Protein is the building block of all tissue in the body. Normally, protein is found in foods such as meat, milk, dairy and eggs. Though it is possible to get more than enough protein from food sources alone, the smart use of protein supplements can help you gain muscle and get stronger.
Protein is a macronutrient that your body uses to build and fix all sorts of tissue including muscle. When you workout, you cause tiny tears to your muscle tissue that your body treats as an injury. Fixing the damage caused by exercise is the “magic” that makes you stronger. When your body fixes muscle damage, it makes the muscle bigger and stronger. Over time, this causes a noticeable increase in size and strength.
Your body needs two main ingredients to properly recover from exercise: nutrients and rest. One of the nutrients involved in the recovery process is protein. There are many different types of protein supplements on the market and knowing which to take and when can help your body recover more efficiently.
One of the most popular supplements used in muscle building is whey protein. Whey protein is a by-product of cheese production. It is often referred to as a quick digesting protein because the body can absorb and utilize it in a very short amount of time. Because of this quick digestion, whey protein is best used immediately after a workout.
Casein is another popular protein supplement that is normally found in dairy products. It is known as a slow digesting protein because it takes a lot longer for the body to absorb and utilize than whey. Because of this slower digestion, casein protein can be a good pre-bedtime snack.
Remember that the recovery process is what actually makes you bigger and stronger. A big part of the recovery process happens at night when you sleep. An adequate amount of slowly digesting protein taken at night helps your body recover from a workout. Though casein is thought of mostly as a “night time” protein, studies have shown that it can enhance the recovery process when mixed with whey immediately following a workout.
Branched Chain Amino Acids
Proteins are made out of amino acids. There are three important amino acids known as branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). These three amino acids (leucine, isoleucine and valine) are special because the body can use them to preserve muscle tissue.
During rigorous and prolonged exercise, the body will start breaking down muscle tissue for energy. This state is known as catabolic (breakdown of tissue). The best way to prevent your body from breaking down muscle tissue is to drink a mix of simple carbohydrates (Gatorade/Powerade) and BCAAs before, during and even after a workout.
The Bottom Line
A supplement is meant to enhance a complete diet, not replace one. Whether the supplement is a multivitamin, fish oil or protein powder, you will only see results if these products are used in conjunction with a healthy diet, not in place of one.