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The Science Behind Muscle Recovery: How Protein Helps

by Mara Welty December 01, 2023 7 min read

 Science behind muscle recovery

Whether you hit the gym every day, work a highly physical job or have physically demanding hobbies (like paddling or hiking), muscle recovery through sufficient protein intake is key to your overall well-being. Even when you don’t feel muscle soreness, your body is constantly recovering from the demands of each day. 

If you’re looking to build muscle or maintain the mass you already have, you’ve probably heard the age-old suggestion to eat more protein. But how important is protein to the muscle recovery process, really?

In this guide, we’ll break down protein basics, discuss protein’s crucial role in muscle development, explore what happens when you don’t get enough protein and offer tips for meeting your Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA). 

Protein 101

To understand just how critical protein is to muscle growth, maintenance and function, we have to first discuss some key protein basics:

  • Proteins are chains of amino acids: compounds that serve as the building blocks for human muscle tissue and cells. 
  • There are 20 total amino acids, and your body can produce most of them on its own. The rest are called “essential amino acids,” and you have to get them from food.
  • Your body breaks down the proteins you eat into their component amino acids. These amino acids fuel critical processes like immune functions, energy production and tissue repair and growth. This process is known as muscle protein synthesis.

While nutritionists are constantly discovering new information about ideal nutrient intake, the prevailing theory is that adults need at least 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of total body weight. In imperial units, that’s about 0.36 grams per pound.

So, if you weigh 200 pounds, nutrition experts recommend meeting an RDA of 72 grams of protein each day.

Protein and Muscle Strength: Everything You Need to Know

With some protein basics in mind, let’s get to the heart of the conversation: how does protein help your muscles recover, repair and grow?

Protein and Muscle Recovery

When you hit a tough workout  in the gym, tackle physically demanding tasks or even move throughout your daily life, you expend energy — and at the end of a long day, your muscles are as tired as you are. 

In terms of baseline cellular energy production, carbohydrates are your body’s first fuel of choice. They’re the easiest of the macronutrients (carbohydrates, proteins and fats) to convert to glucose. 

But protein is also important for muscular energy recovery because:

  • It can increase iron absorption – Meat-based protein sources like beef and chicken can increase the amount of iron your body absorbs. 
  • Iron is key to muscular recovery – Iron is an important building block for red blood cells, which transport oxygen to your muscles. This oxygen is critical for continued muscular function and repair. 

Not to mention that iron deficiency can lead to side effects like weakness and fatigue. 

When your muscles need to recover and re-energize after a long day, protein should be at the top of the menu.

Protein and Muscle Repair

If you’re a bona fide gym rat, you’ve probably heard that exercise is all about creating small tears in your muscles so that they can grow back stronger. But the truth is that our muscle tissue is constantly degrading and self-repairing — just like every other type of human body tissue — whether or not we’re working out.

Here’s a snapshot of how proteins contribute to that self-repair process:

  1. When you eat proteins, your body breaks those proteins down into peptides, which are smaller amino acid chains. 
  2. After they move through your liver, those peptides travel to the muscles throughout your body.
  3. Your body’s DNA offers a blueprint for muscle repair: it tells the peptides (and other compounds, like hormones) where and how to patch the small tears that are constantly forming in your muscles. This process, dictated by the DNA's genetic instructions, is a fundamental aspect of muscle protein synthesis, ensuring the correct and efficient repair of muscle fibers.

This is why it’s so crucial to get enough protein in your diet: without enough protein, your muscles can’t recover to their full strength or grow stronger. 

Protein and Muscle Growth

Speaking of growing stronger, let’s touch on the importance of protein for building muscle strength and mass. 

  • Your body needs amino acids from proteins to repair everyday muscle fiber tears. 
  • To return to their original strength, muscles need to use as many amino acids as they broke down when they were damaged.
  • To get even stronger, muscles need to rebuild with more amino acids than they broke down during exertion. 

Gaining muscle mass is like gaining weight. To gain weight, you must eat a surplus of calories; to gain muscle, you must eat a surplus of protein

While specific protein goals look different for everyone, experiment with your macros when you’re trying to build muscle mass. Start with a small surplus of protein and keep increasing your intake until you start seeing gains. 

What Happens When You Don’t Get Enough Protein?

We’ve explored some of the major benefits of meeting your RDA for protein, but what happens when you’re at a protein deficit?

If you’re using appetite control support methods, you might already be operating at a caloric deficit in an effort to lose weight. While eating at a caloric deficit might be compatible with your wellness goals, eating at a protein deficit (i.e., not meeting your RDA) might produce unexpected results. 

When you don’t get enough protein, you’re very likely to lose muscle mass. Let’s return to the repair process:

  1. Your muscles naturally break down and repair themselves each day — whether you’re working out or not.
  2. To return to their full strength, muscles need to add as many amino acids as they lost throughout the day.
  3. When your muscles can’t completely replace the amino acids they lost, they can’t repair themselves completely. 

