, it's got to be aligned with your goals. If you want to get stronger and more powerful, build more muscle, or improve your muscular endurance, you've got to understand how the body responds to training factors like exercise selection, intensity, sets & repetitions, frequency and rest.
Specifically, you need to follow a progressive training plan that continually challenges your muscles. Difficulty must increase over time, and you must vary your exercise selection or your muscles will adapt and you will fail to make gains. Learn how to build your own workout plan.
Ultimately, you need a certain number of calories for each ounce of muscle mass, regardless of the source. It won't matter how much protein you consume if you don't feed your body the total number of calories it needs, particularly during the muscle-building phase. (Learn how to calculate how many calories you need.)
Your calories need to come from a balanced diet of protein, carbs and fat. If you neglect one of these nutrients, you may not have the energy you need to sustain peak performance. Aim for 40 percent of your calories from "clean" carbs, 30 percent from lean protein and 30 percent from healthy fats. Also, make sure to take in between 40 and 80 grams of carbs post-exercise to stimulate muscle growth and recovery.
Learn more about which types of protein can help you meet your goals fastest through STACK's Protein Guide.