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Can I Take Protein Supplements to Help Build Muscle?

Protein is important for muscle growth and repair after exercise, and protein supplements are often advertised as a way to help build and repair muscle after exercising.

However, research has not supported the need for such protein supplements to promote muscle growth. The way to build muscle is with strength training and exercise, not by taking protein supplements.

The highly-conditioned athlete may need slightly more dietary protein. The typical American diet contains almost twice the daily requirements for protein. It is generally recommended that protein intake not exceed 2 grams of protein per Kg (or 0.9g per lb.) body weight, and this level of protein intake is generally recommended only for weight-lifters and vigorous athletes. For these individuals, some protein supplements can be worked into the diet with careful planning.

Whey protein is a type of protein typically contained in protein supplements and it is often recommended as the best protein for muscle repair after exercise. Whey protein can be helpful after exercise due to its higher level of leucine. Leucine is a type of amino acid that is easily absorbed. Whey is one of the proteins found in dairy products. One can increase intake of whey protein in the diet by ingesting dairy products such as milk, ricotta cheese, and yogurt.

If you are considering taking whey protein supplements, these supplements need to be calculated as part of the daily protein requirement. Too much protein in the diet can contribute to excessive calorie intake, leading to excessive weigh or obesity. Too much protein can also increase risk for dehydration and loss of calcium. In addition, athletes who focus on eating extra protein may not be eating enough carbohydrates, which are an important source of energy for operating muscles.

Excessive protein intake also puts added burden on the kidneys. The kidneys remove the nitrogen contained in protein. It is important to avoid extra stress on the kidneys.

If you would like to review protein intake or discuss supplements, call the pediatric office at 617-732-2603 to make an appointment with one of our pediatric dietitians.

- Heidi Quinn MS, RD, LDN


Page last updated: November 20, 2018