And when your body needs protein for other functions, it’ll start breaking down the amino acids in your skeletal muscles to meet its needs.

Meeting your protein RDA will help you maintain healthy muscle mass andprevent muscle loss. Additionally, ensuring adequate protein intake can help reduce the risk of muscle fatigue and soreness, particularly after strenuous activities such as strength training.

Tips for Incorporating Protein into Your Diet

If you’re struggling to meet your protein goals, you’re not alone. Here are three tips that will help you crush your RDA and stay on top of workout recovery. 

Eat Nutritious, Protein-Rich Foods

Health experts recommend meeting as many of your nutrient goals as possible with whole foods rich in vitamins and minerals.

When you’re looking to boost your protein intake, consider adding the following protein-rich foods to your meal roster:

  • Lean red meats
  • Chicken and poultry
  • Fish, shellfish and other seafood
  • Eggs
  • Dairy products
  • Beans
  • Nuts
  • Soy
  • Seeds
  • Lentils
  • Peas
  • Brown rice

Keep in mind, protein isn’t the only essential nutrient in your diet. Don’t forget to round out your protein-rich meals with vitamin-packed produce, filling whole grains and healthy oils.

If you’re not used to eating a protein-rich diet and want to learn how to increase protein intake, here are some quick tips you can use to meet your macros:

  • Try new recipes – If you’re not sure what to make, check out some of our most popular protein-rich recipes.
  • Set a protein goal for each meal and snack – Let’s say your daily protein goal is 50g. If you eat three meals and two snacks each day, try to get at least 10g of protein each time you chow down. 
  • Challenge yourself to try new foods – If you’re a creature of habit, set a goal to try a new, protein-packed food once a week, or make a recipe you’ve never tried before.
Add Protein Powder to Your Routine

There are many reasons why you might choose to add a muscle recovery supplement to your diet such as protein powder:

  • You have a busy lifestyle – If you simply don’t have time to make (or eat) five homemade, protein-rich snacks each day, protein powder can help you meet your macros on the go.
  • Your budget is limited – It’s no secret that eating a nutritious, varied diet can be expensive. Adding unflavored collagen peptides to your favorite drink or simply mixing up some traditional powders might help you get the most protein for your buck. Now, can a protein shake replace a meal? Discover the balance between convenience and nutrition in our detailed guide on meal replacement with protein shakes.
  • You’re trying to lose weight – If you’re using weight loss support tools, meeting your protein goals without overeating can be tricky. Protein powders can help you maximize your protein while staying within your calorie limits.
  • You’re pursuing big gains – If you’re aiming for a protein surplus and muscle growth, you might not have an appetite big enough to accommodate your protein goals. Protein powder can help you hit your macros without eating a full meal. You can also explore the different types of protein power to find the best fit for your goals.
Track Your Macros

One of the best ways to track your macros is by keeping a food log. Here’s a simple process you can use:

  1. Set goals for macros (and maybe even a few key micronutrients like iron).
  2. Log the meals you eat and their nutrient content.
  3. Total your macros throughout the day, and fill in the gaps as needed.

Using a smartphone app is one of the easiest ways to log your macros, and since many apps read barcodes, entering your meals and snacks into your app is as simple as scanning a protein powder ingredients label anytime you mix up a shake.

Having a birds-eye view of your nutrient intake can help you make goal-oriented eating choices throughout the day.

Meet Your Protein Goals with INVIGOR8

If you’re prioritizing muscle recovery as part of your wellness plan, paying attention to your protein intake is key. If you don’t get enough, you could lose muscle mass or miss out on recovery opportunities. 

Fortunately, INVIGOR8 is here to help. Our All-In-One Superfood Shake is packed with 20 grams of premium, grass-fed whey protein, as well as essential fatty acid complex, immunity support complex, green veggie complex and more. Plus, this organic superfood powder comes in a variety of delicious flavors. 

Start hitting your macros and supporting your muscle recovery process today with INVIGOR8.

 

Sources:

  1. Medical News Today. How Much Protein Do You Need to Build Muscle?
  2. Harvard University. How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day?
  3. Men’s Health. How Does Protein Become Muscle?
  4. Live Science. How Does Protein Give You Energy?
  5. Healthline. How to Increase the Absorption of Iron from Foods
  6. National Institutes of Health. Iron
  7. US Department of Agriculture. Muscle Up to Some Protein Every Day
  8. Oklahoma State University. Supplements are No Substitute for Good Nutrition

About the Author

 Mara Welty
Mara Welty

Mara Welty is a copywriter who specializes in health, wellness and CBD topics. With a background in journalism, she aims to deliver engaging, research-based content that builds trust and engages readers through informative storytelling.

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