—Trey L., freshman, University of Minnesota—Crookston
This is a tricky question to answer. Protein is an essential building block of muscle, so technically we can’t build or maintain our muscle mass if we aren’t getting enough dietary protein.
However, despite all the marketing and advertising that promotes protein powder for building muscle, the fact is consuming protein powder (or eating lots of protein in general) does not have any direct impact on muscle growth.
When it comes to building muscle, there are two key components that need to be in place:
1. Regular strength training workouts
For example, if you’d like to build the muscles in your arms, you might want to try push-ups or weight lifting. If you want to build the muscles in your lower body, you may benefit from a routine that includes squats and lunges. In order to learn proper alignment and prevent injury, it’s best to learn strength training exercises from a qualified fitness professional.
2. Nutritional fuel
Pre- and post-workout meals/snacks are necessary to provide the energy and nutrients needed for our muscles.
Eating a serving of carbohydrates, combined with a small amount of fat/protein about 60 to 90 minutes before a workout is enough to provide energy and fuel without compromising digestion.
- Example: 1 medium-sized apple or banana with 1 to 2 tablespoons of natural peanut butter/nut butter/sunflower seed butter
After an intense muscle-building workout, we should eat something sooner rather than later, ideally within 15 to 20 minutes. This is so the nutrients from the meal go right to the muscles for optimal growth and repair. This meal should include a source of complete protein, a starchy carbohydrate (to replenish glycogen in the muscles), a fat, and a fruit/vegetable.
- Example: 3 to 5 ounces of fish or chicken (or 2 eggs), 1 small or medium-sized potato, 1/3 avocado, and 1/2 cup or more of cooked greens
- Vegan option: 3/4 cup brown rice, 3/4 cup beans or lentils, 1/3 avocado, and 1/2 cup or more of cooked greens
What about protein powder?
There are hundreds of different types of protein powder on the market, and not all protein powder is created equal. Many protein powders contain additives such as sugar and sometimes chemicals, which may not be ideal for our health.
Whenever possible, getting protein from real food rather than from protein powder is ideal. The nutrients in food (such as protein, vitamins, and minerals) are more diverse and abundant and may be better absorbed by the body.
I hope this helps, and best of luck!