read How to Select the Right Protein for Muscle Building

How to Select the Right Protein for Muscle Building

How to Select the Right Protein for Muscle Building

Muscle building needs large resources of protein, and zeroing in on the right source can be somewhat overwhelming. You might need to switch your protein intake or even include supplemental protein in your diet. Before we find out how to identify the correct sources, let’s explore why protein plays such an important role in muscle building in the first place, and the type and timing you should be looking at for optimum results. 

Classification of protein

Protein is made up of amino acids and the quality of protein can be measured using the biological value of protein (BV), which refers to the presence of essential amino acids (EAA) in foods. EAA cannot be made in the body and needs to be ingested through dietary sources. There are 9 EAA — histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Foods containing all the nine essential amino acids can be considered as good sources of protein. 

Depending on amino acids present, foods can be classified as complete or incomplete sources of protein.

Complete or higher quality proteins come from foods that contain all nine essential amino acids required to promote tissue growth and repair. Meat like chicken, beef, mutton, and fish, eggs, milk and milk products are complete proteins.

Ideally, a lean protein source like chicken, fish, and eggs should be preferred where the amount of saturated fat is lesser. These sources are low in carbs and have more protein

Incomplete protein lacks one or more essential amino acids, and is generally found in non-animal or vegetarian sources. Pulses lack methionine and cereals lack lysine. They have low digestibility since they contain more fiber. 

You can have combinations of dal and rice, pulse curry with roti, hummus with bread, adding soya flour to wheat or mixed flour,  idlis with sambar, etc. Here the protein to carb ratio is 1:4, which means protein coming from vegetarian sources contains more carbohydrates than protein. Hence these sources should be balanced with other complete protein sources. 

Muscle hypertrophy

Muscle hypertrophy is essential when you are aiming to gain muscle. It refers to an increase in the size of muscle mass, which occurs as a result of weight training. Weight training results in muscle breakdown and promotes muscle protein synthesis or MPS (the process of building muscle mass). Protein plays a great role in promoting the training outcomes and adaptation to exercises. It provides amino acids, which help repair the muscle tissue. After a workout, protein helps to recover and build more muscle mass. 

How much protein do you need?

A sedentary person needs 1g/kg body weight protein daily to carry out the essential functions like wear and tear in the body. 

In order to gain more muscle mass and support training intensity, you need more protein than a sedentary individual.

  • Light to moderate intense training needs 1.2g/kg-1.6g/kg body weight of protein
  • Moderate to high intense training needs more than 1.6g/kg- 2.2 g/kg body weight of protein

How to choose protein for muscle gain?

It’s imperative to choose the right food sources of protein as well as supplemental sources for muscle gain. 

1. Try to include 70% of your day’s protein requirement from a complete protein source like low-fat milk, curd, paneer, eggs, chicken, fish

2. 30% of protein can come from dals, legumes, cereals, and pulses

3. For hypertrophy or muscle gain, focus on including 1.6g/kg-2.2g/kg body weight of protein along with resistance training

4. Distribute the protein throughout the day. Try to include 0.4g/kg body weight of protein across four meals

5. It is good to have supplemental whey or vegan protein powder post workout for better muscle protein synthesis

6. Include a cereal-pulse combination to ensure balance of amino acids

7. Have a glass of milk  close to bedtime for muscle recovery 

8. Weight train three to four days a week, give sufficient time for muscle recovery

Do you need supplemental protein?

A well-balanced diet can meet the body’s natural demand for protein in the diet. Individuals who are leading a sedentary lifestyle or are not engaging in weight training or moderate to vigorous-intensity exercises can easily meet their daily recommended protein requirements through dietary sources. 

However, supplemental protein powders may benefit muscle gain in individuals who weight train. Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant sources, and are available in many forms. For muscle protein synthesis and recovery post workout, whey protein or a vegan protein powder can be consumed.  

Having casein, which is also a milk protein at bedtime, aids in recovery. Milk protein powders are considered to have a better digestion and absorption capacity. All other meals can include protein primarily from food sources. 

Here’s a meal plan showing the protein needs for hypertrophy for a 70kg individual requiring 105g of protein (1.5g/kg body weight) with intermediate level fitness.

TimingFoodsQuantityProtein amt%DV
Early Morning/Pre-workoutMilk smoothie200ml milk

Post-workoutWhey in water1 scoop (30g)2524
BreakfastWhole Eggs21312
LunchDal with rice1 bowl (45g raw)10.510
SnacksChicken rollorpaneer roll75g
DinnerGrilled chicken/ fishor paneer/ tofu


Bed timeMilk200ml77
DV: Daily value of protein required by a 70kg individual with intermediate level fitness

It’s important to remember that your body needs all the macro/ micronutrients in optimal quantities. So, while you can be loading up on protein to bulk up, you cannot ignore good fats and carbohydrates in your diet. It will ensure you have the energy for training, and the nutrients to recover and grow. You cannot expect your muscles to grow on poor nutrition. 

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4. Babault N, Païzis C, Deley G, et al. Pea proteins oral supplementation promotes muscle thickness gains during resistance training: a double-blind, randomized, Placebo-controlled clinical trial vs. Whey protein. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 2015; 12: 3.