Once upon a time, my girlfriend packed protein bars in her purse when we went out for the day. Funny thing was, they weren’t for her. They were for me. She did this because she knew if I didn’t eat protein every few hours, the hangry, Adam would come out. I know, kind of pathetic.
Looking back myself and a lot of my friend generally believed if we went for more than a few hours without protein, we would end up looking like McLovin from Superbad.
Well, its 2021 and protein timing is still a hot topic that some will say you can’t make gains without it, while others argue it doesn’t matter one bit.
What is Protein Anyway and Why Is It Important?
A protein is a compound that the body uses to create tissues, hormones, enzymes, and many other things essential to life. Protein is made up of chains of smaller compounds known as amino acids, which are basically the individual Legos of protein.
There are 21 amino acids needed to form a protein, and your body can create 12 amino acids classifying them as nonessential amino acids. The other 9 are considered essential, meaning we must get them from food sources.
Regular exercise and weightlifting in particular, increases the body’s demand for protein, because it damages tissues that must be repaired.
Don’t get me wrong from my introduction, protein is important than many of us think. The reason is eating inadequate protein results in greater muscle loss as you get older, and the less lean mass you have in your later years, the more likely you are to suffer from sarcopenia, osteoporosis, and decreased quality of life.
The bottom line is, if you want to maintain your health as you age, you want to maintain your muscle. But is there a benefit of timing your protein intake throughout the day and around your workout?
So now that we understand what protein is and how important it is for health as we age and recover let’s dive into some of the science.
One of my personal favorite studies showing us that the timing of protein around a bout of exercise is not as effective for improving lean body mass was done by Tinsley and colleges (2019).
This 8-week study consisted of 2 groups. The first group did time restricted feeding, consuming all of their calories in an 8-hour window from noon to 8pm. The second group was instructed to eat breakfast as soon as possible upon waking and to continue to eat at self-selected intervals throughout the remainder of the day.
At the end of the 8 weeks there were no negative effects on strength or muscle mass, when total daily protein intake was met. This study’s findings support that daily protein intake appears to be far more important than highly specific meal timing strategies. So, lifters should be able to capitalize on the benefits of time restricted feeding without worrying about sabotaging their gains.
However, in contrast to Tinsley’s study, Dudgeon and colleges (2017), showed that adding 56g of whey protein on four weekly training days led to better lean body mass and strength in the bench press compared to a placebo.
The difference in these two studies where that Dudgeon had his subjects on a caloric restricted diet and we can speculate that since these subjects were considered experienced lifters and that both groups total protein intake was already high, timing may have played a role with the differences.
Crib and colleges (2006), showed similar benefits in male recreational male bodybuilders when protein supplementation was taken pre and post workout. This suggests that supplement timing is a simple and effective tool that increases the response desired from resistance training.
The Coach’s Hat
Through my experience as a coach, lifter, and student I have found that the most important consideration for protein intake is the total daily amount of protein consumed each day. In my opinion this is where everyone should start. Find out how much you are currently protein you are currently eating, then figure out how much is needed for your goals.
Once you have figured this out, it makes sense to divide your protein up into 2-5 meals throughout the day. For the main reason protein is known to keep you fuller longer than the other macronutrients, which can help if you are dieting.
If the convenience of timing your protein around your workout is there, then go ahead and do it. With the current state of the literature there is no study out there that suggests taking in protein around your workout will have any negative consequences on muscle mass, strength, or overall health. If anything it will only enhance the response desired from the stimulus being placed upon the body from lifting weight.
1. Cribb, P. J., & Hayes, A. (2006). Effects of Supplement Timing and Resistance Exercise on Skeletal Muscle Hypertrophy. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 38(11), 1918–1925. doi:10.1249/01.mss.0000233790.08788.3e
2. Dudgeon, W. D., Kelley, E. P., & Scheett, T. P. (2017). Effect of Whey Protein in Conjunction With a Caloric-Restricted Diet and Resistance Training. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 31(5), 1353–1361. doi:10.1519/jsc.0000000000001196
3. Tinsley, G. M., Moore, M. L., Graybeal, A. J., Paoli, A., Kim, Y., Gonzales, J. U., … Cruz, M. R. (2019). Time-restricted feeding plus resistance training in active females: a randomized trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. doi:10.1093/ajcn/nqz126