Protein helps to build muscle. There's no question about it. The main function of protein is to help maintain, replace and grow body tissue.
Think of protein as the building material you need in order to build your foundation. Like any building material, the quality and quantity matters.
Quality building material will build a better foundation while the more of it you have, will ensure you don't run out.
Protein also has other uses such as helping to promote water balance, regulating hormone secretion, regulating blood clotting and other properties but all in all, it's main purpose is to help build body tissue. So, this is the question, Is protein all you need to build muscle?.
I was cruising around the message boards the other day and I stumbled on a particularly popular board and one of the members asked the question I need a nutrition plan to build muscle mass - What should I be eating?. There were about 10 answers all saying generally the same thing which was along the lines of Eat more protein or Eat a lot of protein. This got me thinking about how I was taught the basics of nutrition.
I guess you can say I got a weight room education about how to approach nutrition. I was basically told, ( it was pounded into my head), that if I wanted to build muscle mass, I had to eat a lot of protein. When you think about it, you'd think that it was only protein that would be responsible for growth. Is this the right line of thought?
Over the years I've come to realize that this is the wrong approach for me, and for many others. To tell you the truth, protein is but only a part of an equation for building quality muscle mass. I think the more protein you have the better attitude is very misleading for most aspiring weight trainers. I'll be the first to say that you need 1) Quality protein; And 2) Enough Protein if you want to build quality muscle mass. However, equally important are the other macro nutrients, which are carbohydrates and fats. Balance is the true key to building quality muscle mass.
I like to think of building muscle mass akin to building a house. In order to build a house, you need blueprints of what you need to build. The same goes for building your body - You need direction. To build a quality house, you need building materials. Choose crappy materials and your going to have a sub par house. The same goes with building your body. You need to choose quality protein sources.
Ok, you have your building materials so you now need to build the house. You need carpenters and house builders to properly put your house together. You basically need to right workers to build the house. Without the necessary workers to build the house, the job won't get done. This goes the same for building muscle - You need carbohydrates in order to move your workers, which are your muscles.
Choosing bad workers who show up late, drunk, or don't show up at all, your not going to get your house built. The same goes for your choice of carbohydrates. Choose the wrong one and your workers (muscles), aren't going to perform well. Choose the right ones, and you'll build a lot of quality muscle mass.
You can't have a quality house without insulation and electrical. Think of fat as your insulation and electrical work. Fat insulates and protects your body while being a transport for your fat soluble vitamins. I'll be very honest with you, fats are essential to building hard, dense, and healthy muscle mass. You simply can't build quality muscle mass without having enough quality fats.
I can't stress the importance of having enough quality carbohydrates in your system. Carbohydrates are your bodies preferred fuel source and it's this fuel source that will get you through a mind blowing leg workout or a shoulder busting deltoids workout. Without a quality fuel source, your workouts are going to lagging. Think of it this way. Protein doesn't really have anything to do with the quality of your actual workouts. I mean they do, but only in a secondary role capacity. When your going through a gut busting leg workout, the nutrient responsible for having the necessary energy to power up the weights are carbohydrates - Not protein.
Carbohydrates is that one nutrient that allows you to have super workout while protein is responsible for dealing with the aftermath of that workout. Protein will help repair and build your muscle after your body has been pummelled with the weights. The more muscle energy (carbohydrates) you have to lift heavier weights, the more muscle you can potentially build with protein.
I will never understand why aspiring weight trainers load up on protein but forego quality carbohydrates. I blame the muscle magazines for spreading this information but who knows, weight room nutrition is pretty widespread.
Can you see where I'm going with this? Here's a simple muscle building nutritional equation:
Quality Protein + Quality Carbohydrates + Quality Fats = Huge Muscle Growth
This is the only way your going to build quality muscle mass. Having too much of one and not enough of another will be detrimental to your muscle building efforts. Here's a great article on eating to build maximum muscle mass and burning optimal levels of fat .
What I wanted to stress with this article was that you need all three macro nutrients in order to build muscle and not just protein. Protein is absolutely needed to build muscle but you also need quality fuel in order to provide your body with the necessary energy (which protein doesn't do - it can but that's a different story).
In this newsletter, I've provided a very advanced technique called negatives which can dramatically boost your strength levels. However, you need a huge amount of quality carbohydrates in order to generate the necessary amount of energy to lift the weights. Without enough fuel, you're not going to get the most from this technique. This is an example of why you need quality carbohydrates as well as quality protein to build muscle mass.
For more information, please see building muscle 101's diet and nutrition page here .
All the best,