Dr. Kim’s Guide to the Best Muscle Building Protein
What’s the best muscle building protein?
If you are a bodybuilder, or someone looking to lose weight by increasing your metabolically active lean body mass, you need to read this.
At any rate, if you’re reading this blog, you’re most likely looking to build muscle in the most effective ways possible.
To achieve this, you probably already exercise and include supplements as part of your daily routine.
You may even have what you perceive to be an informed idea of what you should be eating, but you may be unfamiliar with why.
The most important thing to understand is if you want to get your body in the best shape, you need to give it the best muscle building protein.
Why is muscle building protein important?
Proteins are made up of long chains of amino acids, which the body uses for energy. These proteins also have a huge role to play in muscle building. Under normal circumstances, when enough energy is available, an anabolic process occurs and the faster your body synthesizes proteins, the more muscle you build.
On the other side of the equation, the more body fat you lose, the more the body tries to access energy from muscle, leading to catabolism. For you, this means muscle breakdown. At the same time, if you’re on a low-calorie diet, your body will slow down the synthesis of new protein as it doesn’t have energy to spare.
Added to this, as your overall levels of energy drop, you’re able to do less and your body then adapts to use less energy, reducing the effectiveness of your workouts. These elements together mean that even if you work out more, if you’re reducing your calories to stay lean too, your body won’t build muscle. In fact, it may even lose it. Enter branched-chain amino acids as your best muscle building protein of choice.
Branched-chain amino acid sources:
If your aim is to build muscle and to stay lean, branched-chain amino acids (bcaas) are the best muscle building protein foods. Structured slightly differently from other amino acids, they have several benefits:
BCAAS speed up the rate at which protein synthesizes in your body. It also increases the ability of your cells to actually carry out the synthesis, essentially building and repairing muscle faster, even on a low-calorie diet.
They reduce the rate of protein breakdown and therefore of muscle damage.
They probably also reduce the levels of the calming brain chemical serotonin that typically rises during any exercise. Elevated serotonin levels will make you feel tired so, with lower levels in your brain, you can work out longer and harder.
There are three branched-chain amino acids which are absolutely critical to building and repair muscle tissue: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. Leucine boosts the synthesis of muscle protein all on its own but is even more effective when taken in combination with the other two bcaas.
Together, along with building muscle, they increase energy, strengthen immune system functioning, reduce feelings of fatigue, counteract the stress hormone cortisol (which also breaks down muscle) and reduce the soreness of muscles after a workout.
Our body doesn’t produce bcaas, so we need to get them from our diet, with the best sources being whey protein, eggs, chicken, turkey and salmon.
No round-up of the best muscle building protein would be complete without mentioning whey protein, a beloved “staple” of body builders world-wide. There’s good reason for this. It’s a non-casein containing (and therefore Paleo diet compliant) milk protein which is very high in branched-chain amino acids.
Because it digests so fast, it basically goes straight to your muscles. It boosts blood flow to the muscles too, speeding up the muscle building process even further.
When buying whey protein, look for a concentrate rather than an isolate, as the concentrate is healthier and also stimulates the immune system. For maximum muscle building protein benefits, the ideal time to take it is immediately after a workout.
If you are a bodybuilder, you will also want a whey shake about half an hour before working out, as well as first thing in the morning.
Despite some controversy over the last few years around how healthy eggs really are, these fragile ovals are packed with power and for a very reasonable price too. As long as you eat the yolk too, which is the part that provides the cholesterol your body needs, you can get a dose of vitamins plus 6g of easily digestible protein, to aid in muscle building, from a medium egg.
That protein includes half a gram of leucine, straight up. The protein is very efficiently absorbed by the body and put to work in building and repairing muscle.
More good news is that the latest research shows unless you suffer from diabetes or there is a history of prostate cancer in your family, eating eggs put you at no greater risk of cardiovascular disease than not eating them.
In fact, since they also contain choline, nine essential amino acids, Vitamin D and healthy fatty acids, they have multiple health benefits, including improving your recovery after a workout. Note we’re talking about the whole egg, not just egg white nutrition (good egg white recipes in there!)
