If you want to maximize and step up your training efforts to gain muscle, you are going to need protein! Protein is one of the three macronutrients, with carbohydrates and fats, which provide us with the energy to move, breathe and live active lives. To help supplement dietary protein requirements and to meet your weight training goals, protein powders have become a staple of competitive athletes and recreational gym-goers.
In celebration of the 2022 Olympic games, we collaborated with three-time Olympian and world champion, Karen Furneaux, to help with the question, “what is the best protein powder for muscle gain?” We discuss the importance of protein and what to consider when selecting meat, whey, and plant protein sources for your lifestyle and fitness goals.
Why Do We Need Protein?
Every cell in the human body contains protein. Proteins are made up of a chain of amino acids, which determine the structure and function of proteins. There are 22 amino acids that our bodies cannot manufacture, and we must get them from food.
Protein is essential for your body to function, and includes the following benefits:
- Protein supports a healthy immune system.
- Protein is vital for growth and development.
- Muscle is mostly made of protein. To build and maintain muscle mass, you need to consistently ingest adequate amounts of protein.
- Protein is fibrous, meaning it provides connective tissues with strength and protection.
- If your goal is to build lean muscle mass, protein helps manage weight because it positively influences the hormones that affect appetite. Protein helps lower levels of ghrelin, the hunger hormone. Lower ghrelin levels can help prevent overeating, which often results in weight gain. Protein can also promote healthy peptide YY levels, which can help you feel fuller, faster.
- You need protein in your diet to help your body repair cells and make new ones.
How Much Protein Should an Adult Take a Day?
Originally the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein was 0.80 g of “good quality protein” per kg of body weight per day (g/kg/day). However, results derived from improved methodologies, such as the indicator amino acid oxidation technique, suggest higher protein intakes (1.2-1.6 g/kg/day) to optimize health above and beyond simply meeting minimal needs for the general population.
Protein Intake for Muscle Gain
A growing body of research indicates that protein intake well above the current RDA helps to promote healthy aging, appetite regulation, weight management, and goals aligned with athletic performance. Higher protein intakes may help prevent age-related sarcopenia, the loss of muscle mass, frailty, disability, and loss of autonomy. Higher protein diets lessen the hunger feeling and lead to greater reductions in body weight and fat mass than standard protein diets and can help prevent obesity.
Muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown rates are highly influenced by physical activity and food intake. The timing of your protein intake may also influence muscle gains, as the protein cell turnover rate, or the rate at which cells are depleted versus regenerated, is highest within about an hour after a workout. Research has demonstrated increased protein synthesis with doses of 6 to 40 grams of protein following a workout.
Plant vs. Animal Protein
For the purposes of this blog, animal protein refers to protein derived from animals, including meat, and whey protein – a byproduct of the cheese-making process, typically found in powder form.
After much research, I cannot find any study that proves a major difference between animal and plant protein in terms of their effectiveness for weight gain and increased muscle mass. This would make sense because protein from meat comes from cows who eat grass and grains. Whey protein comes from dairy, and those cows eat the same grass and grains. Everything begins with plants. Both animal and plant proteins are made up of about 20 common amino acids. Whatever your preference is, make sure you eat high-quality protein and the proper amount daily. Furthermore, there are several health benefits to consider when choosing protein sources.
Data and current findings support the importance of protein sources for long-term health outcomes and suggest that plants constitute a preferred protein source compared to animal foods.
Benefits of plant protein include:
- Plants have minimal heart disease risk.
- Decreased type-2 diabetes risk from eating plant protein. Unlike animal protein, plant protein has not been associated with increased insulin-like growth factors levels. It has been linked to lower blood pressure, reduced low-density lipoprotein levels, and improved insulin sensitivity. Substitution of plant protein for animal proteins has been related to lower incidences of CVD and type-2 diabetes.
- Plant protein has some physiologically active components, such as protease inhibitors, phytosterols, saponins and isoflavones. These components have been reported to demonstrate lipid-lowering effects, increased LDL cholesterol oxidization and have beneficial effects on lowering blood pressure.
- Arginine in plants has a cholesterol-lowering effect.
- Fiber, which is only found in plant sources, helps in balancing out your digestive system. The overall health of a person will improve by consuming more plant-based proteins.
- Environmentally, producing plant protein requires less land, water, energy, and natural resources than producing animal protein.
- The global supply of high-quality mineable phosphorus used as part of fertilizers for food production could be depleted in 50-100 years if consumption rates continue. Vegetarian diets require less phosphorus to produce than meat diets.
- Inflammation contributes to many diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, and cancer. During the cooking process, high-fat, high-protein animal foods also develop advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which contribute to inflammation and degenerative diseases like diabetes and atherosclerosis.”
