Protein has been a hot topic in the nutrition in fitness world for years now, and there is no sign of that slowing down. Since I work in a gym setting, the topic of muscle growth in relation to protein intake comes up all the time between clients and trainers alike. While at FNCE a couple weeks ago, I attended an interesting lecture about muscle synthesis and wanted to share some interesting findings that might be helpful to those of you looking to build muscle.
Nutrition and exercise are the two main anabolic stimuli- and they work hand in hand. In other words, you can’t drink protein shakes all day and expect to build muscle if you’re not putting the work in at the gym. On the flip side, exercise is much more beneficial if you learn to fuel your body correctly. Muscle synthesis is increased for up to 3-5 hours after a workout, so be sure to eat within 30 minutes-1 hour after working out to take advantage of this.
The source of your protein matters. Animal proteins like beef or chicken trigger a more favorable anabolic response than vegetarian protein because they have a higher leucine content (the amino acid that signals muscle synthesis) and a higher digestibility. Vegetarians should consider increasing their protein intake to compensate.
The amount of protein matters- to an extent. Eating 20g of protein in one sitting is sufficient for most people, with muscle synthesis only increasing slightly with greater intake. Consuming more than 40g of protein in one sitting shows no increase in muscle growth compared with smaller amounts. To put this in perspective, an average chicken breast found in grocery stores is 6-8oz. which amounts to 36- 48 g of protein.
Timing of protein ingestion is important. Most Americans tend to load up on protein at dinner, but spacing your protein intake throughout the day is more beneficial. Try increasing your protein intake at breakfast with eggs or yogurt, focusing on lean source of protein like chicken, fish, or even beans at lunch, and snacking on nuts or dairy between meals.
Eating carbohydrates with protein doesn’t necessarily mean greater gains. It is commonly believed that eating carbohydrates along with protein helps muscle growth because the carbohydrates stimulate insulin, which is an anabolic hormone (aka it stimulates growth). Current research shows, however, that only small amounts of insulin are sufficient for creation of new muscle. The small amount of the hormone can typically be reached stimulated protein ingestion alone.
Time to hit the gym! And the kitchen!