Exercising, lifting weights, and eating a protein rich diet are all well known methods to build muscle. Did you know that there are two processes that occur on a cellular level in our bodies that allow us to reach these goals? Those are muscle protein synthesis, and muscle protein breakdown. Sounds technical, but it’s not really! Let’s take a look at muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown. 

Muscle protein synthesis is essentially just the process of producing new muscle protein and building muscle mass. It’s the most important factor for muscle growth, but breakdown also has to happen in order for you to gain more muscle. 

In a nutshell, when there’s more muscle protein synthesis happening than muscle protein breakdown, your muscles will grow.

Woman adding protein powder to her bottle in the gym

How diet impacts muscle protein synthesis

Muscle protein synthesis is when aminos acids are converted into skeletal muscle. Protein is the most important macronutrient to gain muscle mass. That is, protein allows muscle protein synthesis to take place. Protein contains amino acids which are necessary for muscle protein synthesis. So that means a diet which contains all the essential amino acids in high amounts can help you build muscle. Protein from animal sources contain the most essential amino acids. 

Along with essential amino acids, there are three ‘branched chain’ amino acids which are crucial for muscle protein synthesis too: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. You might have seen leucine in various protein shakes or supplements. That’s because research shows it’s the most beneficial of the three branched chain amino acids. After ingesting foods rich in protein, leucine’s job is to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. 

The role of protein in the diet

Protein shakes have gained a lot of popularity since they are a quick and easy way to obtain the necessary amino acids needed for repair. Different protein supplements have different compositions though. Some might include branched chain amino acids, whey protein, soy protein, casein protein, pea protein, and more. Or even a mixture! 

Man choosing a protein powder in a sports nutrition store from a variety of different options

Whey protein is considered a very high quality protein. It’s a popular choice due to its high composition of essential amino acids, branched chain amino acids, and high leucine content. Opting for one of the whey varieties will ensure you’re getting a complete protein. However, some people prefer non-dairy proteins, especially if they’re vegan or have a dairy intolerance. And some people might choose other forms of protein supplements depending on their goals. 

While it’s easy to choose supplemental forms of amino acids due to convenience, there are also plenty of foods that have essential amino acids. 

Protein is largely found in animal products including dairy and eggs. When you actually consume your protein and how you spread it throughout the day also has an effect on muscle protein synthesis. Plus, the other nutrients you consume alongside protein can make a difference too.

Of course, a balanced diet can contain both supplements and whole foods. You wouldn’t want to live on just protein shakes, but might find it hard to reach protein goals just through whole foods. 

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The effects of exercise on muscle protein synthesis

Muscle protein synthesis occurs after exercise, as well as after a protein-rich meal. We’ve already looked at how eating protein can help you build muscle through protein synthesis. So what role does exercise play?

There are two different forms of exercises, anaerobic and aerobic. Anaerobic exercises are resistance and strength training.Aerobic exercises are cardio, like running. Resistance (anaerobic) exercises are more beneficial for muscle growth specifically. 

Most studies have focused heavily on strength or resistance training and its relationship with muscle protein synthesis. It has been mentioned that small bouts of resistance exercise does stimulate the process, but it is the consumption of protein after that is responsible for synthesis. So while exercise is important, eating enough protein (especially after your workout) shouldn’t be overlooked. 

different sources of protein including meat, fish, nuts, and vegetables all laid out on a table

Be in the know: why should we be aware?

Exercise and diet are both important factors when it comes to muscle protein synthesis and muscle growth. Understanding how diet and exercise impact these processes can help you easily attain your goals. 

Protein is vital when it comes to muscle growth, and pairing it with strength or resistance exercises can speed up the process of gaining muscle mass. 

Not sure how to include more protein in your diet? Samsung Food has loads of high protein recipes and the nutrition information for each recipe is readily available, so you can make more informed choices. Download the app for free now to check it out!

As always, it is important to speak with a professional about any concerns or changes to your diet and exercise program.