When you want to build muscle, including protein in your diet is critical. However, countless protein supplement advertisements in the media can make choosing the best protein sources for muscle growth confusing at best. “Gym science” lessons about protein, taught by coaches and trainers, can add to the confusion.
Another puzzling aspect of protein consumption is presented by the plethora of protein powders on the market.
Current research shows that combining fast and slow digesting protein, specifically whey and casein, at different times of the day, is most beneficial for muscle gains. Post-workout, fast-digesting whey protein stimulates more muscle growth than slow-acting casein protein. However casein protein results in more sustained elevation of amino acids, the building blocks of protein, to further enhance muscle growth.
So what really is the best protein for building muscle, and how much do you need to consume and when? The best strategy for building muscle is to consume a variety of protein sources. For optimal growth and recovery, take advantage of various types throughout the day and around exercise. Foods like eggs, lean cuts of beef, poultry, fish, dairy products and beans are excellent choices. Aim to consume 20 to 25 grams of whey protein immediately after a workout to promote greater protein uptake into your muscles. And consume protein-rich snacks every two to three hours throughout the day to achieve optimal protein balance and sustained muscle growth.
If you don’t have the luxury of snacking throughout the day, or you want a snack before bed, casein protein is ideal. A recent study showed that a large dose (40 grams) of casein protein before sleep stimulates muscle growth and improves whole body protein balance.
When combined with a progressive weight-training program, proper protein intake makes gains in lean muscle mass more achievable. But don’t conclude that protein is all you need for building muscle. To optimize muscle growth, take in other nutrients as well. Carbohydrates and healthy fats, from minimally processed foods, are just as essential for maintaining positive energy balance and making new muscle.
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