High protein diets for building muscle - do they work?

High protein for building musclePic: Getty

Plenty of protein in your diet is essential if you are a workout fanatic or looking to build muscle. It not only boosts immunity, but also repairs muscle and recovery after exercise, and helps keep your body lean.

It's little wonder, then, that high-protein diets and shakes are becoming ever more popular amongst the fitness community. But do they really work? Check out some of the options available to find out whether they're right for you.

There are two types of protein shakes that are commonly found in health food stores - whey and casein. Both help to repair muscles after a workout, and can aid protein synthesis, whereby new muscle fibres are built, giving you bigger, stronger muscles.

Where they differ is in the appropriate timing. Whey protein shakes are fast release, making them ideal for a post-workout boost, and the high levels of amino acids may also help to minimise muscle protein breakdown.

Casein, on the other hand, contains much larger protein molecules, meaning it will take your body longer to digest. For this reason a casein shake is most effective if drunk just before bed, as the slow-release protein will repair and rebuild your muscles while you sleep.

Unlike a quick and easy shake, a high-protein diet takes a good deal more time and effort to really work, and each of the most popular diets comes with its own hard-and-fast rules.

The Zone
The idea behind the Zone diet is that by sticking to a specified ratio of carbs, protein and fat, the body is in 'the zone' of burning fat for energy, as your insulin and glucagon levels are balanced.

Each meal is made up of 'blocks', one block being seven grams or protein, nine grams of carbs or 1.5 grams of fat. Advocates then eat an equal number of blocks of each at every meal. While the weighing can be a touch laborious, it does make it easy to raise or lower the amount you eat depending on your exercise regime, and some athletes claim to find it improves performance.

The Paleo Diet
Based on what our caveman ancestors could hunt and forage for, the Paleo diet includes plenty of red meat, poultry, eggs, wild fish and shellfish, along with loads of fresh fruit and veg, and a little fruit. Cereal grains, legumes and dairy are a strict no-go, though, along with any kind of refined sugar.

Advocates claim this 'caveman' diet aids digestion, prevents inflammatory problems and helps you to lose weight, but the lack of carbs means it's probably not the best for a fitness fanatic.

There is little doubt that protein helps to repair and build muscle, but it is worth remembering that a high-protein diet may be best employed by those looking to lose weight too. Given its thermogenic effect, whereby the body expends energy digesting and processing nutrients, protein certainly does burn more calories than carbs or fat. But if you are trying to bulk up rather than slim down while building muscle, you'll need to consume some serious calories on a high-protein diet.

Lastly, if you are embarking on a new exercise regime or have a long-term health condition, always check with a doctor or dietician as to any potentially harmful effects a diet or supplement may have.

Are you a fan of protein shakes or high-protein diets? What's your advice for those considering a muscle-building regime? Leave your comments below...