Men’s Health Lab Approved
To help you find the best whey protein powder, the Mens Health Lab asked a panel of testers made up of gym goers and experts to try a range of whey protein powders for four weeks, before rating them on nutritional content, impact on athletic performance and ease of use.
Our testers also judged on flavour, texture and aroma, because finding a protein powder that tastes decent isnt always easy. Extra points were awarded for packaging, clarity of instructions and nutritional guidance.
The products that passed our rigorous testing process have been stamped with our esteemed MHLab Approved badge below. The remaining whey protein powders have been handpicked by our MH editors, so you’re bound to find one worth trying.
Protein Synthesis And Net Anabolism
This is still not the whole story of protein intake. While amino acids act as the modulators of protein synthesis, there is a limit to how much protein synthesis can be stimulated so there must be another way in which protein can signal growth. Several studies have shown that stimulation of muscle protein fractional synthetic rate can be maxed out with an intake of 20-30 grams of protein.
When determining what is best for muscle growth it is foolish to look solely at protein synthesis rates. Protein intakes that are above the maximum amount required to stimulate synthesis can still be beneficial.
A prevailing thought among bodybuilders is that if you take in too much protein at one time the excess amino acids will just be wasted. This is rather silly when you think about it. Before modern times, humans did not have access to steady protein intakes. Homo sapiens would frequently kill an animal and stuff themselves to capacity with meat.
There was no way to stick this protein away and save it for later, they had to eat it now. It would be rather inefficient of the body to let these amino acids go to waste since significant protein meals could be days apart in these times.
If protein intake continues to increase total anabolism will continue to rise even without a corresponding increase in protein synthesis. This response seems to happen because the continued rise of intracellular amino acid levels signal to limit the rate of protein breakdown.
Musclemary Not Just Protein
Per 30g serving: 114kcal, 18g protein, 8.7g carbohydrates, 1.1g fat
Why: More than just a bog-standard protein powder, this pea and white hemp blend from Muscle Mary contains a variety of vitamins, including all-important B12, which can be tricky to get enough of if youre following a plant-based diet. Its also filled with good stuff like maca, flaxseeds, matcha powder and goji berries, meaning its gentle on the stomach.
Our testers described the vanilla dream flavour as smooth, satisfying and creamy, but very sweet. Note the carb content is higher than many of the protein powders listed here but, on the plus side, it will keep you feeling full for longer.
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But Im More Advanced Than These Geeks
Another frequently heard objection is that people need more protein because they are more experienced than the studied populations. Well, Tarnopolsky et al. used elite bodybuilders and found that less protein was needed than in novice bodybuilders.
In fact, the finding that the more experienced you are, the less protein you need, has been replicated in several studies .
In everyone there is both constant protein synthesis and breakdown. Resistance training causes both breakdown and synthesis to increase, normally with a favorable balance towards synthesis. As you progress in your training, the body becomes more efficient at stopping the breakdown of protein resulting from training. Since less protein now needs to be replenished, this increase in nitrogen retention means less protein is subsequently needed for optimal growth.
Secondly, the more advanced you are, the less protein synthesis increases after training. As you become more muscular and you get closer to your genetic limit, less muscle is built after training. This is very intuitive. The slower you can build muscle, the less protein is needed for optimal growth. It wouldnt make any sense if the body needed more protein to build less muscle, especially considering that the body becomes more efficient at metabolizing protein.
But What About When Cutting
A final objection that is often heard is that these values may be true during bulking or maintenance periods, but cutting requires more protein to maintain muscle mass. Walberg et al. studied cutting weightlifters and they still found 0.73g/lb was sufficient to maintain lean body mass.
A perhaps even more telling study is by Pikosky et al. in 2008. The researchers took a group of endurance trained subjects and had them consume either 0.41 or 0.82g/lb of protein per day. They also added a thousand calories worth of training on top of their regular exercise. So these guys were literally running on a 1000 calorie deficit while drastically increasing their training volume. Talk about a catabolic state Of course the nitrogen balance in the low protein group plummeted. However, the protein intake of 0.82g/lb in the other group completely protected the subjects from muscle loss. Nitrogen balance, whole-body protein turnover and protein synthesis remained unchanged.
A further review of the literature on the optimal protein intake in a deficit can be found in this article of the research on protein by Eric Helms.
As such, there is simply no empirically substantiated reason to think we need more than 0.82g/lb of protein per day when cutting. If anything, you could reason the body should be able to use more protein during bulking periods, because more muscle is being built and a lot of other nutrients are ingested that may enable more protein to be used.
