How do protein powders work to boost muscle mass?

People of all ages take protein powders and supplements for many different reasons. Whey protein is present in all kinds of supplements, from baby formula to nutrition shakes and from weight loss supplements to those focused on building muscle mass. But how does it work?

Protein powders and supplements like Pro Jym that contain whey protein are loaded up on the essential amino acids we need to function and thrive. Amino acids are the same building blocks found in every protein, and they’re used by the body to repair and grow muscle tissue. When protein is ingested, whether in the form of food or a supplement, the digestive process breaks it down into the much-needed amino acids.

Protein supplements include key amino acids that help to build muscle mass

Body builders use protein as a supplement in order to get every essential amino acid into their body to improve muscle performance. In particular, they look for leucine, isoleucine and valine. These make up the branched chain amino acids (BCAA) that build muscle mass.

Some early scientific studies do link better athletic endurance and improved immune systems with protein supplements. Whey protein is also touted as something that can balance blood sugar, increase energy, drive and focus and even lower cholesterol. And while the jury is still out on some of these claims, there are enough scientific studies available to show some promising results.

For example, a study published in 2003 in the Journal of Applied Physiology reports on testing protein supplements on 387 US marines undergoing basic training. The group that was given protein supplements showed some evidence of stronger immune systems and 33% fewer medic visits due to sore muscles or problems of the joints.

Another 2013 study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition suggests that whey protein is important specifically to increase muscle mass. A research team from the University of Connecticut split a group of 63 men and women into three, giving each group a whey protein, soy or carbohydrate supplement before starting a nine-month training and exercise regime. At the end of the study, the group that had used whey protein supplements had increased their muscle mass by several kilograms more than the other two groups.

Timing of protein supplements can change the effect it has on muscle mass

Evidence also shows that when you take a protein supplement has a bearing on how useful it is. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, it’s best to eat a high carb, low fat snack with moderate protein just before exercise for best results. Immediately after exercising you should mix your protein powder or take a protein supplement as the high levels of leucine will help your muscles repair and grow.

All supplements, including whey protein powders, should be taken carefully in measured doses. There are risks associated with too much protein in the body, in particular regarding calcium use. Some studies show that too much protein can mean your body leaches calcium out of your bones to neutralise the acids, which could eventually lead to osteoporosis.

In terms of dosage, the recommendation for an average person is to ingest around 0.8g of protein per kilogram (2.5lbs) of bodyweight. For athletes, body builders and heavy exercisers, however, the advice is that it’s safe to take between 1g and 2g per kg of bodyweight, depending on your regime, underlying health and other factors.

Overall, studies show that protein supplements are safe and often effective for most healthy adults. They are particularly useful for people with specific fitness, exercise, athletic or bodybuilding goals, although they should be taken in controlled doses at all times. Anyone who’s unsure should always consult a medical professional before starting a new supplement.