Protein Synthesis: We'll Explain How You Can Maximize Your Muscle Mass Gains

Protein synthesis for the increase of muscle mass is associated with nutrition and the practice of exercise. Learn all about it here.
Protein Synthesis: We'll Explain How You Can Maximize Your Muscle Mass Gains
Leonardo Biolatto

Reviewed and approved by the doctor Leonardo Biolatto.

Last update: 14 January, 2023

Adequate protein synthesis levels are critical to generating protein in the locomotor system, boosting muscle development, enhancing physical performance, and promoting post-exercise body recovery. This process is influenced by anabolism and catabolism, which refer to the creation and loss of tissue, respectively.

Balancing both transformations determines muscle growth or degradation.

Degeneration results from damage to muscle proteins due to metabolism and physical activity. However, if this degeneration is less than protein synthesis, you maximize muscle mass gain.

Is it possible to prevent this degradation? How to help the musculoskeletal apparatus without affecting the volume of body tissues? Let’s take a closer look into the subject.

What does protein synthesis consist of and what is its relationship with exercise?

First of all, it’s necessary to explain that proteins are a kind of building block with which muscles are constructed. Some are produced by the body, others you eat. If you consume them, they are digested as amino acids that travel to the intestine and pass into the circulation.

Protein synthesis, on the other hand, is the production of proteins in the body. As they are added to the muscle, they cause it to enlarge or repair.

However, they can also be broken down – i.e., decreased by a mechanism called proteolysis. The Journal of Physiology describes muscle protein synthesis (MPS) as a force that encourages adaptive responses to exercise and measures the chronic efficacy of physical activity and nutrition.

MPS and proteolysis are in constant dynamic; what varies is their rate. The consequence is manifested in muscle protein size. Interfering with these phases is possible through nutrition and training.

To gain muscle mass it is imperative that the rate of MPS exceeds the rate of proteolysis.

Protein synthesis and physical exercise to gain muscle mass

There is a relationship between physical exercise and MPS. The theory suggests that, after strength routines, muscle growth is prolonged for up to 72 hours, depending on the intensity of the activity performed. During this period, protein intake is advisable to contribute to the effect.

On this point, a clinical trial by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology found that resistance exercise training increased hypertrophic responses. The test was performed on 10 men who consumed deuterium oxide or “heavy water” to generate a metabolic reaction. The muscle gain was only seen in the one leg they trained and was achieved in the early stages of practice.

It happens that, right after exercise, muscles are left with increased protein sensitivity. So supplements and foods rich in these molecules minimize degradation and encourage synthesis.

Protein synthesis
Depending on the type of food we eat and the times at which we eat, this influences the process of protein synthesis.

Ways to maximize muscle mass gain through protein synthesis

In addition to physical activity, the body needs a supply of amino acids to raise the amount of muscle protein. There are non-essential and essential amino acids; the latter are not synthesized by the body, so you get them from food.

Let’s take a look, then, at some ways in which exercise and diet maximize muscle gain.

Consume foods with leucine, both whole and mixed

The Brazilian Journal of Sports Nutrition highlights leucine for its physiological properties and its benefits in relation to muscle synthesis associated with exercise. This essential amino acid in the diet is obtained through meals with ingredients such as those mentioned below:

Adding whole-grain carbohydrates, such as potatoes or rice, to meals stimulates MPS. Along these lines, the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition instructs that after exercise, combining a protein with a fast-acting carbohydrate source (such as maltodextrin) helps leucine effectively modulate protein synthesis.

We think you may be interested in reading this, too: Types of Food that Strengthen Tendons and Muscles

Plan your exercise

According to the Sports Science Exchange newsletter, strength training is positive, increasing protein synthesis and muscle mass, especially if combined with amino acid intake. How to make your routines more effective? Consider the following aspects:

  • Frequency: It’s advisable to train each muscle group at least a couple of times a week.
  • Repetitions: These are the number of times in a row that you do the same exercise. Trainers generally recommend 8 to 12 repetitions per set. Sports Medicine claims that an intensity of approximately 60% of 1 repetition maximum is relevant for significant muscle gain.
  • Sets: This is the number of repetitions to complete a circuit. The greater the number of sets, the greater the increase in protein synthesis. You can increase the volume of weekly sets, always with the guidance of a certified instructor. Keep in mind that one set alone does not contribute to an increase in muscle volume.
  • Rest: Set a rest period between sets. A research paper published by Experimental Physiology found that 5-minute breaks during moderate-intensity sets of strength exercises increase the anabolic response of muscle mass, compared to intervals of only 1 minute.

No prolonged fasting

When fasting is extensive, the rate of protein degradation goes up. The body looks for energy in muscle amino acids and destroys some tissue to sustain its vital functions.

The journal Naturopathic Medicine points out that after eating and digesting food, amino acids, glucose, and fatty acids flow into the blood. At the same time, insulin secretion is increased and energy intake and lipid and protein anabolism are favored.

Instead of fasting, it is advisable to modify the strategy, giving way to protein shakes or pure protein foods . The latest recommendations of international specialists agree that the optimum is to increase protein intake to 1.5 grams of the nutrient per kilogram of body weight.

Protein supplementation before bedtime

A long period of fasting develops during nighttime sleep. As part of a prolonged training program, take a protein shake or supplement before going to bed.

In this regard, a study confirms that MPS rates drop when you sleep, so ingesting protein at night would be an effective strategy for muscle adaptation. At night, the protein in the intestine is digested and absorbed normally, promoting the availability of amino acids and increasing synthesis.

Protein synthesis
Nighttime rest is key for protein synthesis. We must also know how to take advantage of it to build muscle.

Balance protein and insulin

An article from the Mayo Clinic suggests that between 10% and 35% of calories consumed should be protein, in order to prevent future deficiencies. We should know that between the ages of 40 and 50, the need for protein increases in order to avoid sarcopenia.

On the other hand, certain analyses refer that moderate doses of insulin would have a slowing effect on muscle proteolysis. How to achieve these doses in a natural way? By stimulating the pancreas to release the hormone (with the diet guidelines we already gave you) and reducing insulin resistance (avoiding weight gain).

Like this article? You may also like to read: Strengthen Your Neck Muscles with This Effective Exercise Routine

What you should remember to maintain protein synthesis peaks and increase muscle mass

In short, to achieve muscle hypertrophy, drink protein shakes after training and before bed. In the process, the advice of a nutritionist is of value, along with the exercise instructor.

Remember to train by muscle groups 2 times a week and multiply the series. As for the diet, it’s advisable to balance the ingested proteins of animal and vegetable origin. According to the University of the Basque Country, the combination of both is the most logical and healthy option, according to the scientific knowledge available today.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.