How to Time Your Protein Intake to Build Muscle

After last week when I wrote about how we’re all eating too much protein, I kept digging further – this time it’s about how to time your protein intake for best growth of lean muscle mass.

How much protein do you consume after your workout, and when? Meal timing is a topic that seems to elicit thousands of different opinions. A recent study published in Nutrition and Metabolism sheds a little light on the complexity.

The authors set out to determine the best pattern for consuming protein. All subjects consumed a total of 80 grams of whey protein daily after a bout of exercise on the knee extension machine. (I suppose a useful exercise like a squat just wouldn’t have been appropriate.) Some subjects consumed 10 grams of protein per dose in 8 doses. Some consumed 20 grams per dose in 4 doses. And some consumed 40 grams per dose in just 2 doses. All subjects were men with a history of resistance training.

The results showed that the men who sipped their protein in small, 10 gram doses had consistently better whole-body protein synthesis. This group also showed better protein breakdown. The group that gulped its protein in 2 doses of 40 grams showed the least favorable results in both of these metrics. But total protein balance was best in the intermediate group that received 4 doses of 20 grams. The authors suggest that this metric means moderate doses may be best at promoting growth of lean muscle mass.

I recently covered new research that says we’ve all been eating way too much protein. Perhaps proper timing and dosage is part of making the protein you do eat work its hardest for you? This article from Tom Kelso suggests eating your protein in equal, moderate doses at each meal. That would seem to fit with the intermediate model that the authors of this study suggest for building lean muscle mass.

Amidst all this discussion, this is certain: protein timing and dosage does matter, and multiple small or moderate doses are clearly superior to a couple huge doses. Maybe the bodybuilders with their crazy lunch boxes are on to something after all?

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