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Timing of protein intake: 20 grams of protein within 2 hours of exercise builds muscle with max efficiency

Timing of Protein intake builds muscles after resistance training.

Timing of protein intake matters.
Timing of protein intake can matter. Before or shortly after exercise seems to work best.

Today’s topic is an overview of dietary protein and amino acids and how these help build muscle and prevent muscle loss.  First, just a tiny bit about proteins and amino acids.  Proteins are made of amino acids.  Proteins are (for the most part) broken down into amino acids during digestion.  Once that happens they can be reassembled into whatever proteins your body needs.  Amino acids are hugely important to physiology.  They are needed for enzymes, hormones, hair and other things.  For most people, the first thoughts of protein and amino acids are muscle.

There is good evidence that consuming protein directly before or after resistance training reduces muscle breakdown and increases muscle mass accumulation.  The fine points of how much, which amino acids and exactly when they should be taken are under investigation.  Here are a few highlights.  Bear in mind that these may change as research continues:

  • Timing of intake: so far it looks like protein has its best protective effect when taken just before or soon after resistance training.  Consuming protein as late as two hours after exercise doesn’t seem to work as well as consuming proteins within five minutes of an exercise session.  Keep in mind that this timing difference may not matter functionally.  Even without extra protein, muscles are in active building mode for about 48 hours after exercise.
  • Which amino acids: How different amino acids stack up against each other is unknown to date.  Studies conflict.  One study is not necessarily wrong.  Two studies can conflict and still provide valuable information.  Results that seem to contradict one another may be caused by differences in how the study was done.  How old were the subjects; were they all men, or men and women?  What was the timing?  What training protocol was followed?   How much protein was given?  What else were the subjects eating or doing in their real lives?
  • How much: 20 grams of amino acids (or protein in a meal) seems to induce maximal results for young adults.  Older adults and elderly people may need more to get the same benefit.  This is probably because they (we) aren’t as efficient as we used to be.  Bummer.  But there you go.  Elderly people taking 35 grams of amino acids after exercise have had better results than elderly people taking 20 grams of amino acids. Elderly people in one study needed 40 grams of protein to reach maximal rate of muscle protein synthesis.

Timing of Protein Intake and Amino Acids can help prevent muscle loss during dieting.

Protein intake is important body builders and hyper-jacked crossfit nuts.  But it is also important to people on weight loss programs.  Increasing protein while dieting can help preserve muscle mass.  Preserving muscle mass matters to many people for aesthetic reasons.  Muscle gives form and definition.  Having well-developed muscle may also help people keep weight off.  That is pretty well accepted.  Less attention is given to the importance of preserving muscle mass during aging.  People who are constantly dieting and losing muscle mass may end up with even less when they are older.  Loss of muscle with aging is a major cause of frailty and loss of independence.   People with no interest in sporting huge muscles should still pay attention to this aspect of health.

Protein after exercise

If you are a young adult you can get your 20 grams of protein by using a protein bar or shake.  Powerbar makes a bar containing 20 grams of protein at a cost of about $2.00.  You could also have a glass of milk and a whole wheat peanut butter sandwich at a cost of about $0.60.  The milk and peanut butter sandwich would have about 23 grams of protein.  You could save $1.40 each time.  Please consider donating that money to research.  Many of our Paleo Diet readers will consider milk, bread and peanuts as horrors of the dark.  Its OK to eat these things.  Especially if the alternative is refined snacks, processed food or junk food.

If you are a masters athlete or older adult you may need to think about the extra calories you might get from two glasses of milk and two peanut butter sandwiches.  Timing meals with exercise may help.

Take away:

Twenty grams of protein within 2 hours of exercise helps build muscles with maximal efficiency.  Older adults may need 35 to 40 grams to get the same effect.

ResearchBlogging.org

Churchward-Venne TA, Murphy CH, Longland TM, & Phillips SM (2013). Role of protein and amino acids in promoting lean mass accretion with resistance exercise and attenuating lean mass loss during energy deficit in humans. Amino acids, 45 (2), 231-40 PMID: 23645387