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Protein Consumption, Strength Training, and Muscle Hypertrophy

Aug 23, 2023
Protein Consumption, Strength Training, and Muscle Hypertrophy

Whether you are looking for increased muscle hypertrophy, a faster metabolism, better agility, or better posture, understanding how protein intake and exercise affect muscle strength and hypertrophy is important.

Muscle hypertrophy is not just about aesthetics. Muscle is crucial to maintaining strength, balance, agility, functional capacity, and a faster metabolism. Lower muscle mass is associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, metabolic disease, and type 2 diabetes.1

One of the best predictors of how well you are aging is how fast you can rise from sitting on the floor to standing. This simple movement tests your strength, balance, flexibility, and agility.

What is muscle hypertrophy?

Muscle hypertrophy is an increase in the size and volume of skeletal muscle fibers. Resistance training, metabolic stress, and muscle damage all cause cellular and metabolic changes in muscle. This causes individual muscle cells to enlarge, as long as sufficient protein is available.

Skeletal muscle cells, or myocytes, are long fibers packed with protein strands called myofibrils. These myofibrils are made up of actin and myosin proteins that are arranged into contractile units known as sarcomeres.

Muscles can increase in size by increasing the size of individual myofibrils in the muscle (myofibrillar hypertrophy) or by increasing glycogen storage in the muscle sarcoplasm (sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).

What is the difference between muscle strength and muscle hypertrophy?

Muscle strength and hypertrophy are related but are different muscle attributes.

Muscle strength refers to the ability of muscles or a group of muscles to generate force against resistance. It is measured by how much weight a muscle can move with a given maximal effort. To increase strength, you need to gradually increase muscle loads.

Muscle hypertrophy refers to an increase in muscle size and volume. Gains in muscle hypertrophy are triggered by increased mechanical tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage. To increase muscle hypertrophy, you need to isolate and stress an individual muscle.

Does increased protein intake increase muscle hypertrophy?

Muscle tissue is constantly being broken down and rebuilt. Muscle hypertrophy occurs when muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown. This results in a positive net protein balance. An increase in net protein can be achieved through a combination of resistance training and increased protein consumption in your diet.

Consuming adequate protein in your diet provides muscle with the amino acid building blocks it needs to synthesize protein and decreases the need to break down muscle as a source of amino acids.

high protein foods

How much protein do you need to consume to build muscle?

Twenty amino acids combine to form proteins. Nine of these amino acids cannot be made in the human body. These essential amino acids must be obtained in the diet.

Not all the protein you consume is available to your muscle tissue. Only about 10% of consumed protein will be used by skeletal muscle, 50% by splanchnic tissue, and 40% will be broken down and used for cellular energy or neurotransmitter synthesis. Protein type, your age, and your gut microbiota may affect these proportions.2

While there is a lack of consensus over the best type and amount of dietary protein to consume to build muscle, animal sources, particularly whey proteins, have an amino acid profile that parallels skeletal muscle better than plant protein sources.

Ranges of 20 to 40 grams of protein per meal have been recommended, but 20 grams of high-quality protein per meal are typically sufficient to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Age, type of resistance workout, and current muscle mass can affect these recommendations.2

When researchers analyzed 49 studies, they found that the impact of protein supplementation on gains in muscle mass was reduced with increasing age and was more effective in resistance-trained individuals. Protein supplementation of over 1.62 grams per kilogram per day did not lead to further gains in muscle mass.3

Insulin positively regulates protein balance by inhibiting muscle breakdown. However, studies have so far not supported the premise that carbohydrates should be consumed with protein to support maximal muscle growth. This is because a detrimental effect on cellular repair processes, such as autophagy, may negate the potential gains in preventing muscle breakdown by consuming carbohydrates.2

A close-up of a person's calf muscles

Does strength training increase muscle hypertrophy?

Resistance training is the primary exercise intervention used to increase strength and stimulate muscle hypertrophy.

How fast strength and muscle hypertrophy are gained depends on many factors, such as muscle actions, intensity, exercise volume, exercise selection and order, rest periods between sets, and frequency.4

Repetitions and rest periods

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends novice to intermediate individuals train with loads that correspond to 60% to 70% of their one repetition maximum (the maximum amount of weight you can lift for one repetition in good form and technique) for 8 to 12 repetitions, and advanced individuals cycle training loads of 80% to 100% of their one repetition maximum to maximize muscle strength.4

According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, lifting heavier loads greater than 80% of one repetition maximum with lower repetitions is associated with increases in strength. Moderate loads, higher relative volumes, and shorter rest intervals are needed to increase muscular tension and cause metabolic stress and muscle damage to increase muscle hypertrophy.

Other studies suggest that a much wider range of training options can result in muscle hypertrophy by increasing metabolic stress, extending from 30% to 80% of your one repetition maximum, with higher loads leading to more strength gains. Exercises should be performed until you reach muscle failure, with more frequent workouts and shorter rest periods for hypertrophy training and heavier loads and longer rest periods to increase strength.

