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Is Protein Important?

When it comes to gaining muscle bulk, the type of training you do will always have far more influence than what you eat...

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Some of my buddies swear by protein shakes for getting strong, but surely these just cause you to bulk up?

—Paul Blumer, West Bloomfield, MI
When it comes to gaining muscle bulk, the type of training you do will always have far more influence than what you eat. Hitting the weights hard three or four times a week, rather than whether or not you drink a protein shake, is what will cause you to look like an aspirant Schwarzenegger. The sports that cause vast quantities of muscle tissue to break down all over the body, such as bodybuilding or powerlifting, require significant increases in dietary protein. Other sports, like climbing, only require power from a smaller and more limited range of muscles and therefore require a proportionately smaller component of dietary protein. If you ingest too much protein after climbing it will simply end up in the toilet and drain your bank balance. After a typical endurance-based session on routes, your body really needs carbohydrates, not protein, for glycogen replenishment. After endurance sessions, go for one of the recovery formulas that blends protein with carbohydrates on a 1:3 or a 1:4 ratio. It is only after higher-intensity sessions such as hard bouldering, campusing or fingerboarding that you might consider a pure protein supplement—but you don’t need anything like the quantities consumed by a bodybuilder. The main concern with protein shakes is that they may cause you to take on excess calories and put on fat. Go for the ones that are low in added sugar, and if you make them with milk, use skim milk, and dilute it with water. For climbing, amino-acid capsules probably make more sense. To summarize, don’t bother with protein supplements after routes, but a little extra protein is a good idea after strength/power sessions, or more generally during strength-building phases.