After people turn 30, they start losing between 3% and 5% of muscle mass per decade — something that athletes work hard to combat. It takes hard work to counter the effects of time; the average man can expect to gain between 0.25 and 0.5 pounds of muscle per week (compared to 0.12-0.25 pounds for women).
One crucial aspect of achieving your goals is diet. Many weightlifters and everyday fitness buffs take protein shakes to help boost muscle building and recovery, but a recent study by scientists at the University of Sydney indicates that for ultimate gains, it is better to simply vary your protein intake.
Too Much of a Good Thing?
Many protein powders consist primarily of whey proteins, which contain high amounts of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). In the U.S., the market for this product has grown exponentially, with further growth predicted into 2025.
The study found, however, that although BCAAs successfully help you put on muscle mass, they could impact mood negatively. This is because BCAAs in the bloodstream compete with tryptophan in the brain.
The scientists explained, “Tryptophan is the sole precursor for the hormone serotonin, which is often called the 'happiness chemical' for its mood-enhancing effects and its role in promoting sleep. But serotonin does more than this, and therein lay the problem.” When serotonin levels are lowered, it is a powerful signal to increase appetite. In lab studies, mice were fed 200% BCAAs overate, and the result was obesity and a shorter lifespan.
Increase the Variety of Proteins You Eat
When it comes to sourcing quality proteins, variety is the spice of life. This is because different protein sources contain an array of healthful amino acids, each of which plays a specific role.
Essential amino acids (those which your body cannot naturally produce) include lysine, histidine, threonine, methionine, valine, isoleucine, leucine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan.
Phenylalanine is another key amino acid for mood since it is a precursor for other feel-good neurotransmitters such as dopamine. Other amino acids are important for rest and reparation. Tryptophan, for instance, promotes high-quality sleep. Leucine, meanwhile, which plays a vital role in muscle protein synthesis, can help boost stamina and performance.
Don’t Forget the Non-Essential Amino Acids
Food is also an ideal source for non-essential amino acids. They are deemed such because we supposedly make enough of them, yet this may not be the case for those consuming an inadequate diet.
Key non-essential amino acids that can help you achieve your fitness goals include proline (which helps joints and tendons function optimally), serine (required to make tryptophan and therefore key in ensuring good mood), and tyrosine (which keeps you mentally alert).
Is there a Perfect Protein?
Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy are complete sources of protein because they contain all the essential amino acids. However, potential health concerns exist from diets comprising mainly animal sources.
Research by Jay R. Hoffman et. al. shows that when well combined, vegetal proteins can provide similar benefits as protein from animal sources.
The Mediterranean diet is often recommended for athletes and members of the general population because it combines lean protein (from meat, pulses, green peas, chickpeas, and other foods) and fruits and vegetables. The latter is key for building a healthy gut microbiome. Recent studies have shown that there is a powerful link between gut health, mental health, and general health and wellbeing.
If you are an athlete wishing to take your muscle mass to the next level, aim to consume a wide variety of proteins. Doing so will ensure that you consume a wide array of amino acids — both essential and non-essential. Back up your protein intake with quality fruits and vegetables that will boost gut and digestive health as well.