Do you want to build lean muscle mass? If so then you might want to use dietary supplements like protein powders and branched-chain amino acid (BCAA) tablets. It’s important to know whether or not protein or amino acids are better options for muscle building. It might be tough to sort out since muscles certainly need protein. On the other hand, amino acids are the building blocks of protein. If you want to build muscles then it’s important to know which type of dietary supplement is a better option and why. This will help you get stronger and reach your fitness goals.
The relationship between muscles, protein, and amino acids is seen in how the body breaks them down. Protein and amino acids are both involved in the process of muscle building. For example, you can consume different high-protein foods like lean meats, fatty fish, chicken eggs, firm tofu, and Greek yogurt. These are all high in protein but the body can’t absorb the foods without first breaking them down. This involves breaking them down into peptides then into amino acids. So the big question is: should you take amino acid supplements to build protein, or protein to build muscles? The answer could be the key to bigger muscles.
Amino Acids, Complete Proteins, and Lean Muscle
These are all important issues to take up before weighing the muscle-building benefits of amino acids and proteins. One of the main goals of weightlifting and bodyweight exercises is to build lean muscle mass. The process involves hitting the gym, doing push-ups/pull-ups, or high-intensity interval training (HITT).
There’s no question you’ll have to do some sort of strength training in order to gain muscle. The types you pick are up to you. Some people prefer to lift weights whether it’s using barbells/dumbbells or Universal home gyms. Others want to do workouts without weights, which can include various bodyweight exercises.
You’ll also have to push your muscles to the limit when doing workouts. This creates small tears in the muscle fibers, which cause you to wake up with sore muscles the next day. It’s a good thing! The continuous process of tearing/repairing muscles is what results in lean muscle mass.
However, it’s often been said that what you do during the 23 hours you don’t exercise is even more important. This involves getting enough sleep, staying hydrated, and avoiding high-stress levels.
Another key factor is to maintain a healthy and well-balanced diet. This includes making sure you’re getting good food sources of carbs, protein, and fat. In fact, real food is always the best source of nutrients including vitamins, minerals, enzymes, antibiotics, and probiotics.
Protein isn’t the most important macronutrient overall. However, if you want to build lean muscle mass you’ll have to boost your protein intake. More specifically if you want to grow your muscles you’ll have to feed them with the nutrients they need.
This should involve boosting your protein somewhat. The amount of protein you need for muscle-building is often exaggerated. Even if you’re a bodybuilder getting 1.7g of protein per kg of body weight, consuming 30% of your calories from protein is still quite high.
Muscle Building: Protein or Amino Acids?
As noted, it’s important to get the vast majority of your nutrients/protein from real food. That includes:
- Whole Grains
Your diet should also include a blend of animal and plant-based proteins. Animal proteins tend to be “complete” proteins since they include all 9 essential amino acids (EAAs) needed daily. Plant-based proteins are usually “incomplete” proteins and must be combined to turn them into complete proteins.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat your veggies. Besides their protein, you can also get lots of other nutrients from them like fiber, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.
The relationship between proteins and amino acids is shown in how the body breaks them down. When you eat high-protein foods the body can’t absorb the protein in its original form. So it must first break down into “peptide” chains. Then it breaks down peptides into amino acid chains. It then breaks them down into individual amino acids.
It’s a complex process that can also include dietary supplements. There are several forms like:
The particular form you pick depends on the one that’s most practical and convenient for you. For example, if you like healthy beverages then a protein/amino protein powder would be a good option.
Are protein or amino acid supplements better? It’s important to get most of your protein/aminos from real food. As their name suggests the supplements should only “add” to this foundation of animal/plant protein sources.
One of the main benefits of protein supplements is you’ll usually be getting a complete protein with all 9 EAAs. This is generally a good option because there are several options like beef, egg, soy, pea, and whey/casein (milk).
However, amino supplements also offer some benefits. If you have an amino deficiency based on an illness/disease, for example, you can boost your intake of that amino acid using a supplement.
Key Issues for Protein/Amino Supplements
You can go with complete proteins like whey, beef, or soybean, or incomplete proteins like BCAAs or Leucine. There’s no right or wrong option. What’s critical is that you get enough of all 20 amino acids, which is needed for building lean muscle mass.
In recent years BCAA supplements have been trending. There’s some debate about whether they’re the best choice for muscle building. The “problem” is if you’re not getting enough of the other EAAS it won’t matter that you’re getting more of Leucine, Isoleucine, and Valine.
Not all dietary supplements have the same nutritional value. When picking a supplement make sure to check for issues like quality, purity, and natural/organic.
For example, while protein powders can help add the macro-nutrient to your body, they can also have lots of unhealthy stuff like sugar and artificial colors/flavors. Make sure to read ingredient labels and nutrition facts when picking your protein/amino supplement.
There are different forms like tablets, powders, and liquids. They provide various pros/cons. Protein powders are good for options like a meal replacement. You can combine the powder to make a shake or smoothie, and add lots of other stuff like fruit, seeds, and yogurt.
Meanwhile, tablets/capsules provide more convenience. You could take a BCAA tablet 30 minutes after breakfast as part of your muscle-building supplement stack. Capsules are better for pre/post-workout supplements since the body absorbs them faster.
It’s highly recommended that you consult your doctor before starting any dietary supplements. The reason is he/she can check which supplements/medicines you’re already taking for any “interactions.” These are possible side-effects that could result from combining a protein supplement and prescription med, for example.
You should also make sure to follow the recommended dosage. Even over-the-counter (OTC) supplements can cause health issues when a high amount is consumed whether it’s a protein or amino acids.