- Meat products possess increased saturated fat and cholesterol levels compared to plant sources.
- Lysine, which is more prevalent in animal proteins, has been shown to increase cholesterol levels.
- Whey protein can cause digestive issues, such as bloating.
- Whey protein contains allergens, such as lactose.
- Whey from milk is less nutrient-dense compared to plant protein.
- The processing treatments used to commercially produce plant proteins, such as a plant protein concentrate or isolate, inactivate up to 80% of trypsin inhibitor activity in raw protein flour. These treatments can improve digestibility up to the point that it is comparable with animal proteins.
Does Plant Protein Provide Proper Nutrition?
If you are a vegan, you may have trouble getting enough protein in your diet. Hemp, soy, and rice protein powders can help boost your intake to reach the minimum 10% of daily calories from protein recommended by the Institute of Medicine.
Consuming a balanced vegetarian or vegan diet that includes a variety of plant protein sources has consistently been shown to be nutritionally adequate in terms of providing sufficient amounts of essential amino acids.
Brown rice is a grain that contains natural starches and proteins, the difference being that brown rice still contains its bran or natural fiber content. Since brown rice protein powder is considered hypo-allergenic, it may also make an excellent choice for individuals with dairy, soy and/or gluten allergies.
Hemp is a common powdered protein supplement that you can add to smoothies and other dishes. As hemp contains all the essential amino acids – amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and the essential amino acids are ones your body can’t make – hemp is a complete protein.
What to Look for When Choosing a Protein Powder?
When considering a protein powder, I would look at the nutritional facts to ensure it contains high-quality organic protein sources and to check the BCAA’s (branched-chain amino acid content) in the product to assess its quality and assure it contains the essential amino acids. Nine amino acids – histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine – known as the essential amino acids, must come from food.
If muscle gain is your reason for taking protein as well as a good exercise program, I suggest you make a smoothie with a high-quality protein powder and add organic plant-based vitamins and minerals as well as your favourite fruits for added calories and carbs.
To help you further with your decision of what is the best protein powder for muscle gain, Canadian Olympic athlete and world champion, Karen Furneaux shares her perspectives on protein powders and how she maintains and ‘grows’ muscle!
As a three-time Olympic athlete, I spent my entire career trying to be as strong and as powerful as I could be, and since I retired from professional sport, that has not changed.
The 2022 Olympic Games are here, and I could not be more excited to watch the athletes compete, given all that the world has been through together in these past two years. Political agendas and world issues aside, the Olympic Games and, specifically, the stories of the athletes, have a way of igniting a fire deep in my core, reconnecting me to hope, and reaffirming my path.
I truly hope that 2022 is a celebration of the human spirit and our collective resilience. Cue all the late-night TV broadcasts and web feed/social media updates!
I love moving my body, and I try to balance my training with yoga and other recovery methods so that I feel my absolute best to show up and do the work that matters most to me.
I am a 45-years-young active female who identifies as an athlete. My health and well-being are my most important values.
Building muscle is very dependent on hormones, particularly testosterone. Females have lower testosterone than males and less testosterone as they approach menopause. When it comes to maintaining and building muscle mass after age 40, one of the most important components to consider is the protein in one’s diet. Muscles are made up of protein and are broken down as we exercise.
A high-quality protein powder can be much healthier than protein bars, which are often loaded with sugar. Middle-aged women also need more protein than their younger counterparts to maintain muscle. This is where protein supplementation to diet comes in, but choosing a high-quality protein supplement is important.
I add protein powder to my recipes, sauces, curries, muffins, smoothies and even to my hot chocolate! Any chance to amp up protein!
My personal preference is plant-based, organic protein, and the key I look for is that the ingredients come from real, whole food sources. Look for ingredients that you can pronounce and can identify!
For me, a combination of healthy nutrition choices, nutritional supplements, movement, and exercise that I enjoy, combined with appropriate rest, helps me to continue to feel and perform my best.
So, what is the best protein powder for muscle gain?
The one that you trust, enjoy, and will use!
Nova Scotia Organics plant-based protein powder is my choice.
It is a product that I trust, and 100% stand behind!
Get the scoop on our Nova Scotia Organics plant-based protein powders
Nancy Smithers | President and founder of Nova Scotia Organics. With over 25 years of experience, Nancy has an encyclopedic knowledge of organics, plants, and herbs. Her greatest wish is for you to reach your health and wellness goals.
Karen Furneaux | Canadian Olympian, Sports Hall of Fame Athlete and International Speaker. She helps individuals and teams connect to the gold within through keynotes, workshops and wellness programs.
Nova Scotia Organics brand ambassador