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Research Proposal – how diet and dietary supplements affect muscle growth

Area of Interest

The area of interest that I will look into for designing a research proposal will be how diet and dietary supplements effect muscle growth. I have some experience in trying to increase muscle growth through weight training, and personally believe that there are numerous, influential factors that can affect your training goals. There are many variables to think about when wanting to increase muscle mass or size.

These variables could be taken into consideration for pre-training, during training and also post-training. I believe one of the key elements you need to focus on when trying to gain muscle growth is diet; which can be a very vast and complicated topic. There can be many different suggested strategies of dieting and supplementing which can be implemented on achieving your specific goal.

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Therefore the different types of food and food supplements you consume can have a key influence on whether it aids your training programme and goals, or hinders it. Thalacker (2009) explains that weight training makes you stronger and bigger. However, the result you get from training might vary dramatically from the result of your training partner who is doing the exact same training program. The reasons for these variations might relate to both intrinsic factors such as your genetics and extrinsic factors like your diet.

While you do not have any control over your genetics, you can control your diet. However, scientists do not clearly understand exactly how diet can affect changes in your muscle size. For example, protein intake is one variable that might affect your training response. While some studies support greater muscle gains with greater protein intakes, others do not. Nonetheless, the commercial sector took advantage of a gap in the market and is now producing diet supplements that claim to aid a range of people’s training goals, including muscle growth.

Literature Review

Thalacker (2009) presents results that researchers from the University of Alabama recently published of a cluster analysis, looking at the effects of dietary variables on muscle growth. The study recruited 35 untrained men and 31 untrained women to take part in a 16 week training programme. The study showed that the average body weight of the subjects did not change over the 16 weeks, indicating that the subjects were consuming just enough calories to maintain their weight. The study showed that there was no association between the magnitude of muscle fibre growth and any dietary intake component.

Protein intake, on average, exceeded the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) of 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. The results showed that low protein intake did not necessarily translate to less muscle gain. However, this study cannot address the effect of nutrient timing; evidence indicates that consuming protein and carbohydrates soon after a training session can enhance size and strength gains. Cribb, P.J., and A. Hayes. (2006, p.1918-1925)

Clark (2006, p.40-41) presents an interview with sports nutritionist and author Nancy Clark. The main points made in the interview included what sorts and at what times should supplements be consumed to gain the most benefits. When asked what food bodybuilders should eat before they lift weights, Nancy Clark recommends eating carbohydrates before exercise and a carbohydrate-protein combination should be eaten right after a workout. To build muscle, she recommends that bodybuilders should consume about one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day for optimal muscle development when lifting weights.

She comments that whey protein is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream faster than other proteins like casein. Clark (2006) explains that whey is a rich source of the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are taken up directly by the muscles instead of having to be metabolized by the liver first. Hence, whey is fast acting and a fairly efficient muscle energy source during exercise; plus a good source of raw materials for building muscle after exercise.

Walker (2010, p.409-417) also provides information on whey protein; he investigates the ability of whey protein and leucine supplementation to enhance physical and cognitive performance and body composition. Thirty moderately fit participants completed a modified Air Force fitness test, a computer-based cognition test, and a dual-energy X-ray-absorptiometry scan for body composition before and after supplementing their daily diet for 8 wk with either 19.7 g of whey protein and 6.2 g leucine (WPL) or a calorie-equivalent placebo (P).

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The study showed that bench-press performance increased significantly from Week 1 to Week 8 in the WPL group, whereas the increase in the P group was not significant. Push-up performance increased significantly for WPL, and P showed no significant increase. The total mass, fat-free mass and lean body mass all increased significantly in the WPL group but showed no change in the P group.

No differences were observed within or between groups for crunches, chin-ups, 3-mile-run time, or cognition. In conclusion, the judgements that the authors seem to hold reflect the results of the study as Walker (2010) concludes that supplementing with whey protein and leucine may provide an advantage to people whose performance benefits from increased upper body strength and/or lean body mass.

One of the dietary supplements that Walker (2010) conducted a study on was leucine. Berg (2002, p. 126;128-129) also writes about leucine, mentioning; according to Eric Noreen, M.S., a doctoral candidate in the exercise nutrition research laboratory at the University of Western Ontario, Canada, some strong evidence suggests that branch-chained amino acids, specifical leucine, have the potential to be anabolic. Berg (2002) goes on to mention that several recent studies have shown that taking leucine after a workout significantly raises protein-synthesis rates (muscle growth).

However, for the conclusion, Noreen explains that the studies done thus far have been very narrowly focused on special circumstances and populations, which means the data can only be extrapolated to the recreational-athlete population. Berg (2002) explains that unfortunately, we really don’t know what the real-world significance is. He then goes on to state that while speculating that the increased protein-synthesis rates will mean more muscle gains over time is reasonable, that conclusion hasn’t been definitively established yet.

