In the strength world, protein is a lot like money- it’s a type of currency that will get you from the starting line to the finish line. This means that it can help you go from sore following a workout to “not so sore”. You can go from skinny to bulky- as long as you are also engaging in regular workouts. Protein takes you from hungry to satisfied. Plus, just like real currency, there are lots of ways you can go about obtaining it.
One thing we can all agree on is our need for protein. This is the reason it’s often considered the most important macronutrient when it comes to strength athletes. In addition, it’s often one of the most hotly debated topics, which is interesting. The thing is, we all have a daily protein intake recommendation- does it really make a difference where it comes from?
To be honest, it really does matter- somewhat. There are several factors that determine an athlete’s protein requirements: age, weight goals, activity goals, training status, and more. In this article, we’ll explore the various rules for protein consumption. However, you should understand that this is not a template for any specific protein needs- just a reminder of the ways you can and should consume protein based off the current research available.
4 Protein Consumption Rules
According to current research, there are four basic protein consumption rules, which we will explore below:
Consume an Adequate Amount of Protein
One thing that we all know is that strength athletes have higher protein requirements than individuals who are sedentary. The question is: how much is “enough”? Over the years, there have been a few different suggestions- we’ll look at a couple of these with their requirement differences.
The factors involved here are based on the age, training history, metabolism, and other factors. According to the experts, there are a few suggestions as to what qualifies as “enough” protein for the average person who is working out on a regular basis.
First, there is a widely held belief that 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight is best- but some other studies have indicated that it is possible to function optimally with lower amounts.
For example, in 2008, research indicated that .82 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is enough to retain lean body mass and achieve a positive nitrogen balance. On the other hand, research from 1992 discovered that there was no difference in mass and strength for athletes who consumed .6 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight and those who consumed 1.19 grams. Therefore, this led to researchers suggesting that perhaps a consumption of .75 grams per pound of bodyweight is “enough”.
Just like with general maintenance, there are several factors at play with cutting and weight loss when determining how much protein is “enough”. There is some research that indicates bodybuilders should consume 1 to 1.4 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight to retain lean body mass.
Of course, it’s important to note that these recommendations do not cover every athlete that goes on a diet and more research needs to be done on this group. Additionally, when you are dieting or cutting, you must also tailor your fat and carbohydrate consumption to your personal needs and workouts. These factors all make it hard to offer clear answers.
Spread Out Your Protein Consumption
Do you prefer to have several small meals throughout the day or a couple of big ones?
Once again, evidence is not 100% clear on which is best. There are some studies indicating that several smaller meals throughout the day is best. In fact, one study from 2014 indicated that evenly distributing protein across several meals increases the rate of protein synthesis by up to 25%. To be honest, it really boils down to what makes you feel the best and what makes you perform optimally.
For example, one study indicated that higher protein consumption led to increased muscle protein synthesis. In this study, 23 healthy young males were given either 40 grams or 70 grams of protein both with exercise and without. Results indicated that the higher protein consumption led to increased muscle protein synthesis. Yes, both 40 grams and 70 grams showed positive results- but the results for the 70 gram group were slightly better.
Of course, you need to keep in mind that the meals were primarily protein, as a mixed macronutrient meal could create different results. In addition, researchers studied anabolism levels at a total body level- not just muscle.
Therefore, as you can see, research is conflicting in regard to what is best for muscle protein synthesis. However, professionals pretty much agree that meals containing at least 30 grams of protein spread out every 3 to 4 hours seem to benefit most athletes.
Protein Quality Does Make a Difference
While experts are divided on how much is “enough” and how you should consume your protein, they do agree that whole protein sources that have a full amino acid profile are better than those that don’t.
This is why things such as whey protein have been proven to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Leucine, which is one of the 9 essential amino acids, has been linked to muscle protein synthesis.
Research indicates that foods with a complete amino acid profile are better for triggering anabolic responses. Following, you will find a list of some of the foods that contain a full amino acid profile:
- Hemp/chia seeds
- Other meats (bison, turkey, etc.)
One study from 2010 showed that individuals who consumed whole protein meals on a regular basis had less central abdominal fat than those who did not. Therefore, protein quality is inversely related to central abdominal fat.
Timing of Protein Consumption is Situational
One of the most common questions that people ask when it comes to protein consumption is: does timing really matter? Timing does matter somewhat- but not as much as some supplement manufacturers might want you to believe.
Most of the time, studies reporting a short anabolic window are working with athletes who are in a fasted state. In this situation, the net protein level is negative- so protein consumption following fasted training is going to result in a stronger anabolic response.
However, there really is something to be said about timing. For example, athletes who are engaging in intense training on a regular basis should consider their protein powder timing as well as other variables.
Besides some very specific athletic needs, the rate of protein breakdown is going to vary as you eat. In one study, it was discovered that consuming protein prior to working out elevates muscle protein synthesis throughout the workout. This conclusion was reported from a 2007 study that examined the effects of whey protein consumption prior to and following a workout, finding similar anabolic responses in both situations.
Additionally, this 2004 study indicates that a balanced meal that is high in protein will break down over the course of 4 to 6 hours. This suggests that if you are consuming normal sized meals throughout the day, your body will continuously break down the protein.
As you can see, there are lots of factors that need to be considered when it comes to determining the daily protein requirements for an athlete. In most cases, the best way to consume protein is whatever you prefer and what works best for your schedule. There is some indication that the quality of the protein does make a difference as well as your personal needs and goals. However, the timing of your protein consumption- whether prior to your workout or following it, doesn’t seem to make a huge difference, so that is up to you.
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