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Do You Need Protein Powder To Build Muscle?

By Amanda Reck / April 10, 2018

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Every week, the BuiltLean Team addresses your fitness and nutrition questions. Read on to find out more.

  1. Do you need protein powder to build muscle?
  2. How long should I do cardio?
  3. Am I losing muscle or water?
  4. Should I have a cheat day once per week?
  5. Should I stop taking a multi-vitamin?

Question #1 – Do you need protein powder to build muscle?

Question: Marc- Do you recommend a protein powder for building lean muscle mass? I have heard so many opinions. I just want to make certain that I do not lose muscle.
Answer: Hey Stephen, think of protein powder as the powder form of a chicken breast that is faster to digest. This helps post workout, but generally speaking, it’s basically interchangeable with other forms of whole protein. Keep in mind protein powder is just a “supplement,” so it can aid, but not replace anything. We have a an article that goes into depth => Whey Protein. Good luck

Marc Perry ( Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT)

Question #2 – How long should I do cardio?

Question: Is it true that people should NOT do cardio for longer than 40 minutes because of the negative effects associated with cardio (increased cortisol, overuse injuries, muscle loss, harder to lose weight)?
Answer: You can do cardio for hours, it really depends on what your goals are, your fitness level, and the intensity of the cardio session. The issues you raise (increased cortisol, overuse injuries, and muscle loss) are more typical of more extreme cardio workouts (think marathon training), or if you are not getting enough sleep, or eating properly while training.

If you are exercising intensely, a 20-30 minute session can be plenty to help improve your cardio capacity and burn some extra fat, such as with an interval training workout. Depending on your schedule, I would do a minimum of 2 strength training sessions per week and based on your schedule, 1-3 cardio sessions. It’s important to listen to your body, drink enough water, and rest.

Marc Perry ( Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT)

Question #3 – Am I losing muscle or water?

Question: I’m guessing body water is part of your LBM. If I’m correct in this assumption is it possible that fluctuations in LBM from one week to the next are more likely from water loss than muscle loss (unless it’s a continuing loss/gain over multiple weeks)?
Answer: LBM refers to your lean body mass (lean muscle tissue), which helps determine your body fat %. However, if you were to weigh yourself every day or multiple times throughout the day, the weight fluctuations you’ll see are likely attributable to water loss/retention. Water retention can be caused by drinking alcohol, eating processed and high-sodium foods, food allergies or intolerances, dehydration, certain medications, etc. That’s why we recommend a weekly weigh-in. Weighing yourself once per week on the same day and around the same time helps control a few variables that could influence your scale weight, so it’s a better way to track change over time. It also helps to regularly eat a clean diet, reduce your alcohol consumption, and drink adequate water.

Kristin (Kristin Rooke, CSCS, CPT)

Question #4 – Should I have a cheat day once per week?

Question: Hi,
I’ve recently found your website & find the information very helpful & interesting. I’m wondering if you agree with the cheat day once a week to build leptin levels back up due to the reduced cals approach for fat loss?

Thanks again,

Answer: Hey Stuart,

My philosophy is that cheat meals are not necessary, but if they help you psychologically without really splurging, then go for it. At the end of the day, I think there are a lot of ways to control hunger, my favorite being eating lean protein sources combined with fibrous carbs and starchy carbs. Drinking water and getting enough sleep are also helpful.

With that said, for people who have been dieting for weeks on end and progress has slowed, bumping up calorie intake for a few days may be helpful. The research is pretty spotty on this topic, which is why we haven’t written an article specifically on cheat days.

I would refer you to these two articles that are pretty detailed, but may provide more helpful info for you:

Marc Perry ( Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT)

Question #5 – Should I stop taking a multi-vitamin?

Question: I take a multivitamin mostly because I am low on iron no matter how much spinach and other iron rich foods I eat. It gets so bad that my hair thins out if I stop taking vitamins. I haven’t had any issues with my women’s one a day. Could the hazards show up later down the line? Is there something I could take just for iron? Thanks.
Answer: This is something I would discuss with your doctor. You appear to fall in one of the “special populations” that do benefit from traditional multivitamin supplementation. Unless your doctor disagrees, and since you seem to get good benefits from your vitamin, I would continue it.

Charlie Seltzer ( Charlie Seltzer, MD, CES, DABOM)


  • Ed says:

    You compared protein powder to a chicken breast. Does that mean that it is safe for anyone to consume? I am currently 15 (Borderline short) and I do not want to stunt my growth.

    • Marc Perry, CSCS, CPT says:

      @Ed - whey protein is well researched, check out this article => Whey Protein. You should consult with your doctor before taking any supplements.

  • herman t golyama says:

    I want to know how can i build my body becouse i want to to so help me plz

  • Bil all says:

    I am 46 and weigh 83 KG's and have a bloated abdomen, I have recently started weight training. My goal is to reduce my weight by 8 KG's. Do you reccomend Whey Protein for me? Does age has to do anything with Whey Protien side effects?

    Thanks in advance

    • Kristin Rooke, CPT says:


      You can absolutely use whey protein regardless of your age, as long as you tolerate dairy. Whey is a milk-derived protein supplement, so if you don't do well with milk, you'll probably want to opt for an egg- or plant-base protein powder.

      As for having a bloated abdomen - that could be a sign of food allergies or sensitivities (unless you're simply referring to abdominal fat, in which case you're best bet is to focus on fat loss). According to Medical New Today, symptoms of food intolerance include bloating, migraines, headache, cough, runny nose, fatigue, stomach ache, irritable bowel, diarrhea, constipation, and hives.

      If you're experiencing any of those issues, you might want to chat with your primary care doctor about the possibility of food allergies or sensitivities. Hope that helps!

      -Kristin, BuiltLean Coach & Managing Editor