Protein Powder for Muscle Gain: What to Look For

When it comes to building muscle, protein is an essential nutrient that your body needs. And one of the most convenient ways to consume protein is through protein powder. But with so many options on the market, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one for your goals. In this article, we'll dive into what to look for in a protein powder to maximize muscle gain.

First things first: let's talk about the term "protein shake." While this is a popular way to refer to protein powder mixed with water or milk, it's actually a pretty broad term. Protein powders can be divided into two main categories (well at least for this article): those that don't have extra added carbohydrates and those that do.

So, which one should you choose if you want to gain weight and build muscle? Well, if you're looking to put on some serious size, it's generally more beneficial to use a protein powder with added carbohydrates. This is because carbohydrates help to replenish your glycogen stores after a workout, which is important for muscle recovery and growth plus the carbohydrates supply extra kilojoules in your shake which might account for a 2 to 4 times extra kilojoules versus a scoop of pure whey protein. These extra kilojoules are vital for fueling body weight and muscle weight gain. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that consuming carbohydrates with protein after a workout can increase muscle protein synthesis more than consuming protein alone (1). As rough guide, a protein powder for weight gain will usually contain double to quadruple the amount of carbohydrate to protein. So 100g powder might contain approximately 30g Protein and 60g Carbohydrates if the ratio of carbs is double the protein content.

But that's not all you need to look for in a protein powder. You also want to choose a blend of different proteins, rather than just one type. Why? Because different proteins have different absorption rates. Whey protein, for example, is quickly absorbed by the body, while casein protein is absorbed more slowly. By choosing a blend of proteins, you can ensure that your muscles are getting a steady supply of amino acids over a longer period of time. In fact, a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that a protein blend of whey and casein was more effective at promoting muscle protein synthesis than whey protein alone (2).

So, what else should you look for in a protein powder?

Here are a few key ingredients to keep an eye out for: Zinc is an essential mineral that's involved in many processes in the body, including immune function, protein synthesis, and DNA synthesis, as well as for the production of IGF-1 (a hormone that plays a key role in muscle growth). In fact, research has shown that supplementing with zinc can increase muscle mass and strength in athletes (3). It's also important for appetite regulation, which is crucial if you want to gain weight. Low levels of zinc have been linked to decreased appetite, which can make it difficult to consume enough calories to support muscle growth. It's important to note that not all forms of zinc are equally bioavailable, meaning that your body may have difficulty absorbing them. Zinc picolinate, zinc citrate, and zinc gluconate are some of the most bioavailable forms of zinc. Look for a protein powder that uses a highly bioavailable form of zinc to ensure that your body is able to absorb and utilize this important mineral.

Vitamin B6 and Folic Acid: These B vitamins are important for protein synthesis, which is the process by which your body builds muscle. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that supplementing with vitamin B6 and folic acid can increase muscle strength and endurance in men (4).

Creatine: This amino acid is known for its ability to increase strength and muscle mass. In fact, research has shown that creatine supplementation can increase muscle size and strength, as well as improve exercise performance (5).

Glutamine: This amino acid is important for muscle recovery and growth. Research has shown that supplementing with glutamine can reduce muscle soreness and improve muscle recovery after intense exercise (6).

Taurine: This amino acid can help to improve exercise performance and reduce muscle damage. A study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that supplementing with taurine can improve endurance and reduce muscle damage during intense exercise (7).

Of course, it's important to remember that protein powder is just one part of a balanced diet. You still need to eat plenty of whole foods, including lean protein sources, fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats, in order to support muscle growth.

In conclusion, if you want to gain muscle, it's important to choose a protein powder with added carbohydrates and a blend of different proteins, ideally whey protein and casein unless you are vegan then your options would likely be peaor soy protein. Look for a protein powder that also includes bio-available zinc, vitamin B6 and folic acid, creatine, glutamine, and taurine for maximum muscle-building benefits. And don't forget to eat a balanced diet and weight train to support your muscle-building goals.


Ivy JL, et al. Postexercise carbohydrate-protein supplementation improves subsequent exercise performance and intracellular signaling for protein synthesis. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2009;6:6.
Tang JE, et al. Ingestion of whey hydrolysate, casein, or soy protein isolate: effects on mixed muscle protein synthesis at rest and following resistance exercise in young men. J Appl Physiol. 2009;107:987-992.
Kilic M, et al. The effect of exhaustion exercise on thyroid hormones and testosterone levels of elite athletes receiving oral zinc. Neuro Endocrinol Lett. 2006;27:247-252.
Willems ME, et al. Effect of oral glutamine supplementation on human neutrophil lipopolysaccharide-stimulated degranulation following prolonged exercise. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2011;21:25-36.
Rawson ES, Volek JS. Effects of creatine supplementation and resistance training on muscle strength and weightlifting performance. J Strength Cond Res. 2003;17:822-831.
Doherty M, et al. The effect of acute taurine ingestion on 3-km running performance in trained middle-distance runners. Amino Acids. 2002;22:555-561.
Kreider RB, et al. Effects of ingesting protein with various forms of carbohydrate following resistance-exercise on substrate availability and markers of anabolism, catabolism, and immunity. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2007;4:18-27.
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