By Dan McCarthy//National Team High Performance Consultant
Ongoing research has led to more concrete information regarding the timing of protein intake, the quantity of protein ingested and the best source of protein for hard-working athletes. The existing research is very sound; however, modern tools and methods have made evaluating the ability of skeletal muscle to synthesize protein possible.
Post-exercise the muscle’s ability to synthesize protein is increased. Recent research suggests that four equally spaced meals throughout the course of the day and one larger pre-sleep meal may be ideal for maximizing protein synthesis and negating protein breakdown. Hard-working athletes should time one of their meals to occur after each workout to benefit the most from the enhanced muscle protein synthesis. The larger pre-sleep meal helps lessen the impact of protein breakdown that occurs during slumber, when no eating is going to occur.
Each meal should contain .25-.30 grams of protein/kg of body weight/meal. The larger pre-sleep meal should contain .60 grams of protein/kg of body weight. For a 150 pound athlete:
- 150 pounds/2.2 kg/pound = 68 kg
- .25 grams of protein/kg x 68 kg = 17 grams of protein per meal
- .30 grams of protein/kg x 68 kg = 20.4 grams of protein per meal
- .60 grams of protein/kg x 68 kg = 40.8 grams of protein pre-sleep
A 150-pound hard-training athlete should have a meal four times per day with 17-20 grams of protein per meal and a larger meal containing 40 grams of protein before bedtime. Breaking the protein intake up throughout the day is a key strategy for maximizing protein synthesis.
Ingesting large quantities of protein at one meal and very little at other meals does not appear to be effective, nor does eating mini-portions (2.5 grams of protein) frequently (10+ times) appear to be an effective strategy for maximizing muscle protein synthesis either.
Research has also shown that milk proteins are slightly better than soy proteins following exercise. The combination of whey and casein proteins in milk seem to be slightly more effective at promoting protein synthesis and suppressing muscle degradation following intense exercise than soy protein. After intense exercise, whey protein, found naturally in milk, cheese and yogurt, is critical in promoting muscle protein synthesis because of the amino acid, Leucine.
It is important to note that the recommended protein intake is for athletes engaging in a hard or intense training cycle. During training that does not result in the breakdown of skeletal muscle it is generally recommended that athletes eat .8 grams of protein/kg of body weight per day.