Ideally buy free-range eggs, which are higher in Omega-3s, so you can boost your intake of good fats at the same time.
For maximum benefit, cook them as simply as possible – simply scrambled with some good quality butter or coconut oil is fast, nutritious and delicious.
And of course, for simplicity, there is nothing like a batch of boiled eggs.
Chicken is also packed with high quality protein. This helps look after your bones as well as repair and maintain muscles. Again, opt for free-range if you possibly can. Chicken is easy to store in single-servings that can be quickly made into a tasty and healthy meal. You can often buy it ready-to eat from your local gourmet grocer.
Let’s not forget the turkey – which is not only for Thanksgiving! Free-range turkey will give you some of the leanest, high quality and best muscle building protein you can find. Look for whole cuts or ground turkey. Please avoid highly-processed versions, which also tend to be high in salt, preservatives and sometimes even added fat.
This nutritional combo ensures that your body functions well and your metabolism works for you, while also reducing muscle breakdown.
Shellfish like scallops and shrimp are great sources of protein too, as well as being low in fat.
One last word about “wild-caught.”
It is just imperative to eat wild caught fish, especially in light of findings of things like toxic levels of pesticides in a favorite fish- tilapia which is high in bcaa’s but not so high in omega 3’s anyway.
Carnitine is well-known as a fat loss supplement as it helps to transport fat into cell mitochondria, where it can be used as fuel. Sometimes classified as an amino acid and sometimes as an “amino-acid-like compound”, it is also one of the best muscle building protein foods.
Carnitine boosts energy and metabolism, increases the flow of blood to your muscles and raises your levels of muscle building IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1). After a workout, carnitine not only boosts testosterone levels but also the number of testosterone receptors inside the cells of your muscles. This means the testosterone can be used to build more muscle.
Although poultry and seafood do contain some carnitine, the best sources are grass-fed beef, game, and pork.
It contains plenty of essential amino acids, including L-carnitine. Also, it has a good combination of healthy fats, without the extra fat of a meat like lamb.
It also contains creatine, which helps supply all our cells with energy, especially our muscles, supporting high-intensity training.
Why is “grass-fed” important, you might ask?
Apart from the ethical component, green grass provides animals with vitamins A and K. In addition, when they graze in the sunlight, their vitamin D levels are boosted.
Grass-fed animals are also higher in:
Healthy omega-3 fatty acids
Vitamin B, iodine
Carotenoids including beta-carotene
All of these transfer to us when we eat animal products, and they contribute to optimal functioning of our body. Plus the amino acids, especially when combined with insulin, really help pack on the muscle.
Beef comes in multiple forms, from steak to roast to ground and you can prepare it in many different ways. Simply cook it up with vegetables and spices. Remember, much as we’re tempted, grilling your meat creates nitrosamines which are carcinogens. If you MUST grill, a recent study shows nitrosamines were cut in half when beef was pre-soaked in beer, of all things! Don’t forget about jerky either, which can be delicious and nutritious when prepared (dried) naturally, without artificial preservatives or more than “a pinch” of salt.
Game, like bison, wild boar or venison, is another good source of muscle building protein, as well as being lower in fat and inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids than beef. As an added bonus, game is usually naturally free-range and grass-fed.
Some cuts of pork, like tenderloin or sirloin roast, are also good choices, ideally roasted or braised. Avoid processed pork, though, as it tends to be high in salt and preservatives.
Glutamine is an amino acid which helps to build muscle and increases the bcaa leucine in muscle fibers. Higher levels of leucine reduce muscle breakdown and fatigue, and boosts the immune system. Glutamine also helps the body to utilize anti-oxidants and balance blood sugar. It is an important amino acid when it comes to protecting the intestinal lining.
Glutamine can also be found in several different types of animal proteins, including the ones already mentioned above – eggs, fish, and meat such as beef, pork and chicken, especially organ meats like liver.
Soy, Legumes, Grains, Vegetables-non-meat proteins:
If you’re not a fan of animal proteins (like me), remember you can also get muscle building proteins from non-animal sources. Vegetables such as spinach, parsley, beets and cabbage are great sources of glutamine. Eat them raw though as heat drastically reduces the availability of the glutamine.
