Protein synthesis plays a very important role in muscle development. This means that if you are to experience greater gains, you must first learn how to increase protein synthesis. Although protein synthesis is a naturally-occurring process, there are nonetheless a few things you can do to increase it and build more muscle.
Protein Synthesis Definition
Protein synthesis is a process whereby amino acids are arranged into proteins. As one of the most fundamental biological process, protein synthesis begins in a cell’s nucleus, and involves both deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and ribonucleic acid (RNA). The purpose behind protein synthesis is to create a polypeptide, which is a protein made from a large number of amino acids that are linked together in a chain.
Protein Synthesis Steps
The process of protein synthesis involves two phases: transcription and translation. During the transcription phase, the information in DNA is encoded into messenger RNA (mRNA). The mRNA then leaves the cell’s nucleus and heads into the cytoplasm so that translation can take place. During the translation phase, mRNA combines with ribosomes and transfer RNA (tRNA), at which time protein synthesis occurs.
Role of Cell Volumization
Cell volume also plays a role in protein synthesis. When cells swell, this inhibits the breakdown of protein, while at the same time stimulating protein synthesis in certain cells. Mechanical stress and leucine activate the enzyme mTOR, which is responsible for controlling protein synthesis. mTOR signaling cannot take place without cell volumization. A 2005 study showed that glutamine also spurs mTOR signaling, and is needed for leucine uptake and cell volumization.
Importance of Protein Synthesis
Protein synthesis is important because it creates proteins that control how various cells function. Without it, a number of bodily processes would ultimately fail. Proteins in the body exist only for a limited amount of time, which means they must constantly be taken in through the diet or recreated in the body. Proteins are responsible for a number of things aside from building muscle, a few of which include:
- Replicating DNA
- Transporting molecules
- Cell reproduction
- Building the immune system
Ways to Increase Protein Synthesis
An equation for muscle building is Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS)-Muscle Protein Breakdown (MPB) = Net Protein Balance (NPB). If your Net Protein Balance is a positive number, you can effectively build muscle. Since between one and two percent of muscle proteins are broken down daily, diet plays an important role. Bodybuilder Bill Willis notes that protein synthesis is expedited for approximately 24 hours after exercise, but that weight training also activates protein degradation. This means that unless you eat properly, protein degradation could easily cancel out protein synthesis. There are three times when you can increase protein availability and take advantage of the increase in protein synthesis:
- Pre-workout, which takes place around an hour or so before you start exercising. Willis recommends between 30 and 50 grams of medium or fast-acting protein such as whey or casein isolates. Before an especially heavy workout, include between 25 and 75 grams of low or medium Glycemic Index (GI) carbs.
- Peri-workout, which occurs during the actual training session. While exercising, consume between 10 and 20 grams of Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) or 20 to 30 grams of casein or whey isolates/hydrolysates. You could also consume between 30 and 50 grams of high GI carbs in liquid form throughout your workout.
- Post-workout, which encompasses the two-hour period following your session. Consume between 30 and 50 grams of fast-acting whey isolates or casein hydrolysates. Between 25 and 75 grams of medium or low GI carbs are also recommended unless you are also trying to burn fat.
Importance of the Anabolic Window
Of the three periods, the post-workout one is the most important. It is after a workout when your muscles are primed for protein synthesis. Scientists refer to this as the “anabolic window”, and it encompasses the period of time between 30 minutes and two hours after your workout. If you work out on an empty stomach or wait to exercise for more than four hours after your last meal, consume around 25 to 30 grams of protein right after your workout. Doing so will help to reverse the catabolic state and help you build more muscle.
Effects of Glutamine Loading
As mentioned earlier, glutamine plays an important role in cell volumization and the ensuing protein synthesis. Depleted glutamine stores cause a reduction in cell volumization, and also affect leucine (an amino acid found in most proteins) uptake. After a workout, glutamine is taken up by immune cells at a very rapid pace. This happens so quickly that glutamine is sometime referred to as the “fuel of the immune system.” Glutamine loading, or loading cells with glutamine prior to a workout, can reduce lag time for leucine activation so that protein synthesis occurs faster.
Glutamine Dosage Recommendations
Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist Chris Lockwood recommends 20 to 30 grams of glutamine on training days, split up into several doses taken with snacks or meals. On non-training days, he advises taking five grams every three hours or so to maintain the right levels. Some trainers also recommend taking between 10 and 15 grams of glutamine peptides immediately following your workout. You can take post-workout glutamine supplements along with leucine and BCAAs for even greater results.
Importance of Staying Well Hydrated
We’ve already talked about the importance of cell volumization when it comes to protein synthesis. Full muscles are well hydrated ones, which is why it is important to drink plenty of water throughout the day. When it comes time for your workout however, you could require something with electrolytes and minerals such as potassium, sodium, phosphate, and chloride. These substances help draw water into the cell, thereby maximizing the volumization process that in turn spurs protein synthesis.
Don’t Avoid Sodium
Many athletes believe they must avoid sodium to get fit. The truth is that some sodium is essential for good health. The American Heart Association recommends 1500 mg daily, while the American Diabetes Association claims that between 1500 and 2300 mg is ideal. Sodium is important because it helps increase cell volumization and prevent dehydration. If your body is sodium-depleted, glutamine uptake will also be inhibited. Consuming more sodium isn’t recommended; instead, you should simply ensure you are consuming the recommended amount in your diet daily.
The Effects of Insulin
Insulin is an anabolic hormone that activates protein synthesis. Higher insulin levels after a workout also maximizes amino acid transport and increases cell volume. This is why some trainers recommend consuming carbs during the post-workout period. Glycine is an amino acid that causes insulin release, and is often used to enhance muscle growth. Around seven grams of glycine each day taken three to four hours after your workout can provide you with some amazing results.
The Role of Testosterone
The hormone testosterone is responsible for several functions that relate to muscle hypertrophy. A few of the things testosterone does include:
- Preventing protein from breaking down
- Activating satellite cells
- Stimulating other anabolic hormones in the body such as growth hormone
- Initiating tissue growth and repair
Both men and women have testosterone in varying amounts. As much as 98% of your testosterone is unavailable for use. Strength training helps your body release more testosterone and also makes the receptors inside your muscle cells more accepting of your free testosterone.
Results of Testosterone Research
Scientists have varying opinions as to how testosterone affects protein synthesis. A study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology showed that naturally-occurring levels of testosterone do not affect how fast protein synthesis occurs. Other research indicates that testosterone does affect the rate of protein synthesis by magnifying certain biochemical signals that produce it. In order to naturally stimulate testosterone production, consider doing more exercises such as squats or deadlifts, or try lifting heavier weights on strength-training day.
Adequate Sleep and Rest Periods
During deep sleep phases, your body produces growth hormone and protein synthesis also takes place. As such, if you suffer from sleep deprivation, you might not enjoy the type of gains you would like. Not only is it important to get enough sleep every night, but you should also rest your muscles for 24-48 hours after a hard workout. Failing to rest can put your body in a catabolic state, causing you to reverse the anabolic process. Inadequate rest can also affect protein metabolism, which involves the biochemical processes responsible for synthesizing protein and amino acids.
Just because protein synthesis takes place on its own does not mean there is nothing you can do to increase it. Many bodybuilders use a variety of the methods listed here to increase protein synthesis and become leaner and stronger. Each person is different, so you will likely need to experiment a bit in order to come up with the combination that suits you best.