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What Is High Quality Protein
So, this again is a post in itself, and I certainly dont profess to be a prof in nutrition! For an open access discussion on this topic, see here. The basic answer is that for a protein source to be useful it needs to be digestible and useable by the body and have a sufficient amount and variety of amino acids that the body needs. Albumin is one of the most complete proteins, skimmed milk is also good and has shown similar effects as whey on MPS when taken post resistance training. More recent research is looking at plant-based proteins, such as pea, soya and potato.
Incidentally, for a review of the benefits of milk on human performance, check out my friend Dr Lewis James brilliant review article . Whey protein drinks show consistently positive effects on MPS post-exercise and casein is probably more effective for protein synthesis for a prolonged duration. Then theres obviously the 1000s of other vegetable and animal sources. Be sure to check out the open access review above to read about the quality of various other dietary protein sources.
Total Calories To Gain Lean Muscle
All of this means that to gain lean muscle Mikes daily macros should be:
Calories: 2,720Carbs: 330gFat: 75.5g
For the best results its important to eat as close to your required numbers as possible. There are lots of apps now with huge databases that make it easy to monitor your food consumption, and My Fitness Pal is probably the best one for achieving this.
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Boxd Plant Based Pea Pouch
Per 30g serving: 141kcal 21g protein, 5.9g carbohydrates, 1.0g fat
Why: This no-nasties powder is a solid option if youre looking for a plant-based protein supplement without an endless list of artificial sweeteners and additives. Not only will you enjoy a protein hit from the pea protein isolate, but youll also get a substantial amount of your daily recommended vitamins and a mix of electrolytes to help replenish your body post-workout.
Most of our testers rated the double chocolate brownie flavour highly, but a couple found the pea protein taste slightly overwhelming. It also lost some points for ease of use a lack of scoop and no clear instructions made it hard to get the measurements right. If you have a spare scoop knocking about though, this shouldnt be a problem.
Make Calorie And Macro Adjustments To Keep Gaining Muscle But Less Fat
Once youve worked out the calories and macros you need to achieve your goals, its important to remember that these arent going to be your numbers forever. Knowing when and how to adjust them is the key to success, and monitoring your weight is the safest method for achieving this.
So weigh yourself for seven consecutive days at exactly the same time every day in the same circumstances and then work out your average. If your average weight is the same for three weeks in a row then you should think about adjusting your calories, assuming your training is effective and youre adequately recovered from each session.
Only make a slight increase of 100 calories and you can just slap this on top of your carbs or fat intake to see massively improved results from your training without having to work yourself so hard you end up having arms like Popeye.
Instead, this gradual approach will guarantee a leaner and more muscled you using the power of numbers.
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The Right Macronutrient Ratios To Build Lean Muscle
Now that you know the amount of calories you need to gain lean size, your energy requirement should be divided between the three macronutrients protein, fat and carbohydrates. Youre going to eat a certain amount of each, all of which have a caloric value that will add up to your surplus.
Below are the basic guidelines on how to work out your macros.
Protein: 0.8-1.1g per pound of bodyweight.
Fat: 20-30% of your overall calories.
Carbohydrates: These should make up the remainder of your calories.
Lets bring Mike back to break down these ratios further. We know he weighs 180lb and his daily calories needed to gain lean size are 2,720. So, firstly, lets work out his protein requirements:
So Mike needs 180g of protein daily.
Next, lets work out how much fat he needs to eat:
2,720 x 0.25 = 680
Be careful, because thats not 680g of fat, but 680 calories. Now take that amount and divide it by nine because thats how many calories there are per gram of fat:
680/9 = 75.5
So Mike needs to eat 75.5g of fat per day.
Understood When Should I Use Whey Protein
Your muscles’ ability to absorb nutrients can be most receptive in the hour immediately after your workout. That’s not to say chugging down a shake a couple of hours later won’t work, far from it, but if you can, get that shake down as soon as possible and then get on with your day.
At this point, you’ll recall a similar theory when it comes to whey protein. It goes a little like this: The idea that you can build muscle faster this way came from research in the early 2000s, which showed that muscle protein synthesis the mechanism by which you build mass was stimulated by consuming whey protein within an hour of finishing a workout, explains sports dietitian Rick Miller. But the benefits that scientists found were so small that they would barely be noticeable over a 10-year period.
“Following a tough session, the rate of protein synthesis will remain raised for 24 hours, Miller says. During that time, your body will be sensitised to protein and will automatically build muscle.
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High Protein Intake For Fat Loss
If you noticed Dr. Nelsons comment about being hypocaloric , you may be wondering if theres evidence that protein needs might change based on if youre trying to lose fat or gain muscle.
To be clear: the majority of research and the most prominent sports nutrition bodies agree that theres probably no need to exceed the daily 0.7 grams per pound, even if youre trying to lose weight.