Beans and legumes are also particularly good sources of glutamine. However for “serious bodybuilders”, beans should be limited due to their association with leaky gut. (This is due to lectin content). Nuts are also wonderful glutamine sources and are healthy for your brain, with walnuts being recently classified as one of the top brain health foods. The healthiest nuts are tree nuts like almonds or walnuts. Remember that peanuts are actually legumes, so they don’t make the healthy nuts list.
Quinoa looks like a grain, but is actually a seed. It is a powerhouse of vegetable protein and has other important muscle building nutrients like magnesium, vitamin B6 and iron. Sprouted grains are always the way to go for adherence to the diet plan I recommend to lower inflammation. Tempeh is a soy-based product that is very high in protein and low in fat.
Ideally, the majority of your muscle building protein should come from the food you eat. That includes of course the whey protein shakes you drink. There are certain circumstances when supplements can really make a difference though.
If you’re a bodybuilder, you may want a boost of bcaa’s direct into your bloodstream. This means taking it as a muscle building protein supplement.
In supplement form, there needs to be a ratio of 2-parts leucine to 1-part isoleucine and 1-part valine.
Studies have proven that bcaa supplementation improves fat loss, endurance, DOMS, and even lowers catabolic cortisol levels.
A weight training athlete is just “fine” with one 5 gram serving of BCAA bodybuilding powder prior to a workout.
However, a bodybuilder training hard needs 2-3, 5 gram servings daily for maximal results.
As a FYI our BCAA powder contains l-glutamine for a double dose of muscle!
Although our body makes enough carnitine from the food we eat for our basic functions, if you want extra muscle, you will need more. The form the body can use is acetyl-L-carnitine. It’s best combined with carbs as it needs insulin secretion to be properly absorbed. Please don’t take l-carnitine (meaning without the acetyl group) supplements as they might be linked to lower GI tract cancer.
Taking acetyl-l-carnitine before weight training increases the oxygen content in your muscle tissues, according to a small, double-blind trial in the “Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition” May 2010 issue.
Acetyl L Carnitine has also been shown to help burn stored fat. It also forces additional fats and fatty acids into your cellular mitochondria, which allows for even more fat burning.
As a muscle building protein supplement, take it with breakfast, before and after your workout, and with meals at night.
I a footnote about this amazing amino acid. It helps protect your brain from things like high cortisol, alcohol, and other toxins.
It increases neural transmission speed. Also, it helps increase BDNF (brain derived neurotrophic factor).
Furthermore, it is am amazing non-stimulant energy boosting supplement. It lowers blood sugar and cholesterol. I believe it should be part of everyone’s supplement regimen, not just those trying to build muscle.
Our body produces a fair amount of glutamine, enough for its daily needs, but it needs more under any form of physical stress, which includes extreme exercise. If you’re an elite athlete or suffer from leaky gut, you will want to take it as a supplement too. Bodybuilders are especially prone to over-training. Usually, the only warning sign of the ominous things to come is a slightly high heart rate. Studies show that bodybuilding glutamine supplementation may reduce the effects of over-training syndrome. This works by increasing the rate of muscle recovery following exercise becuase it increases the rate of protein synthesis in the muscles.
As a muscle building protein supplement, L-glutamine is the form that the body can metabolize. It can be taken throughout the day: with breakfast, before and after your workout, and before bed. Bodybuilders should ingest 10 to 15 grams of L-Glutamine per day – supplementing it 2 to 3 times daily, with each serving at around 2 grams during normal training and 4 grams pre-contest.
Is this the full list of bodybuilding and weight lifting supplements which are useful? Nope, but this article focuses on what you are eating, primarily. You can check out the article just linked for “the list” and general benefits.
If you’d like details on anything discussed above just search the blog or the information A-Z section. You can search for anything, like if want to know about nitric oxide benefits via supplementation, or what causes muscle soreness and how to relieve it. You’ll find your answer. If not, just email me!