How Much Protein Do You Need For Building Muscle?

Is this the second most asked question in bodybuilding, after how do I get big? Is this the question that divides opinions and brings out the most hyper inflated trash talk?

Protein powder is the most used supplement (notice the word supplement- more on that later) in the fitness industry. Mainly because of it's convenience, and secondly due to its marketing.

Protein powder is to bodybuilding what gasoline is to the motor vehicle. They cannot be separated.

Protein Research

Protein powder is one of the most researched supplements in existence. Each week there is a new bioavailable strand of protein being introduced that promises to push the bondaries of deliverabilty, and athletic performance.

Someone right now is at the counter of a supplement shack asking what's the best protein powder for building muscle. No doubt its in the clerks best interests to point you to the latest science backed product that just happens to have it's logo emblazoned across their tee.

Then there's the type of protein, when you need to take it, how much... ask the sales guy and you can come out with 3 different boxes...of slow release, fast release, peptide enhanced amino acid-condensed-instantaneous-vegetable and beef flavoured predigested whey. Confused? Who wouldn't be.

Types Of Protein Powder

  • Whey Protein
  • Casein Protein
  • Hemp Protein
  • Pea Protein
  • Soy Protein
  • Rice Protein

Whey is the king of protein powders. Casein is second. Casein is considered slow release so it is recommended to be taken when you are going to go long periods without eating, usually before bed, or when you are fasting it's considered useful to prevent muscle breakdown (atrophy).

Casein utilizes a drip feed approach and whey starts to process as soon as you consume it.

Whey and Casein have the highest amino acid content (building blocks of life - used to not only build mucle but to also transport oxygen through bloodstream and improve the immune system) and are the best at stimulating protein synthesis.

If you can't take whey or casein (vegan, dairy or lactose intolerant) then you have the choice of plant based protein powders.

Whey is the most popular because it is fast acting and quick to digest- but you know living in gym culture means your body needs a protein shake right after you finish the last rep of your workout.

Wrong. It doesn't need it immediately as right now as you are reading this your body is making protein.

Your Body Is Constantly Making Protein

Nutrient timing became really popular in recent years. It sold a few ebooks and online courses and got some bodybuilding "thought leaders" a few more subscribers on YouTube, but heck this is bodybuilding, the wild west, what's here today and new- is revisited and disproved tomorrow.

This research debunks the anabolic window myth which basically suggests protein and carbohydrates should be consumed inside a 1-3 hour post workout window.

Some take this to higher extremes of paranoia consuming a shake as soon as they complete their last barbell curl fearing complete and utter muscle failure.

Common sense must prevail. If your goal is to increase muscle mass or cut up for a show (which normally means holding onto muscle mass and lowering bodyfat) and you have already consumed protein that day, you will not need an instant protein hit immediately post workout.

If you are performing intermittent fasting, are on a calorie restrictive weight loss diet, trying a buckwheat diet, or are training first thing in the morning prior to breakfast, it does make sense to have a shake or a meal as close to the end of your training as possible.

Whey Isolate vs Whey Concentrate

Confusingly there are two different types of whey to contend with, concentrate and isolate. Isolate contains less lactose (and less sugar and fats), which can be the cause of stomach upsets.

The essential amino acid content is virtually the same in whey and isolate protein, after all they are both made from milk.

Isolate has a slightly higher protein content, usually 90% and has less fats and carbohydrates. The figures are nominal, whey concentrate per 100g is 80% protein and although brands differ the average whey powder has 1.5 grams of fat and 3.5g of carbohydrates.

Concentrate can have 3.5g of lactose and Isolate usually only has 1g.

Concentrate or Isolate
image credit

Should You Buy Whey Isolate or Concentrate?

Whey concentrate is a lot more popular than isolate. Isolate is marketed as a slow release protein not designed for immediately after training - which after 25 years of going to the gym seems to be the most popular time for protein consumption.

Whey Isolate is more expensive, but in truth most protein should come from your diet from food and complete protein sources. Paying more just to get a extra gram or 2 of protein won't make a difference.

If you were really that fussed you'd dip your scoop back into the protein box again.

Getting most of your protein intake from whey powder is not advisable. Not only will you and the people close to you have to live with your bloating and flatulence issues, there is too much sugars, thickeners and artificial flavors added to protein powder.

Not forgetting you may not be able to tolerate the added vitamins and minerals, which can lead to toxicity.

Protein For Fat Loss Myths

Protein shakes are heavily targeted towards anyone on fat loss diets, which at any point in time seems to be about 25% of the world's population.

This is crazy, considering how high the sugar intake is in these low fat protein drinks, which can spike blood insulin which can lead ironically to weight gain and diabetes.

Protein is a sports nutrition supplement but forget about protein isolates, protein concentrates and protein hydrolysates, the best source of protein is food.

No matter what type of body composition you are trying to achieve or maintain, consuming protein straight from a powder is not good.

A supplement is an addon, and as such should not be the mainstay of your diet. Powders do not have the same nutriional compounds as whole foods.

Alarming Levels Of Toxicity In Protein Powders

A not for profit group called Clean Label Project published a damning report about the toxicity levels in a lot of leading protein brands. See it here.

They analyzed 134 protein supplements from 52 separate brands. They were checking the levels of contaminants that included heavy metals, pesticides, BPA and other contaminants that have been linked to loads of adverse health conditions, not least cancer.

Are we really living in 2019 and they are still putting this crap in our food, well supplements at least?

Do you actually or can you trust anybody in the supplement industry?

I like to treat supplement companies with a pinch of salt. I consume a whey concentrate shake occasionally after I train, if I know I won't eat for a long period, or If i'm training during lunch break and have errands to run.

I no longer wake up in the morning and consume a protein shake, or take 4-5 scoops a day like I did 20 years ago. Not only is this a waste of money, it's just so ineffective and makes you feel like crap.

About Eddie Eastwood