Training Performance & Recovery
By: Brian St. Pierre, CSCS, CISSN
How much and when should athletes eat protein?
If there is one nutrient that you need to support your training and recovery, protein would be it! All the exercise in the world won’t help you build muscle or get lean if it is not supported with proper nutrition, which should always include a good dose of some high-quality protein.
Many people argue the merits of whether you should have protein before you workout or after, when in reality the best time is both! The purpose of having protein before you exercise is to prevent muscle protein breakdown and to promote muscle protein synthesis. This is fancy talk for preserving the muscle you already have, and helping to promote the growth of new muscle tissue.
In addition to consuming some quality protein before you exercise, you should also consume some after as your muscles are highly receptive to incoming nutrients after a training session. The purpose of protein after training is to simply continue the benefits of pre-training protein, to preserve the muscle you already have and help create new muscle tissue.
That’s the big picture anyway, but let’s dig a little deeper and see more ways in which protein around our training can improve our results!
Protein Before You Train
Recent research has shown that consuming protein before exercise can decrease, or at least prevent the increase of, markers of muscle damage (myoglobin, creatine kinase and myofibrillar protein degradation) more than groups who consumed just carbohydrates or placebo.
This is one of the key reasons to have protein before you train, as reducing the damage to the muscles can improve recovery time and cause better adaptations to training over the long-term.
In addition, protein consumed before training will also flood your blood stream with amino acids as your body needs them, beginning the process of creating new muscle while you are training!
Aim to consume about 15-40 grams of protein within 30-90 minutes before training, depending on your size and needs. This can be consumed either in a shake or a mixed meal, again depending on what best fits your needs
Protein After You Train
While most people know they should have some protein after they exercise, they often believe that they must have a shake or meal immediately after finishing their last set. The fact is if you consumed an adequate amount of quality protein within 30-90 minutes before you started exercising, then there is no need for immediate consumption. In reality as long as some quality protein is consumed within an hour after cessation of training, you are golden.
On the flip side of that, waiting too long can compromise the beneficial adaptations to training, and decrease your results. So while you don’t have to slam down a shake immediately after training, it wouldn’t be in your best interest to wait for 3 hours either.
A perfect example of the importance of having protein around your training was a recent 10 week trial where the researchers had subjects consume a protein/carbohydrate mixture before and after training, and another group consume that same mixture at the two points in the day furthest from the training.
The group that surrounded their training with the protein/carbohydrate mixture had greater gains in lean mass and strength, while also losing some body fat to boot (the other group actually gained some fat). This clearly indicates that surrounding your training with adequate amounts of high-quality protein (and carbohydrates) will maximize results, even if your total intake for the day is the same.
Aim to consume about 15-40 grams of protein within 60 minutes after training, again depending on your size and needs. Whether this is consumed as a shake or a solid meal is solely dependent on what best fits your needs.
The take home point is that it is a good idea to surround your training, both before and after, with high quality protein to maximize the benefits of exercise. This will minimize protein breakdown, and maximize your ability to build or maintain lean muscle mass.
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Esmarck B, et al. Timing of postexercise protein intake is important for muscle hypertrophy with resistance training in elderly humans. J Physiol. 2001 Aug 15;535(Pt 1):301-11.
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Moore DR, et al. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Jan;89(1):161-8.
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