In a lot of articles at M&F Online, you’ll hear us mentioning protein synthesis. We tell you how a particular workout or nutrition timing can help to increase this muscle-making phenomenon and we’ll explain how certain supplements can help to maximize it. But what the heck is it? In a nutshell it is arguably the most important physiological factor in existence when it comes to getting bigger and stronger. Here, we break down the basics of muscle protein synthesis, Cliffs Notes-style.


Protein synthesis, in general, is removing or repairing damaged proteins and building new proteins that are replicas of the original. The new proteins are stronger, more dense, and able to handle stress better than before. Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) is the rebuilding of muscle tissue and it occurs as a result of the stresses that we place on our body, whether it is to repair injury (such as a muscle tear) or because we intentionally try to damage it (microtrauma from training). The exact process is still under considerable scrutiny, however, one thing is certain: it occurs immediately upon stress. The second you begin to exercise, MPS activates and begins to repair muscles. Usually, protein synthesis is said to occur overnight, the next day, etc., but the truth is that it starts right away and may go on for as long as 48 hours at a single damaged site before it is repaired.


Without it, your muscles won’t grow. Period. But, just rebuilding does not mean fully recovered. In other words, you have to rebuild (kinda like having surgery) and then you have to recover. Once recovered, you have to hit it hard again, to get the process to continue to cycle so you continue to build bigger, stronger muscles. The degree of stress and the length of recovery can be mostly be controlled by the training program you create and the intensity level that you perform it at, as well as the nutrition you provide your muscles to ensure protein is available for rebuilding. Knowing this is powerful, as there are a few strategies that you can employ to fortify and speed up the process.


One advantage you have over MPS is that you know when you are going to apply the stress. Right? You know you are going to the gym, so prepare yourself properly. You can help fuel MPS while reducing soreness and recovery time, by adequately providing enough amino acids so that MPS can access it. Having aminos in your blood ready to be sucked up by the cell means there is fuel available to prime and continue to supply the process. Your pre-workout fuel should include aminos, proteins, and/or bioactive peptides along with whatever other vein-pumping, mind-blowing stuff you think you need. The second strategy is to hit the MPS cycle during and immediately following exercise, so again, you have the available fuel.


Recovery starts before your first rep. Remember, MPS is rebuilding due to damage, and recovery is the follow-up. If you lift too heavy, don’t give yourself enough time between training, use poor technique, or eat poorly, you risk losing out on the results you just trained so hard for.

David Sandler, MS, CISSN, CSCS*D, RSCC*D, HFD, HFI, FNSCA, FISSN has been a consultant, educator, researcher, and strength and conditioning coach for the past 25 years. He is the Director of Science and Education for iSatori and the President of StrengthPro, a training and nutrition consulting group.