Optimizing Muscular Development Though Protein Manipulation

Part 1: timing & dosing

Your muscle mass is determined by the bodies muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown processes. Unlike the common belief that you are either building muscle or losing muscle at a particular time, you are actually always doing both at the same time.

It’s only a matter of which one is taking place at a greater rate at any particular time. Think of it like your bank account, you have paychecks coming in and money for bills going out. As long as you maintain more money coming in than going out for bills, you will be in a “wealth building state”. It’s the same with your skeletal muscle. As long as you are achieving a higher level of protein synthesis than protein breakdown at any given time, you will be in a muscle building state (or at least a muscle maintaining state).

So, the obvious question is “how do i increase protein synthesis?”. The supplement industry would have you believe you just need to buy a tub of whey protein and drink as many shakes as you can. But, there’s a lot more to it than that. Let’s get into the details:

Resistance training – performing resistance training and following that up with the consumption of protein will increase muscle protein synthesis, which may lead to muscular hypertrophy (growth). I think most people understand this because it has been drilled into our heads by the supplement industry to sell protein powers.

Studies have shown that in a resting fasted state (no food for 12+ hours), an individual will exhibit higher rates of muscle protein breakdown than muscle protein synthesis. But, when amino acids or a complete protein are introduced to this individual there is a brief uptick in muscle protein synthesis with no increase in muscle protein breakdown. This leads to a positive net protein balance (the point at which muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown) (biolo et al., 1997).

A key concept to note about exercise and the consumption of amino acids/protein is that while a single session of resistance training in a fasted state increases the rates of muscle protein synthesis, the impact is not large enough to create a positive net protein balance (the point at which muscle protein synthesis exceeds muscle protein breakdown). What the resistance training accomplishes is that it increases the likelihood of the amino acid/protein feeding to increase the rate of protein synthesis. The combination of a resistance training session followed by the consumption of protein will lead to a positive net protein balance. The duration of this effect may last up to 24 hours. (burd et al., 2011)

for specific information on how to optimize your resistance training for increasing muscle hypertrophy see the dk fitness article “how much weight should i lift?”

In a study conducted by moore et al. (2009) muscle protein synthesis relative to protein dosing was measured in a group of young healthy men with a wide range of lifting experience (4 months – 8 years). The men were put through a lower body exercise routine and consumed egg protein following the training sessions. The study found that the muscle protein synthesis plateaued around 20g of protein. They also tested protein ingestion up to 40g and found no statistical improvement in the higher dose. The study concluded that 20g of protein (or ~.25g protein/kg) is a sufficient amount to consume both at rest and post exercise regardless of training experience. There is still some value to increasing the amount of protein consumed beyond increasing muscle protein synthesis. Ingesting amino acids/protein above 20g per meal can provide metabolic feedback regulation, satiety, and thermogenic benefits.

Now, how about meal timing? What’s the deal with that “30-minute anabolic window” post workout? Is that for real? Do we really need to risk a speeding ticket getting home to refuel after a workout?

No. Most likely, the 30-minute window was a concept created by supplement companies to sell post workout supplements that can easily be taken at the gym or consumed on the way home. As stated above, the increased sensitivity to muscle protein synthesis created by a resistance workout lasts about 24 hours. Common sense would tell you that you don’t want to actually wait 24 hours post workout to refuel. But, the point is, the “anabolic window” is much larger than supplement companies would have you believe. There is plenty of time to drive home and prepare a whole food meal.

In fact, a recent study found that ingestion of a post exercise protein in close proximity to the end of the training session had a positive impact on hypertrophy (growth). However, the same study also found that total protein intake trumped the post workout protein timing. So, in a nutshell, consuming adequate amounts of protein throughout the day following exercise was more important that getting a serving in immediately after a workout (schoenfeld et al., 2014).

So what is the most optimal way to consume protein throughout the day? One serving? Three servings? 10 servings?

In a recent study, various patterns of whey protein dosing were evaluated. Four servings or 20g every three hours throughout a 12-hour post workout recovery period proved to be the most optimal. This pattern beat two 40g servings every 6 hours, and eight 10g servings every 1.5 hours. This also agrees with our previous finding that ~20g (or ~.25g protein/kg) is the most optimal amount for the body to absorb in a single sitting.

Consumption of protein before bed has also been found to have positive effects on muscular development. Consumption of 40g of casein protein before sleeping promotes muscle protein synthesis and increases the net protein balance overnight according to a recent study (res et al., 2012). A recent 12-week resistance training study measured the anabolic response to nighttime casein consumption. 27.5g of casein with 15g of carbs and .1g of fat was ingested by before bed by the participants, which amplified muscle mass, muscle fiber area, and increased in strength compared to a placebo group (snijders et al., 2015). So, consuming around 20g of protein per sitting throughout the day, followed by a larger dose of casein protein at night appears to be the most optimal way to maintain muscle protein synthesis and a positive net protein balance all day and all night.

In part 2, we will we will discuss protein quality, the most important of the amino acids with respect to protein synthesis, and carbohydrates.