Like its fellow macronutrients fat and carbs – protein is often followed by controversy around optimal intake, benefits and potential health effects when consumed in excess.
The optimal protein intake for building muscle, losing body fat and helping with recovery is widely discussed, and so it should be! Protein is an essential nutrient that plays an important role in fuelling our bodies during training and assists in the building and repairing of muscle tissues. But with so much information out there around high protein - low carb diets and thousands of protein supplements on the market, you might be asking yourself; how much protein should I be eating? When should I be eating it? And are there certain types that I should be consuming? All great questions to be asking as the quantity, quality and timing of protein intake are three important factors if maintaining lean muscle mass, improving recovery and weight loss / maintenance are your goals.
How much Protein?
The recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8grams per kilo of body weight per day. For a 60kg female this equates to 48grams of protein per day. It is important to note the RDA is based on the requirements of sedentary individuals and represents the amount of consumption required to avoid deficiency - this is not an ideal recommendation for those pursuing an increase in lean muscle mass. Studies have shown a protein intake greater than the RDA is needed for optimal growth and recovery, and a greater requirement exists for those undertaking regular resistance exercise. This increased need is required to optimize development, repair and maintenance of muscle. For active individuals training approximately five times per week could consume 2.0g/kg/body weight per day without adverse health effects and to maximize muscle protein synthesis. For a 60kg female this would be ~120g protein per day. Be sure to spread your protein intake evenly throughout the day and try to incorporate it in every meal to allow for maximal muscle protein synthesis (60kg female, 120g/day, across five meals = ~25g of protein per meal). When it comes to protein consumption and training, a dose of 20-25grams as soon as possible after exercise is beneficial. This amount is generally found in a serve of protein shake, five to six egg whites or 80-100g of chicken breast.
What type of protein?
From protein shakes of whey, hydrolyzed WPI , casein and soy, to foods such as eggs, meat and milk, no wonder there is confusion as to what form of protein is best, and when. Studies have revealed there are varying effects on the form of protein ingested post training. It is recommended a high quality dose of protein such as dairy, egg or lean meat post workout is beneficial to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. These proteins are fast-digesting, so emptied from the stomach at a greater rate. This could be in the form a WPI shake, low fat milk (has been shown to be more superior over soy proteins) or pre prepared chicken breast for those that may be lactose free. These sources also contain the branched chain amino acid leucine, which has been shown to further assist with building muscle and burning fat. Casein and blended protein powders (often containing a mixture of casein and WPI), is relatively insoluble and forms a gelatinous material when ingested (or mixed with yoghurt = delicious!). Due to this jelly like property, casein has a slower rate of digestion, and promotes a slow, but steady released of amino acids into the body. Best to save casein protein for later in the day or as a ‘night time’ protein to assist in recovery overnight. Keep those fast absorbing, high quality proteins immediately post exercise.
Studies have looked into the various timing and effectiveness of protein ingestion pre, during and post workout. Many of us may consume branched chain amino acids (BCAA’s) during or ‘intra’ workout. The consumption of BCAA’s during resistance training has been shown to enhance muscle protein synthesis during exercise, suppress muscle protein breakdown and enhance protein balance during and after exercise. The biggest bang for your buck in terms of timing of protein ingestion, to promote the most favourable effect is as possible following exercise. This will assist in reducing muscle damage, enhance recovery and promote lean muscle improvements. So be sure to keep a protein shake, recovery bar or pre-packed meal in your gym bag to maximize your hard work and keep those gains.
Like most things in life, too much of one thing is generally never good. Make sure that you don’t replace other important macronutrients such as fat and carbohydrates with protein. If you do so, especially with carbohydrates, it can lead to a more rapid rate of fatigue, performance is likely to suffer and in extreme cases, other nutrient deficiencies can be of concern. Bottom line; if lean muscle mass is your goal, get the quantity, quality and timing right and the results will follow. Approximately 20grams of high quality protein (think Maxine’s Burn protein powder), as soon as possible following resistance training - don’t underestimate the power of protein!