How to Supplement with Protein

Importance of Protein Supplementation in Exercise

Protein powder or a weight loss shake mix spilling out from a meausring cup

Protein Supplementation can aid immensely in muscle soreness and recovery after conditioning or strenuous training. Supplementation over the years has been gaining popularity as performance enhancing and meal replacements, but many people don’t supplement properly. Anyone can supplement with protein, but it is most beneficial to athletes, exercisers, or people performing hard, strenuous work. Proper supplementation is important to gain the maximum benefits of protein and to promote greater protein synthesis and muscle recovery.

The Science Behind Protein, Muscle Building, and Muscle Recovery


Muscle is made up of proteins and protein is made up of essential amino acids. Amino acids play a major role in powering exercise, muscle anabolism, and muscle recovery.

When muscles endure work during strength training or cardiovascular exercise, they breakdown  protein breakdown) because it requires energy use from the muscles to produce the work. You must first break down muscle before it can build, because the building occurs during muscle repair. This occurs during muscle repair as the body builds muscle stronger to attempt preventing the muscle break down from happening again.

When the muscles are broken down past their strength and ability, lactic acid is released and causes muscle soreness. The muscles may become sore hours or days after the strenuous exercises was completed (DOMS: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) and delays muscle recovery, repair, and muscle building. The goal of maximizing gains out of exercise is to reduce/eliminate muscle soreness and increase net protein synthesis. Protein synthesis (muscle anabolism) is the building up of muscle and repair of muscle from exercise, but it only possible when protein synthesis is greater than protein breakdown (net protein synthesis).

Why Supplement with Protein?

  • Resistance Training alone does not create net protein synthesis because muscle protein breakdown is greater than muscle protein synthesis.
  • Supplementation can reverse protein degradation in muscle to protein synthesis by 150-640%
  • It provides positive effects in post-exercise by promoting recovery and the adaptive response through an increase in muscle protein accretion, although the effects are only short-term. Continuous supplementation is needed for continued benefits.
  • There are beneficial effects of reduced muscle soreness. Markers of muscle damage become more evident when protein supplements are consumed after daily exercise.
  • Essential amino acids with carbohydrates stimulate muscle protein anabolism by increasing muscle protein synthesis when ingested 1-3 hours after resistance exercise.

How to Choose a Good Protein Supplement

  • Choose a type of protein that fits your dietary restrictions (all of the types below are gluten-free, but be sure to watch the company and flavor as some may add gluten)
  • Should contain as few ingredients as possible (The fewer the ingredients, the more natural and more emphasis on protein. If there is more added ingredients, they may be harmful on the body, provide unnecessary calories, and can promote fat production)
  • About 20 g of protein per serving (The body can only absorb about 20g of protein at once. Anything extra may be wasted or turned into fat)
  • Less than 5 g of sugar (Preferably 0 g. Many companies add unnecessary sugary ingredients for flavor. A lot of sugar can counteract protein affects and promote fat production)
  • Less than 150 calories (Preferably 90-120 calories. Anymore calories than this are from added ingredients that may promote fat production)
  • Other supplementation options are amino acids. These may be bought in powder or capsule and may be taken before and/or after strenuous exercise.


When Should You Supplement?

  • Never use protein powders and supplements as a meal replacement! This may limit and prevent the body from gaining the necessary amount of protein and nutrients that it needs. Dietary protein from a normal diet are essential to your health, and supplementation should be used as additional protein to the diet to aid muscle function. Consume enough protein to allow muscles to recover WITHOUT becoming sore.
  • Within 3 hours of any strenuous exercises (within 30 minutes is optimal)
  • Supplement 1-3 times per day


  • Pasiakos, Stefan M., Lieberman, Harris R., McLellan, Tom M. “Effects of Protein Supplements on Muscle Damage, Soreness and Recovery of Muscle Function and Physical Performance: A Systematic Review.” Sports Med. Vol. 44, No. 5, 2014. Pp. 655-670
  • Negro, Massimo, et al. “Protein Supplementation with Low Fat Meat after Resistance Training: Effects on Body Composition and Strength.” Nutrients. Vol. 6, No. 8, 2014. Pp. 3040-3049
  • Rasmussen, Blake B., Tipton, Kevin B., Miller, Sharon L., et al. “An Oral Essential Amino Acid-Carbohydrate Supplement Enhances Muscle Protein Anabolism After Resistance Exercise.” American Journal of Physiology. Vol. 88, 2000. Pp. 386-392
  • Tipton, Kevin D., Ferrando, Arny A., Phillips, Stuart M., et al. “Postexercise net Protein Synthesis in Human Muscle from Orally Administered Amino Acids.” American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology And Metabolism. Vol. 276, No. 4, 1999. pp. 628-634
  • Cribb, Paul J., and Alan Hayes. “Effects of Supplement-Timing and Resistance Exercise on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy.” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Vol. 38, No. 11, 2006. pp. 1918-1925

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