Protein plays a vital role in building muscle, but how does it really work? Let’s start with the basics.
The terms muscle mass and lean body mass are often thrown around and used interchangeably, but they’re different. All muscle is ‘lean,’ primarily composed of proteins, however lean body mass (LBM) refers to your total weight minus the weight composed of fat mass. Skeletal muscle mass (SMM) is part of your LBM but are only the muscles that are controlled voluntarily for movement and posture. When thinking about gaining muscle, you’re referring to your SMM, as an increase in LBM can be a result of water weight.
So, what is protein and why is it important for muscle growth?
Protein is a macronutrient built from amino acids, which are stitched together in long chains. The body can manufacture many of those amino acids, however there are nine amino acids, known as the essential amino acids (EAA) which can’t be made in the body. These amino acids must be consumed through food from sources like beans, meat, soy, nuts, or eggs. Eggs are considered a high-quality protein because they are one of the few foods that contain all nine of the essential amino acids in the correct rations.
Leucine is the amino acid responsible for a lot of the muscle-building process. It is known as the leucine trigger concept because enough leucine triggers muscle protein synthesis. Protein synthesis is a process in which protein is produced to repair muscle damage caused by intense exercise, it is the opposite of muscle protein breakdown (MPB) where protein is lost as a result of exercise. Scientists measure the intensity of exercise by one-repetition maximum (1-RM), meaning the maximum weight you can lift for one rep. Even when exercising to failure, low intensity exercise will do little to increase muscle protein synthesis (MPS) so therefore won’t increase muscle mass.
MPS can be enhanced by increasing your protein intake immediately after exercise. The amino acids from the protein will be transported to your muscles, replacing any lost during exercise. This can also help improve recovery, performance, and endurance. Many studies have been undertaken to examine the role of protein in building muscle. A study published in the journal Nutrients, found that protein intake ‘was shown to promote additional gains in lean body mass beyond those observed with resistance exercise alone.’ Protein can also play a role in weight loss. Studies suggest that eating protein can increase the number of calories you burn by stimulating your metabolic rate.
One large egg contains 50 grams of protein. To put that in perspective, the average sedentary man is recommended to consume 50 grams of protein per day and the average sedentary woman 46 grams. However, protein intake varies for each individual and relies on a number of factors. You can find out your recommended protein intake using a protein calculator.
The way in which eggs are prepped can actually affect protein absorption. A study looked into how much protein was absorbed from cooked eggs compared to raw eggs. The results showed that participants absorbed 90% of the protein from cooked eggs compared to only 50% from raw eggs. For some inspiration check out the recipes on our blog and follow us on Instagram for more - every fortnight we share recipes you can make using egg whites!