A good question that’s commonly asked by fitness enthusiasts the world over is, when to eat protein? Make every rep count towards hitting your goals by taking the right type of protein at the right time so you’re always gaining
Your expert Dr Gabriel Wilson is a certified strength and conditioning specialist with a passion for helping athletes achieve maximum results from their nutrition, supplement and training plans.
Why when to eat protein even matters
We’ll all have read this classic quote from Professor Michael J Rennie: “Grandad, it ain’t what you eat, it depends when you eat it – that’s how muscles grow!” It paints an idea that many athletes today still don’t grasp. Too often exercisers skip breakfast, delay post-workout feeding and don’t eat before bed.
However, research in the Journal of Nutrition shows that people who eat the same amounts of protein throughout the day but simply shift when they eat it – can drastically improve their muscle and strength gains.
It’s time to set the story straight by discussing the why, when and what about protein so your body absorbs every last mouthful and converts it into muscle.
The 3 times to eat protein that matter most
You see, there are three unique times when your body needs protein the most – breakfast, post workout and before bed. Here’s how to get the peak results from each part of your day.
Skipping breakfast – your most important meal – is linked with overeating (especially at night), as well as weight gain and obesity. As you’d expect, muscle protein synthesis is lowest after an overnight fast, and catabolism – muscle atrophy – is greatest.
This is where most people miss a trick because they eat the lion’s share of their protein at lunch and dinner. Research in the Journal of Nutrition gave one group of people 30g of protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner and another group 15g at breakfast, 15g at lunch and 60g at dinner.
Eating the same amounts throughout the day built more muscle than those who ate a big dinner.
The take-home message is: wake up and eat a high-protein breakfast, packed with plenty of foods like eggs or nuts and yogurt to hit your exercise goals.
Eating protein post-workout still matters
Just as important to remember is that although your body is in a catabolic state after a workout, where it’s breaking down muscle, it’s also uniquely sensitive to absorbing anabolic nutrients to build brawn.
People who ate amino acids pre and post workout, rather than at non-specific times, gained more muscle, strength and had less body fat, found research in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.
Load yourself up after your session to maximise the gains from every rep.
The most overlooked time to eat protein – Bedtime
Finally, during sleep your body is primed to grow, recover and release anabolic hormones.
Blood flow and nutrient delivery to muscles are also enhanced, but many athletes miss out on this opportunity by skipping their pre-sleep meal.
This can cause your body to break down your muscles to supply critical nutrients for basic nourishment.
However, a study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise showed that athletes who take protein right before bed stimulate a 22% greater anabolic response during sleep. You’ll grow while you do nothing.
But what protein to eat, when?
So we’ve established when to eat protein, but what should we eat or drink at those times?
Well, breakfast and post workout are times where fast-absorbing proteins, like whey, are best eaten because these halt catabolism.
Whey is often recommended for post workout, while casein is supposed to be your bedtime snack.
But while whey is excellent at growing muscle, it can’t do it for long and you quickly need more nutrients to maintain an anabolic muscle- building state.
While casein has long-lasting anabolism, it doesn’t have that quick burst of amino acids you need to maximise muscle building.
The solution: Eat or drink a protein blend
A good alternative are protein blends that have a combination of fast, medium and slow-digesting proteins to give you the quick and long-lasting muscle-building benefits you desire.
Research in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that a protein blend of casein, whey and soy put the body into a muscle-building mode for four hours, compared to just whey, which turned on the muscle-building mode for 20 minutes.
You can mix up your own blend or use a product like MHP’s Ultrabuild, which also features a patented Sustained Release Micro-Feed Technology that allows for a continual supply of amino acids to your muscles for up to 12 hours.
Athletes who take in more protein recover faster, gain more muscle and are leaner. Higher protein diets also have the unique ability to improve meal satiety and glycaemic control, which helps you combat carb cravings and avoid unhealthy diet practices, like dropping a tenner at the drive-thru.
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