(Berg 2002) focuses on leucine which is a type of branch-chained amino acid. Similarly, Stoppani (2009, p.52) also supplies information on branch-chained amino acids by presenting findings of a study that suggests that bodybuilders should stick with a complete branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) supplement. From the findings from the study, the researchers suggest supplementing with 5-10 grams of branched-chain amino acids within 30 minutes before and after workouts.

Unlike (Stoppani 2009), Gleeson (2005) suggests that no valid scientific evidence supports the commercial claims that orally ingested BCAAs have an anticatabolic effect during and after exercise in humans or that BCAA supplements may accelerate the repair of muscle damage after exercise. Another main point of the article states that acute intakes of BCAA supplements of about 10-30 grams per day seem to be without ill effect. However, the suggested reasons for taking such supplements have not received much support from well-controlled scientific studies.

Kreider (2010, p.7-49) explains research has indicated that people undergoing intense training may need additional protein in their diet to meet protein needs (i.e., 1.4 – 2.0 grams/day). Protein supplements offer a convenient way to ensure that athletes consume quality protein in the diet and meet their protein needs. However, ingesting additional protein beyond that necessary to meet protein needs does not appear to promote additional gains in strength and muscle mass.

Van Loon, Luc J. C. (2007) suggests that with the increasing knowledge about the role of nutrition in increasing exercise performance, it has become clear over the last 2 decades that amino acids, protein, and protein hydrolysates can play an important role. Most of the attention has been focused on their effects at a muscular level. As these nutrients are ingested, however, it also means that gastrointestinal digestibility and absorption can modulate their efficacy significantly. Therefore, discussing the role of amino acids, protein, and protein hydrolysates in sports nutrition entails holding a discussion on all levels of the metabolic route.

Research Problem

After completing a literature review on journal articles relevant to how diet and dietary supplements can impact muscle growth, I have found a specific part of the topic which shows discrepancies; branched-chain amino acids. BCAAs are made up of three amino acids: leucine, isoleucine and valine. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, which in turn are the building blocks of muscle. Eighteen amino acids make up what is considered a “complete” protein, the type found in food sources such as beef, chicken, milk, eggs and protein powder.

Leucine, isoleucine and valine are considered “essential” amino; that is, your body can’t manufacture them on its own and thus needs to get them from your diet. After initial studies that showed promise for this particular amino as muscle-building agents, BCAA’s supplements began to appear on the market. Stoppani (2009) presents information on the findings of a study that suggests that bodybuilders should stick with a complete BCAA supplement and that more BCAA’s are better. Whereas Gleeson (2005) suggests that no valid scientific evidence supports the commercial claims that orally ingested BCAA’s have an anticatabolic effect during and after exercise in humans or that BCAA’s supplements may accelerate the repair of muscle damage after exercise.

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Furthermore, Berg (2002) concludes on the topic of BCAA’s that we really don’t know what the real-world significance is. While speculating that the increased protein-synthesis rates will mean more muscle gains over time is reasonable, that conclusion hasn’t been definitively established yet.

As a result of these three journal articles taking different viewpoints on the topic of BCAA’s; I feel this would be a good opportunity to carry out a research project on the topic as there seems to be a lack of agreement and no concrete evidence. I feel this research proposal has the potential to be effective as having a critical eye on what has been found in the past is just as important as having an inquisitive and curious thought about the present and future.


To what extent does a greater consumption of branch-chained amino acids (BCAA’s) have an effect on muscle growth when completing a weight training programme?


The method that I will propose to answer my research question will involve eight participants. Four of the participants will carry out a devised training programme that aims to increase muscle mass under the influence of branch-chained amino acids. While the other four participants will carry out the exact same training programme, however won’t be using branch-chained amino acids. The training programme for all participants will be a duration of ten weeks (see attached). To make this method as reliable as possible I will choose moderately fit male participants who have had no previous experience of weight training.

As a result, no participant should have any advantage over another. Furthermore, it’s extremely important that the participants carry out the exact same exercises with the same amount of reps and sets; as this will affect the accuracy and reliability of the results. For the four participants that will be taking BCAA’s throughout the ten weeks of the training programme, they will consume the recommended usage; five grams of BCAA’s, three times a day. This will split up into one portion as soon as the participants wake up, one directly after a training session on a training day or in the afternoon on a non-training day, and one in the evening before the participants go to sleep.

Before the ten-week training programme commences, the eight participants will be tested and taken through induction of the exercises they will be carrying out. The participant’s body mass index, body composition and measurements of their biceps, chest and thighs will be recorded. The exact same tests will be taken again after the ten-week programme has finished. Then both sets of the individual participant’s results will be compared and analyzed. During the induction that the participants will go through, they’ll each practice the correct technique and work out their one-rep max for the exercises in the ten-week training programme.

