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What Is the Connection between Protein and Muscle Growth?

Eating a diet high in protein can help build muscles.
The human muscular system.
Article Details
  • Written By: Page Coleman
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 04 October 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2014
    Conjecture Corporation
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Protein and muscle growth are strongly connected. The amino acids in proteins are used to repair and develop muscles. Bodybuilders, athletes, active adults, and seniors may wish to consider evaluating their diet to ensure it contains adequate protein intake to support muscle growth.

As a macronutrient, proteins are made of up to 20 amino acids. For adults, nine amino acids are considered essential because the body cannot manufacture them. Unlike carbohydrates, which are stored as glycogen, excess protein is not stored. The essential amino acids need to be readily available for the protein and muscle growth process to occur.

Muscle growth results when muscles undergo slight damage, such as the micro-tears that occur in the muscles during weight training. Amino acids in protein are used to repair the tears, and once the muscle is repaired it becomes larger. If the necessary amino acids aren’t available, the muscle cannot be adequately repaired and it cannot grow. If a body process requires an amino acid that is not readily available, the body will tear down tissue to obtain the amino acid, which may cause muscle loss.

Due to the connection between protein and muscle growth, bodybuilders are particularly attuned to getting sufficient protein. Other types of athletes, active adults, and seniors may also benefit from increasing their protein intake. As people age, their bodies become less able to synthesize protein, and so seniors may wish to increase protein consumption.

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The amount of suggested protein per day for bodybuilders and other active or older adults varies, but frequently 1 - 2 grams of protein per pound of body weight is recommended. At times, the amount of protein recommended is given as a percent of total dietary calories, but if a person is on a low-calorie diet she might not take in enough protein if following that guideline. In this case, she should consider taking the amount indicated by her body weight.

A muscle growth diet, sometimes called a bodybuilding diet, is one that offers sufficient complete proteins. People on this diet usually eat a high-protein meal or snack six times a day. Some good choices for complete protein foods include animal-based products such as eggs, fish, poultry, red meat, and dairy. The proteins in plant-based foods may be incomplete, in that they may lack some of the essential amino acids. Combining plant-based foods correctly, such as rice and beans, can provide complete protein.

It can sometimes be difficult for bodybuilders and others to eat enough protein to meet their needs. Many choose to supplement with protein drinks. Protein drinks should also be evaluated for the quality of their protein and muscle growth support.

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