Short rest periods, even less than one minute, can result in significant gains in muscle strength for people who are not well-trained. Resistance-trained individuals require rest periods of at least two minutes to maximize strength gains.5

Rest intervals of over 2.5 minutes can decrease the amount of testosterone and growth hormone released when stressing muscles and reduce gains in muscle hypertrophy. Subsequent sets should be started before you reach complete recovery to increase metabolic stress.6

A close up of a muscle cell

Motor units

Force generation depends on motor unit activation. Slower, lower-force-generating motor units are typically activated before faster, higher-force-generating motor units. Resistance training increases motor unit activation.

According to the Henneman size principle, muscle units (nerves and corresponding muscle fibers) are recruited based on their size and characteristics. Smaller units are recruited before medium and larger units to ensure a range of forces and a smooth gradation of force output.

Neural improvements typically occur before gains in muscle size and strength. Recruiting fast-twitch fibers more quickly is essential to increasing strength.6

What affects how much your muscles can hypertrophy?

Both genetic and environmental factors affect both strength and muscle hypertrophy. Genetics determine how quickly each step in the neuromuscular stimulation-contraction pathway works, but environmental factors such as diet and exercise can improve the efficiency of each step.

The volume and intensity of resistance exercise have the greatest impact on muscle hypertrophy. However, the arrangement of muscle fibers in regard to their angle of pennation, muscle length, joint angle, and contraction volume can all affect gains in muscle strength and size.

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How can you maximize muscle hypertrophy?

To increase muscle hypertrophy, you need to stress the muscle, damage it, or put tension on it and provide it with amino acids to build muscle tissue.

Mechanical tension applied to muscles causes microtrauma and metabolic stress, which lead to muscle growth. In addition, increasing muscle tension recruits more motor units, which results in increased muscle fiber recruitment. Microtrauma and motor unit recruitment initiate a series of cellular and molecular events, including cellular signaling pathways such as rapamycin (Akt/mTOR), which leads to muscle fiber synthesis, satellite cell stimulation, increased activity in calcium-dependent signaling pathways, and MAPK pathways, all of which are involved in muscle cell growth.7

In an analysis of multiple studies, researchers report that training muscle groups at least twice a week is necessary to maximize muscle growth. However, there was insufficient data to determine whether training three times a week would be even better.8

Persistence in muscle training is essential. Research suggests that early gains in muscle hypertrophy are mostly attributable to cell swelling. Over six to ten weeks of training, muscle growth is the major factor contributing to muscle hypertrophy.1

Hormones and growth factors are also important in promoting muscle growth. Increasing muscular tension, metabolic stress, and muscle damage increase circulating testosterone and growth hormone, which leads to increased protein synthesis and decreased protein degradation.7

Growth hormone levels decrease with age, making gains in muscle strength and hypertrophy more difficult. Sermorelin stimulates the release of natural growth hormone from your pituitary gland while working with your body’s natural feedback loops.  Using Sermorelin may be an important component of your muscle strength and hypertrophy program. Sermorelin has many potential benefits for both men and women.

Get started today with a monthly subscription of Sermorelin.

While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.

Protein Consumption, Strength Training, and Muscle Hypertrophy

Leann Poston, M.D.

Dr. Leann Poston is a licensed physician in the state of Ohio who holds an M.B.A. and an M. Ed. She is a full-time medical communications writer and educator who writes and researches for Invigor Medical. Dr. Poston lives in the Midwest with her family. She enjoys traveling and hiking. She is an avid technology aficionado and loves trying new things.


  • Krzysztofik M, Wilk M, Wojdała G, Gołaś A. Maximizing Muscle Hypertrophy: A Systematic Review of Advanced Resistance Training Techniques and Methods. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Dec 4;16(24):4897. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16244897. PMID: 31817252; PMCID: PMC6950543.
  • Deldicque L. Protein Intake and Exercise-Induced Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy: An Update. Nutrients. 2020 Jul 7;12(7):2023. doi: 10.3390/nu12072023. PMID: 32646013; PMCID: PMC7400877.
  • Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, et al. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults British Journal of Sports Medicine 2018;52:376-384.
  • American College of Sports Medicine. American College of Sports Medicine position stand. Progression models in resistance training for healthy adults. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2009 Mar;41(3):687-708. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e3181915670. PMID: 19204579.
  • Grgic J, Schoenfeld BJ, Skrepnik M, Davies TB, Mikulic P. Effects of Rest Interval Duration in Resistance Training on Measures of Muscular Strength: A Systematic Review. Sports Med. 2018 Jan;48(1):137-151. doi: 10.1007/s40279-017-0788-x. PMID: 28933024.
  • Schoenfeld, Brad J. The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research 24(10):p 2857-2872, October 2010. | DOI: 10.1519/JSC.0b013e3181e840f3


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