This is important as to make this method as reliable as possible I will need to make sure that all participants perform at the same intensity. As it is extremely unlikely that all subjects will be of exactly the same strength and power, if I set the same weight for all the subjects then some will naturally have to use more effort than others to exert a particular amount of repetitions. Training loads will be based on 65% 1-rep max (1-RM, the maximum amount of weight you can lift once) and then increased throughout the study to maintain the 8 to 12 repetition range as strength levels improve.

As a result, this method will be more reliable. At the end of the ten-week training programme, I will again record and analyze the participant’s one rep max on the exercises to see if there are differences. Finally, I will produce a questionnaire for the participants to fill out at the end of every week to assess how they’re feeling about their training programme and whether or not they feel any improvements.

Paradigmatic Assumptions

This study will follow a positivist paradigm that maintains that reality is fixed and that objective knowledge can be produced through properly employed methods. The positivist paradigm suggests that real events can be observed and explained with logical analysis. Positivists aim to test a theory or describe an experience “through observation and measurement in order to predict and control forces that surround us.” (O’Leary, 2004, p.5)

Ontological assumption suggests that changes can be made with those involved, as it is them who construct reality. People can determine “the way things are” and, often, discover the cause-effect relations behind reality. At the least, people can find meaningful indicators of what is “really” happening. This is essential in a topic where intervention may be necessary for benefit. Another assumption is that past experiences shape future behaviour.

Epistemological assumption suggests the investigator and the object of investigation are independent of each other and the object can be researched without being influenced by the researcher. Any possible researcher influence can be anticipated, detected, and accounted for (controlled).

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There are a few ethical concerns to be aware of if carrying out this research proposal. Firstly the subjects need to be completely away of what is expected of them and the details of the research project. The participants who consume the branched-chained amino acids will be informed of what BCAA’s are and the possible side effects. Allergic reactions to BCAA’s are uncommon, but could possibly occur. If there is a reaction, it may possibly be from the dye or preservative the supplement formula includes. A physician will be notified if there is vomiting, rash, weakness or dizziness.

Furthermore, any supplement can be accidentally taken in excess of the normal recommended dose. Overdosing with branched-chain amino acid supplements has occurred. If a crawling feeling is felt on the skin, more than enough of the BCAA was most likely consumed. Valine, a component of BCAA’s, will give such a side effect if taken in excess. Participation in the study will be completely voluntary and withdrawal will be permitted at any time. Before the participants start the study, they will sign a consent form.

The data produced from the study will be kept confidential and stored correctly for the maximum length of time permitted after completion. Furthermore, the participants will be able to access their particular data of the study if requested. Finally, the participants will be debriefed at the end of the study and given the opportunity to ask any questions if they have any queries.


Oct 2011- Receive permission from the gym to use their facilities for the study.

Oct 2011- Advertise for suitable participants (email and posters). Provide my contact details for

potential participants to contact me and declare interest in the study.

Nov 2011- Await volunteer responses; inform them of when questionnaires will be sent.

Nov 2011- Send out questionnaires to the participants who responded to the advertisements.

Include a self-addressed stamped envelope for them to return it. Notify the participants that the questionnaires have been sent.

Dec 2011- Evaluate the questionnaires and choose the most suitable participants to take part

In the study.

Dec 2011- Meet up with the chosen candidates and go through a detailed briefing of the study and give them an opportunity to express any queries they have.

Dec 2011- Carry out pre-training programme testing and measurements of the candidates.

Dec 2011- Lead the candidates through an induction of the training programme.

Jan 2012- Training programme commences.

March 2012- Training programme finishes.

March 2012- Post-training programme testing and measurements of the candidates.

March 2012- Debrief of the study with the candidates and analysis of the results.


Berg, M. (2002) ‘Power pill: branched-chain amino acids may provide dramatic physical and mental boosts to your training ‘, Men’s Fitness 18/4, pp. 126;128-129

Clark, N. (2006) ‘Bulking up’, American Fitness, 24/1, pp. 40-41

Cribb, P.J., and A. Hayes (2006) Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise 38:1918-1925

Gleeson, M. (2005) ‘Interrelationship between physical activity and branched-chain amino acids’, Journal of Nutrition 135 (6): 1591S-1595S Suppl. S JUN

Kreider, R. (2010) ‘ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review: research & recommendations’, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 7, pp. 7-49

O’Leary, Z. (2004) The essential guide to doing research. London: Sage.

Stoppani, J. (2009) ‘BCAA’s: More is better’, Joe Weider’s Muscle & Fitness 70/9, pp. 52

Van Loon, Luc J. C. (2007) ‘Protein and Protein Hydrolysates in Sports Nutrition’, International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism 17, S1-S4

Walker, T. (2010) ‘Influence of 8 Weeks of Whey-Protein and Leucine Supplementation on Physical and Cognitive Performance’, International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism 20/5, pp. 409-417

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Research Proposal - how diet and dietary supplements affect muscle growth. (2021, Sep 28). Retrieved March 27, 2023, from