A common misconception among bodybuilders and gym-goers is that protein is everything.
Protein makes up the muscles in our body- think of it as the building blocks. If the body is a building then protein is like the bricks that it is made of.
But, we have to be a bit more careful with this analogy. The body grows but after a certain point, it stops growing.
It is only after external stimuli that the body further continues growing.
This phenomenon is known as hypertrophy!
So, does protein build muscle without working out? No, you need to give it more external stimuli to actually put on muscle. Without working out, there will be no external stimuli and your body will NOT grow muscle!
Let us learn more about it in greater detail, and also, if merely an increased protein intake is enough to build muscle.
What Does Protein Do?
Proteins serve multiple functions in the body.
- Structural component: This is the most prominent and most widely known function of proteins in the body. Proteins are made of chemical packets known as amino acids. When we eat protein rich foods, the body breaks it down into amino acids. These amino acids are later joined together like lego blocks to create proteins as and when needed. The process is known as protein synthesis. Remember that not all protein is used for this purpose. It is only when the body explicitly feels the need for added muscle that new proteins are synthesised.
- Messenger proteins: Certain proteins present in the body also act as messengers. They are released and bind to receptors that trigger certain bodily functions. This is why many proteins are also categorized as hormones. They often trigger coordinating functions between different cells and tissues.
- Energy resource: When it comes to releasing energy, one might be surprised to learn that proteins are at par with carbohydrates in terms of energy density. In simpler words, they release the same amount of energy as carbohydrates do. The body does not use all ingested protein for muscle building, anything excess is used for meeting energy requirements.
How Our Muscles Behave
We primarily have three types of muscles in our body – cardiac, smooth and voluntary.
When we are thinking of gaining muscles- we are thinking of voluntary muscles.
Our muscles are built to adapt to the environment that they are exposed to.
Consider two people: one who lives a sedentary lifestyle and the other, who is engaged in manual physical work. Both people will have voluntary muscles, but we will find that the person engaged in manual work has much more developed muscles.
The reason being that this person is exposed to a lot of physical strain. The other person, while not having zero voluntary muscles, will not have as developed muscles.
This brings us to an interesting conclusion – physical workouts lead to better-developed muscles. This is the basic nature of our muscles. The more physical work muscles are put through, the better they develop.
It is in the basic nature of muscles that they adapt to their environment. This phenomenon where the muscles grow because of increased physical work is known as muscular hypertrophy. Let us look at the phenomenon in more detail in the next section.
Muscular Hypertrophy – How Our Muscles Grow
Muscular hypertrophy is defined as an increase in the size of the muscles.
Hypertrophy can be induced by the use of proper training, eating the right amount of proteins, and having proper rest. Hypertrophy is of two types, myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic.
Myofibrils are protein bundles that make up our muscles. Myofibrillar hypertrophy tries to increase the size of these myofibrils. On the other hand, sarcoplasmic hypertrophy focuses on increased glycogen storage. It is possible to trigger different types of hypertrophies through different exercises and shape up the muscles.
The basic system by which muscles develop is very simple. As we work our muscles, they go through wear and tear on a microscopic level. This triggers white blood cell armies that immediately start repair work. This is where the real magic happens. Post repair, the muscles come up stronger. They grow thicker and longer, employing more protein.
- Read: Does A Pump Mean Muscle Growth?
This is exactly the time when an increased protein intake would help. The body will use the extra amino acids to build up stronger muscles. These would help in growing the muscles thicker and fatter.
A strong reason why hypertrophy works in the first place is because of the wear and tear caused by exercise. If there will be no external stimuli, the muscles will never undergo any change.
This point is crucial to understanding why we need to work out regularly – the muscles need progressive overload to become stronger and stronger.
How Proteins and Workouts Work Together
We have now established a few things here:
- Proteins are like the basic building blocks of muscles. That means we need proteins whenever we want to build more muscle.
- Not all protein will go into building muscle unless the body needs it. The body will try to stay in its default shape unless met with external stimuli.
- Physically demanding work wears the muscles and causes micro damage.
- Repair from such micro damage results in thicker and stronger muscle fibre.
We can clearly see how working out and proteins together help shape our muscles. Either one of those things goes away and your muscle journey stagnates. We need to continuously work out and supply the body with lots of protein to meet the physical demands. Merely taking in proteins is a total waste.
Building muscles requires both external stimulus and adequate protein supply.
Take out either from the equation and everything falls apart.
This is why merely taking proteins in excess does not lead to gains. Saying that increased protein intake leads to muscle development is like saying a car with gas in it starts moving. We very well know that is not how it goes. The car needs an engine to be turned on, and likewise, the body needs a good workout to build muscle.