Protein - How much and when?

Protein has long been used in the hopes of increasing athletic performance and improving body composition, however, the world of supplements is filled with landmines and false promises so it’s not always easy to determine what you should be looking for or if what you have has a high enough dose to work properly. I’m going to take a quick dive into protein to give you a better idea of what to do to maximize its benefits.

First let’s look at why, protein supplementation has been shown to increase muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and increases both muscle mass and strength when combined with a resistance training program. In addition to this, increased protein consumption has been shown to decrease fat mass even in highly trained athletes.

When it comes to these benefits from protein, it appears that in order to realize the biggest benefits, first you should make sure that you are eating a balanced diet with plenty of protein dispersed throughout the day. A good rule of thumb is to get 1g of protein for every pound you weigh. So for a 150lb person, you should get about 150g of protein each day. But, for athletes with more extensive training you should go up to about 1.5 g/lb each day, which would equal about 225g for the same 150lb person. This should be broken up throughout meals every 3-4 hours throughout the day with each meal having 0.2-0.35 g/lb of protein in it. This comes out to 30-55g of protein at each meal.

While in a perfect world all of this would be met through a food first approach, when it comes to eating this much protein it’s pretty difficult and for those who are pressed for time this becomes even more difficult. Having a source of readily available protein can help fill in the gaps of your current diet and make getting the amount of protein needed easier to come by.

So now that we’ve found a need for supplementation, what should you look for? First thing to do is to look for NSF certified products, while supplements are a messy business with little regulation, NSF certified products are regularly tested to ensure they include what’s on the label and nothing else. Next you should look for protein products that will provide 20-30g of protein per serving, with about 2-4g of Leucine in each serving. These amounts are shown to stimulate MPS the most, however larger amounts per serving haven’t been studied as extensively.

When it comes to timing, assuming that your total daily intake is good, and that you’ve spread this out throughout the day, it is best to consume a protein source within 45-90 minutes of beginning exercise. Whey protein has been shown to be one of the most bioavailable proteins, but other protein sources will work as well should you not be able to digest whey protein without discomfort. While in the past it was thought that you needed to consume carbs with protein to maximize the benefits this hasn’t been shown consistently, so I recommend finding a protein powder with a low amount of carbs so as not to add unnecessary calories.

Now that we’ve gone through the basics of protein along general recommendations, let me know in the comments any specific questions I may have left out or what you’d like to see next.