#1 Victorian uni for graduate employment1

#1 in the world for sport science2

#1 Victorian uni for course satisfaction3

NEXT UP ON this.

Do you need protein supplements to build muscle?

Protein powders and supplements are often touted as essential for building muscle when you’re working out. But do you really need special supplements or can you get enough protein from diet alone?

Dr Dominque Condo, a senior lecturer of sports nutrition at Deakin, says while making a protein shake can be easier than cooking a steak, most people – including the most dedicated weight trainers – get enough protein from foods alone.

‘Protein powers are a really convenient way to get in the right type of protein, but they shouldn’t replace a really good diet and are not essential to gain muscle,’ Dr Condo says.

Getting enough protein for muscle growth

Protein is a nutrient that our bodies need to grow and repair cells. Dr Condo says including 30-40g of protein in each meal will help you meet your daily quota. ‘You can definitely get the protein you need each day from food – there’s really no need for protein shakes or bars.’

Foods that are high in protein include lean meats like beef and lamb, poultry, fish, eggs, dairy products like milk and yogurt (especially Greek yoghurt), nuts and legumes. A 100g serve of meat, a small can of tuna, grilled chicken breast and hard boiled eggs contain the recommended amount of protein.

Dr Condo says our bodies can use a maximum of 30-40g of protein per meal to build and repair muscle tissue, so there’s little point consuming more.

‘We can’t use any more than that at one time from a muscle protein synthesis perspective – any extra protein just becomes an energy source,’ she says. ‘Once you’ve hit that level of protein, fill up the rest of your energy requirements with carbohydrates and fats.’

Spreading out your protein intake

Looking to gain muscle? Roast lamb or a burger for dinner is enough, right? Not exactly, says Dr Condo.

‘We often get our daily protein intake at dinner because we have big dinners and they’re very meat-focused, but the key is spreading your protein intake over the day.’

She says eating enough meals or snacks that contain 30-40g of protein is key. ‘It’s about getting those hits of protein four to five times per day,’ she says.

If your schedule is so busy that you struggle to prepare enough protein-rich meals and snacks, protein supplements can fill the gaps. ‘This is where protein shakes are really helpful,’ Dr Condo says.

But – and it’s a big, important caveat – while protein supplements can be convenient, they aren’t an effective long-term food replacement for most people.

‘Protein supplements shouldn’t replace a really good diet and they are not essential to gain muscle mass,’ Dr Condo says.

Protein supplements don’t contain the complexity and nutrients of real food so it is vital that we always look to food before we go for the supplements.

‘We say ‘food first always’ because protein powder is a supplement, and the definition of a supplement is to supplement the diet. No supplement is going to outweigh a food – you’ve got to get the basics right and then you add it in the gaps.’

Why whey is a healthy choice

If you’re short on time and need a protein hit, Dr Condo recommends protein powders that contain only whey – the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production. ‘If you’re trying to bulk up, don’t get caught up with bulking powders as they contain a lot of fillers, additives, extra sugar and extra fats.’

She says a whey is a good choice because it’s packed with leucine, which is important for muscle growth and recovery.

‘You’re much better off using protein powder for what you need it for, which is getting really good quality whey,’ Dr Condo says. ‘Because it’s high in leucine, it’s going to do its job from a recovery and muscle-growth perspective and add in the extra energy to that with food.’

There are also many great flavours available that include whey.

‘Keep the protein shakes as pure as they can, there’s some great flavoured ones out there that taste really great, you don’t have to go to natural no flavoured whey,’ she said.

this. featured experts
Dr Dominique Condo
Dr Dominique Condo

Senior Lecturer, Sport Nutrition,

Faculty of Health,

Deakin University

Read profile

explore more