by Tony Gjokaj October 12, 2020 4 min read

What is Muscle Protein Synthesis?

It is a process that happens within us daily, and it is something that some of us are familiar with to some extent.

We know that weightlifting builds muscle, and muscle protein synthesis is a part of this process. So in this post, we are going to simplify the process of Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS), and give you three ways to optimize MPS!

Let's get after it!

What Is Muscle Protein Synthesis?

Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) is a process where our body allows for creation of muscular tissue as a result of muscle fibers being "torn". This typically occurs as a result of exercise, where we breakdown amino acids through a process known as muscle protein breakdown.

Recall that amino acids combine together to form proteins, and we typically get these from consumption of complete proteins. Muscle protein synthesis and breakdown typically occur simultaneously in our bodies, but they occur at different levels dependent on the circumstances.

For example, we breakdown our proteins at a quicker pace during exercise.

However, this also elevates the ability synthesize protein as well.

This is why we take advantage of consuming protein shakes after our workouts - to effectively optimize the benefits we get from muscle protein synthesis. It is also the reason why we eat 4-6 meals per day, which we will talk about in the next section.

Quite simply: if you synthesize protein more effectively than breaking it down... you will build lean body mass (or muscle).

3 Ways To Optimize Muscle Protein Synthesis

There are plenty of ways to optimize your MPS levels, but we are going to go over three of the main ways.

    I. Prioritize Your Post-Workout

    A proper post-workout meal will improve protein synthesis in the following process:

    • Protein will elevate muscle protein synthesis post-workout.
    • Carbohydrates fill our depleted glycogen stores and allow us to better transport these nutrients in our body.

    Protein and Carbohydrates are crucial in the post-workout process to optimize muscle protein synthesis and aid in transportation of various nutrients. 

    Most people fuel their post-workouts with a protein shake in combination of simple sugars like glucose, dextrose, and more.

    If you optimize a protein shake with a nutrient-dense carbohydrate supplement (or even a fruit smoothie), you can take advantage of this process post-workout.

    II. Exercising Frequently

    One of our favorite ways to optimize muscle protein synthesis is to train our muscle groups around 2-3 times per week. After a workout, there's a rise in muscle protein synthesis that can last from 1-3 days (depending on your training experience). This is why we incorporate frequency-based programs in our training.

    Here are two of the most common examples of frequency-based training splits:

    • Push-Pull-Legs: Push day is chest, triceps, and shoulders. Pull day is back, biceps and rear deltoids. Legs is the entirety of leg day. We run through this at least 1.5-2 times per week.
    • Upper-Lower: Upper body one day, lower body another. You can run through this 2-3 times per week.

    While there are many variations of these type of programs, the frequency has allowed us to elevate MPS in our bodies, while also stimulating our muscles frequently.

    In frequency-based programs, we don't train one muscle group as hard as possible. We focus on stimulating the muscle, and allowing it to recover more effectively.

    Remember: if you synthesize protein more effectively than you break it down... you will build muscle.

    In theory, frequency-based programs are more effective at stimulating muscle protein synthesis and improve recovery.

    III. Adequate Recovery

    While we mentioned that frequency-based training stimulates and aids in muscle protein synthesis, we want to also talk about the opposite side of activity.

    Recovery!

    Rest days or recovery weeks are necessary to not only improve muscle protein synthesis, but to ultimately build muscular and strength adaptations.

    Let's explore the main areas of recovery.

    Managing Recovery Through Exercise

    Rest days or recovery phases are everything towards optimizing our muscle protein synthesis - and even our progression in the gym.

    Most athletes or lifters will program a lighter or "deload week" to aid in an intense exercise phase. This allows them to prepare for the next phase.

    Post-Workout Nutrition

    Remember that we mentioned that a combination of protein & carbs post-workout elevates amino acid (MPS) and efficient nutrient transport? In one study, post-workout proteins & carbs might also even aid in recovery.

    A combination of proteins and carbs post-workout = optimization.

    Proper Sleep

    While we talk about sleep helping our mental performance, let's not neglect the physical benefits of sleep. 

    While we say to shoot for 6-8 hours of sleep daily, staying on the higher end is absolutely essential. According to one study, sleep deprivation decreases anabolic hormones like testosterone and growth hormone. These ultimately stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

    In another study, individuals who only slept 5 1/2 hours per night lost more muscle AND lost less fat than the group who slept 8+ hours.

    Get your sleep!

    Optimize Your MPS

    All in all, you can optimize muscle protein synthesis if you do the following:

    • Frequently Exercise. If you train 3-5 days a week and operate on a frequency-based training split, you can take advantage of elevated MPS levels.
    • Post-Workout Proteins and Carbs. When your MPS levels are elevated, it is the perfect opportunity to take advantage of a protein shake with carbs.
    • Protein Throughout the Day. While you don't necessarily need to eat 6 meals a day, having your protein spread throughout the day does help with muscle protein synthesis.
    • Plenty of Sleep. 7-8+ hours of sleep following exercise should be mandatory. This will allow you to grow and recover more properly.

    Lastly, I would like to say that you should make it a part of your lifestyle to space your protein throughout the day, get good sleep, and eat protein and carbs post-workout.

    Any questions, comments, or tips you'd like to share? Throw them in the comments below, or email me at tony@reforgedperformance.com.

    Until next time, Reforged Legion.

    Go out there and optimize your health and fitness.

    Tony Gjokaj
    Tony Gjokaj

    Tony is the Owner of Reforged Performance Nutrition. He is a PN1 Certified Nutrition Coach and has been in the fitness space for over a decade. His goal is to help bridge the gap between physical & mental health through fitness.



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