Protein: More is not necessarily better

Protein: More is not necessarily better



It is a well-established fact that adequate protein intake is one of the most important aspects of any sports nutrition programme, be it for strength or endurance activities.[1] There are endless research papers on the topic, much of it focusing on the effect of protein consumed in the immediate post-exercise period. From these experiments we know that whey protein is an excellent source for use straight after exercise.[2] This is party because it is digested and absorbed quickly, delivering the amino acids to the muscles in a timely manner, and partly because the amino acid composition provides appreciable levels of L-leucine. This branched chain amino acid is now regarded as a key driver of muscle anabolism ad appears to have a threshold effect that kicks in at 3 g, [3] which is provided by around 20-25 g of whey protein.


However, this obsession with post-exercise protein intake belies a bigger and more complex picture, which can be summarized as this: Recovery is not assured simply by taking some post exercise protein. Increasingly researchers are looking at the impact of different protein types and intake patterns over longer post-exercise recovery periods. For those training regularly recovery is an ongoing process and requires regular protein intake to ensure positive muscle protein balance. In one recent study researchers compared the impact of 80 g of whey protein delivered over a 12-hour post exercise recovery period. The protein was given in three patterns; 2 x 40 g, 4 x 20 g or 8 x 10 g evenly spaced throughout the 12-hours after a bout of resistance exercise. The results indicated that regular consumption of 20 g of protein was the optimal dose for stimulating muscle protein synthesis during this period.[4] These results support two theories. First, that around 20-25 g of whey protein is optimal, perhaps partly because it triggers the threshold level for L-leucine. Secondly, that regular protein intake is better than large irregular intakes. 

The practical implications are that athletes need to focus on regular protein intake, not just their absolute daily intake targets and not just post exercise. Breakfast is arguably the most important meal in this regard because it follows a long fast during which protein balance is negative for a long time. Many people struggle to achieve 20+ g of protein at breakfast. 
For people in a hurry a protein breakfast smoothies can work well. Use frozen fruit as a base, then add yoghurt, nuts, oats, fruit juice and a scoop of whey protein for a quick, convenient and nutritious start to the day that keeps your recovery on track. 

[1] Tipton KD, Ferrando AA (2008). Improving muscle mass: response of muscle metabolism to exercise, nutrition and anabolic agents. Essays Biochem; 44: 85-98. 

[2] Dideriksen K, Reitelseder S, Holm L (2013). Influence of amino acids, dietary protein, and physical activity on muscle mass development in humans. Nutrients; 5(3):852-876. 

[3] Stark M, Lukaszuk J, Prawitz A, Salacinski A (2012). Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. J Int Soc Sports Nutr; 9(1):54.

[4] Areta JL, Burke LM, Ross ML, Camera DM, West, DW, Broad EM, Jeacocke NA, Moore DR, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, Hawley JA, Coffey VG (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. J Physiol; 591(Pt 9):2319-2331. 

 Tags: protein, sports, muscle, exercise, synthesis

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