That said, there are a couple of studies that have suggested more protein might be useful if you have a good amount of muscle mass and are trying to lose fat quickly. One, published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, , found that athletes in a big calorie deficit maintained more muscle and lost more fat eating 1.1 grams of protein per pound than a group taking 0.54 grams, the absolute minimum recommended by the American College of Sports Medicine.
Another study published in 2014 that looked specifically at bodybuilders found that they would respond best to consuming 2.3-3.1 g/kg of lean body mass per day of protein. This is among folks with under 10 percent body fat, so they were eating an upper level of about 1.3 grams per pound of bodyweight.
When To Eat Protein
Timing your protein hits is vital to optimise your gains. Your body cant process more than 25 to 35g of protein per serving, so scoffing six steaks at dinner is a waste. Its not about having shedloads all at once, say Reid. And anyway, your most important protein hit is the one after your gym session.
You want that immediate stimulus, says Reid. Within the 30-minute window post-workout youre looking to optimise the repair and regeneration process. Thats when you want rapidly-absorbed whey protein, either by chugging a shake or a pint of milk. Reid also recommends a skinny latte for a pre-gym boost: Youve got the caffeine kick, the protein in the milk and if you try a banana with it, a bit of carbohydrate.Pairing your protein with carbs is good sense. After exercise your body produces the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which break down proteins, fats and sugars. When theyre coursing through you, youre not building muscle. When you get some recovery nutrition in it counters those stress hormones, says Reid, switching your body back into repair mode and kickstarting growth.
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The Effects Of Protein
Protein intake affects how much lean muscle you gain from exercise. If eating more protein enables more muscle growth, then any additional protein to your usual diet should help, right?
Its not quite that simple.
Researchers have discovered a phenomenon called the protein change theory. If you want to gain more strength and muscle by adding protein to a typical diet, theres evidence you cant just add a little more to make a difference.
Research has shown the increase in your diet must be significant.
The protein change theory was created after researchers noticed conflicting results of studies.
In studies when strength trainees increased their habitual protein intake, some gained strength and muscle, and others saw no change.
When looking closer at how much the intake was increased between those who got stronger and those who didnt, a clear answer stood out:
- Studies showing noticeable strength and muscle gains averaged a protein consumption increase of 60%.
- Studies with small increases, such as those under 20%, led to no changes.
In terms of actual amounts, a 60% increase for a person who eats 50 grams of protein per day is jumping to a daily amount of 80 grams .
To maximize muscle and strength growth, protein intake can have an effect. According to the protein change theory, a large increase, perhaps as much as two-thirds of your current intake, may be needed to notice extra results .
Understanding The Limits To Muscle Protein Synthesis: How Much Protein Can Muscle Use
Simplified overview of whole body oral protein utilization at rest. Of the protein ingested, approximately 50% is extracted by splanchnic tissues before entering peripheral circulation. Interestingly, only ~10% of the ingested protein is utilized for skeletal muscle protein synthesis while the rest is catabolized.
Whey protein ingestion-induced increase in MPS in young men, percent change from 0 g. At rest, consumption of 10 g or 20 g of protein results in a rise of 19% and 52% respectively from 0g. Consumption of 40 g of whey protein does not result in superior stimulation of MPS beyond consumption of 20 g Following resistance exercise, consumption of 20 g of protein increases MPS almost twice as much as consumption of 10 g, while consumption of 40 g of whey protein results in a small stimulation of MPS over and above that seen at 20 g indicating there are diminishing returns in terms of stimulation of MPS above 20 g. Data redrawn from Witard et al. , however, similar data are reported by MacNaughton et al. , and Moore et al. .
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Protein For Muscle Gain
Many studies have made clear the potential muscle-building benefits achieved by consuming more protein. For example, one 2018 study found that an increased intake of protein leads to greater muscle mass gains when coupled with resistance training exercises. Other studies have also linked higher protein consumption with an improvement in muscle mass preservation.
Increasing your protein intake can be an effective way to help you gain more muscle mass – but only if you also have a muscle-building fitness routine and eat a balanced diet.
Muscle Protein Synthesis Vs Muscle Protein Breakdown
Amino acids are also used for muscle protein synthesis – the process of repairing and maintaining muscles after intense use.
When muscles are used during exercise or strenuous activity, it creates micro-tears and leads to muscle protein breakdown . Amino acids are then shuttled to your muscles to start repairing this damage and synthesizing new tissue to replace the damaged ones.
This process doesn’t automatically lead to bigger muscles , but it can make your muscles stronger or adapt to the type of training that caused the tears in the first place .
MPS is why protein, and strength training, in particular, are so essential for maintaining and building lean body mass.
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