Your workouts will cause the protein in your muscles to break down and build up much faster than it does in ordinary circumstances. In fact, when you work out with the goal of becoming more awesome than you are now, the entire point is to get that protein to turn over. But it only helps if you end up with more than you had when you started.
There are two ways to do that. The first, and by far the easiest, is to eat more protein than you currently do. Protein, all by itself, is anabolic. It wants to be stored in your muscles. The second is to work out in a way that disrupts your muscles and forces them to respond by getting bigger and stronger.
The combination of a diet rich in high-quality protein (like this whey protein powder from the Men’s Health store) and a great strength-training program is the oldest, best, and only non-pharmaceutical way to reach that goal. This article will show you how much protein you need to eat, and when.
Part 1: How Much
A 2007 study in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that muscle size increases 0.2 percent per day during the first 20 days of a strength-training program. That growth is over and above the high rate of muscle-protein breakdown that’s occurring simultaneously.
This explains why the guy who’s just starting out, or returning from a layoff, needs more protein than the weight-room warrior who’s been training for years without a break, and who is at or near his genetic ceiling for strength and size. But it’s the beginner who’s least likely to worry about his diet, and most at risk of not getting as much protein as he needs.
How much is that? A good target is .73 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. For a guy who weighs 180 pounds, a day’s worth would be about 130 grams.
Part 2: How Often
Protein synthesis is the process that takes the protein from food and turns it into muscle tissue. As Men’s Health nutrition advisor Mike Roussell, Ph.D., explains, protein synthesis is like a lamp. It’s either on or off. With 20 to 25 grams of high-quality protein, it’s on. More protein won’t improve the response, just as applying more force to a light switch can’t make the room brighter.