I was recently asked by a client whether they should supplement their diet with protein. My first question is “what’s your goal?” For them, it was building muscle.
This client wasn’t the only one who’s wondered whether they should supplement with protein, and they’re not the only client who wants to build muscle. Here are some key points and a quick crash course for you to consider if you fall into this boat:
Protein is made of many strings of amino acids, some of which are “essential” (our bodies cannot manufacture them) and some that are “non-essential” (our bodies can manufacture them).
A “complete protein” has all the essential and non-essential amino acids.
Animal products such as meat and dairy are complete proteins.
The ratios of the various amino acids is important! If the ratios are not in the right proportions, then your body’s muscle building (protein synthesis) ability is rate-limited and becomes stunted
This is like needing various ratios of ingredients to make a certain recipe. It doesn’t matter if you have all the eggs in the world. If you only have enough water for five recipes, then that’s the max you can make. Having lots of the right ratios of ingredients (amino acids) allows for a large number of recipes (muscles) to be made.
The excess amino acids you intake that can’t be used in the ratio your body needs to repair muscle (reference above analogy) generally result in some form of waste. This is where people can get into trouble when ingesting too much of the wrong protein (i.e., gas, bloating, and other inflammatory markers).
Your ability to synthesize muscle is inherently tied to the types of proteins you eat, ingest, or take.
There are a variety of other hormonal and nutrient-dependent factors involved in building muscle. Protein is just one part of the equation.
The foods with the highest protein utilization for muscle building are eggs (48%), meat (32%), and whey (18%). This means that for roughly every 2 grams of egg protein you eat, 1 is used to build muscle, while for roughly every 3 grams of meat protein you eat, only 1 is used to build muscle. Whey protein on the other hand: more like every 6 grams eaten to 1 gram utilized by the body.
So what’s the takeaway here? If you tolerate eggs, eat them to build and retain muscle. They’re the best food for building muscle. And generally speaking, whole foods are your best bet for efficiently satisfying your protein needs.