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Protein Synthesis for Muscle Growth

By Deidre Bloomquist August 13, 2020

When thinking about increasing muscle mass and getting stronger, one thing we need to consider is muscle protein synthesis and how to optimize its effects on our recovering muscles. Muscle Protein Synthesis is the biological process that allows us to build new muscle tissue. Muscle Protein Synthesis occurs in response to putting stress on our muscle as we do during resistance training or other strenuous exercise. During post-work recovery, protein synthesis uses straight amino acids or amino acids from proteins to repair, rebuild and grow muscle mass.   

Let’s take a closer look at muscle protein synthesis, how to optimize its effectiveness and maximize its results to boost muscle growth.

MUSCLE PROTEIN SYNTHESIS THE BIOLOGICAL PROCESS

When growing muscle mass and strength is the goal, understanding how to optimize protein synthesis in muscles is important for reaching this goal.

A mentioned above, muscle protein synthesis is the biological process that repairs and rebuilds muscle tissue and builds new protein cells with amino acids. This biological process happens because of the physical stress we place on our muscles which creates micro-tears to our muscle tissue during training.

Amino acids are small molecules that combine to form proteins, and they’re constantly being disassembled and reassembled in your body. When the amino acids in muscle tissue are broken down during exercise, this is referred to as muscle protein breakdown. This results in muscle soreness, but also also for the need to repair, and ultimately grow muscle fibers. In order to see muscle growth, protein synthesis must be occurring at rates higher than that of protein breakdown.

In other words, when your body synthesizes (creates) more muscle proteins than it loses, you have gained muscle. When it creates fewer than it loses, you lose muscle. And when it creates more or less the same number as it lost, you have neither gained nor lost muscle.

In this way, your body moves between anabolic and catabolic states throughout the day. To be in an anabolic state is to be in the building up state of metabolism, while being in a catabolic state is to be in the breaking down state of metabolism. Therefore, when it comes to building muscle mass, the goal is to stay out of a catabolic state where muscles protein, and therefore mass, is being broken down, especially if it is at a faster rate than proteins are able to be synthesized.

Under normal health and dietary circumstances, muscle tissue is fairly stable and the cycle of cellular regeneration remains balanced. The processes of breakdown and synthesis are simultaneously happening in the body at all times, but promoting synthesis and anabolism through diet and supplementation is one of the best ways to promote muscle mass gain.

HOW TO IMPROVE PROTEIN SYNTHESIS & ANABOLISM

Muscle protein synthesis is influenced by exercise and food consumption more than muscle protein breakdown in healthy athletes. It’s important to note that protein ingestion does not directly inhibit muscle protein breakdown. While protein intake can decrease muscle protein breakdown, this is because it increases the insulin concentration in response to food intake.

Maximizing the post-exercise increase in muscle protein synthesis, especially of the contractile muscle fibers, is essential to facilitate effective muscle remodeling, and enhance hypertrophic gains with resistance training. Dietary amino acid ingestion is the single most important nutritional variable enhancing post-exercise rates of muscle protein synthesis, with studies showing that 20 grams of high quality, rapidly digested protein maximizes mixed, and myofibrillar protein synthetic rates.

An ideal property of amino acid supplements is the ability to time consumption around exercise to provide peak concentrations of amino acids in the blood when the contraction-induced signaling and potential for delivery of amino acids and subsequent incorporation into muscle protein is greatest. The research also supports the consumption of amino acids prior to and during exercise as opposed to following exercise for best results when it comes to protein synthesis.

YOU ARE WHAT YOU DIGEST

In addition to amino acid consumption, protein breakdown is an important component of ensuring anabolism and protein synthesis in the body. We often hear the phrase “you are what you eat,” but the truth is that in many cases “you are what you digest.”

On a basic level, most if not all of the chemical and mechanical breakdown of proteins in the diet happens through adequate chewings, saliva enzymatic processes, stomach acid and pancreatic protease secretion, and stomach churning. When these mechanisms are not functioning properly, proteins can struggle to be broken down to their smaller components, such as amino acids, that are able to be digested. That is that they are able to be absorbed into the bloodstream through the intestinal tract, especially when it comes to whole food sources of protein.

When considering protein consumption on a larger scale than through amino acid supplementation, taking into account digestion capacity is important for ensuring adequate protein is absorbed and utilized to create a positive balance of protein components in the body for synthesis of new muscle fibers.

Some things to consider when looking for digestive dysfunction of protein digestion and absorption include:

  • Belching/gas within one hour of eating
  • Heartburn or acid reflux
  • Bloating within one hour of eating
  • Stomach being upset by vitamins
  • Sense of excess fullness after meals
  • Getting sleepy after meals
  • Having undigested food in stool

Proper protein digestion and absorption can be supported by apple cider vinegar consumption, as well as supplementing with hydrochloric acid, betaine, and pepsin, which all support healthy stomach acid levels for chemical breakdown of proteins.

By promoting adequate protein consumption as well as digestion in the diet to create a surplus of proteins available for synthesizing new muscle fibers, in addition to amino acid supplementation before and during exercise, athletes can best set the stage for protein synthesis to be in a positive balance where muscle fibers are able to grow steadily over time.

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