Yes, protein is important for muscle growth. And it is also important how you distribute those proteins throughout the day. New research confirms that.
1. For optimal muscle growth, eat 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. 1.6 g/kg/d is already sufficient for the vast majority of people. In the cut you eat a little more: 1.8 to 2.7 g/kg/d.
2. Unlike carbohydrates and fats, proteins cannot be stored and preserved until the times when they are needed most.
3. Your body is therefore much more dependent on acute protein intake to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. It is important that a minimum of proteins is needed to optimally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. However, there is also a maximum amount of proteins that can be used in one go to increase that synthesis.
4. That is why the spread of proteins is important: divide your proteins more or less evenly over four to six intakes per day, ie meals with 20 to 40 grams of high-quality proteins, always with three to four hours between meals. You plan your training between two meals.
5. Your last meal of the day is preferably a ‘shot’ of casein protein (eg cottage cheese) of about 40 grams immediately before going to sleep.
AMOUNT OF PROTEINS
It’s fine to eat a little more just to be safe, but stick to 2.2 g/kg/d as a maximum. Eating even more protein comes at the expense of your intake of carbohydrates, which are in fact just as important for muscle growth as protein. An excessively high protein intake can therefore be unfavorable for your body composition, as shown in the figure below.
If you are cutting, use a minimum of 1.8 g/kg/d with a spread of up to 2.7/kg/d. A bit higher than in the bulk, because it is more difficult to create a positive protein balance when there is an energy deficit. An average strength athlete arrives in the cut with 1.8 g/kg/d, but if you are already quite lean, you need to go a little higher, up to a maximum of 2.7 g/kg/d. Don’t go any higher, because that will be too much at the expense of the amount of carbohydrates you can eat.
SPREAD OF PROTEINS
Although the total protein intake on a day is decisive, the distribution of those proteins over the day is also important. Unlike carbohydrates and fats, proteins cannot be stored and preserved until the times when they are needed most.
Your body is therefore much more dependent on acute protein intake to stimulate muscle protein synthesis (the process by which proteins are converted into muscle proteins). It is important that a minimum of proteins is needed to optimally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. However, there is also a maximum amount of proteins that can be used in one go to increase that synthesis.
According to a meta-study by hypertrophy expert Brad Schoenfeld, muscle protein synthesis is best stimulated if you divide your protein intake over four to six meals daily, with a time span of three to four hours between meals. You will then eat 20 to 40 grams of protein per meal .
20-40 grams is still a fairly wide margin. However, at 20 grams you have already achieved a large part (~90%) of the muscle protein synthesis. Yet a shot of 40 grams of protein stimulates muscle protein synthesis slightly better than with 20 grams, research shows. Now you don’t have to eat 40 grams of protein every meal; save such a 40 gram shot for ‘special’ moments, such as your first meal after training, and just before going to sleep (see below).
You can read more about the importance of spreading proteins and the scientific basis for this in this article.
We would like to mention the most recent study into the effects of protein distribution, which was conducted in Japan among 26 male strength athletes. Unfortunately, as with many studies, these were beginners, for whom it is much more difficult to demonstrate nuances when it comes to muscle growth. But so be it.
The Japanese divided the subjects into two groups. Both ate 1.3 g of protein per kg of body weight daily. Group A, however, distributed the proteins approximately evenly over three daily meals, while group B consumed the most protein at lunch and especially dinner; at breakfast they took only 0.1 g/kg, while their dinner contained an average of 0.83 g/kg of protein, which amounts to 66 g of protein for an 80 kg person. Furthermore, the diet of all participants was about the same, something the researchers monitored closely. The relative calorie intake and the distribution of macronutrients were therefore about the same for everyone. The men also all followed the same training program.
After twelve weeks, the best results were clear for group A: there was an average 2.5 kg increase in lean muscle mass, compared to 1.8 kg in group B. There is no indication that in group A significantly more proteins and/or calories were consumed. eaten than in group B. The researchers therefore think that the difference can largely be explained by the better spread of protein intake in group A.
Incidentally, the results could have been even better if both groups had eaten 1.6 g/kg/d of protein (the scientifically recommended minimum), but that aside.
TIMING OF YOUR TRAINING
As shown in the figure below, make sure that the pre-workout meal and the post-workout meal are less than 4-6 hours apart. Then your body can have proteins at its disposal both during and immediately after training.
The only exception to this is if you train on an empty stomach. Then it is best to consume proteins immediately after training.
TIMING AROUND THE NIGHT’S SLEEP
It’s also probably a good idea to have your last protein-rich meal right before bed. You should preferably eat a large portion of proteins (40 g), preferably of the slow-digesting type (casein protein, which is also in cottage cheese). In this way you also keep muscle protein synthesis high during the night, although it is still questionable whether one ‘shot’ of casein is sufficient for a complete round of sleep of seven to eight hours.
- For optimal muscle growth, eat 1.6 to 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. In the cut that is 1.8 to 2.7 grams.
- You divide those proteins more or less evenly over four to six intakes per day, ie meals with 20 to 40 grams of high-quality proteins, always with three to four hours between meals.
- You plan your training between two meals.
- Your last meal is preferably a portion of casein protein (for example cottage cheese) of about 40 grams immediately before going to sleep.
Example for an 80 kg man :
08:00 Breakfast: 30 g protein
12:30 Lunch: 20 g protein
17:00 Dinner: 30 g protein
20:00 Protein shake: 40 g protein
23: 30 container of cottage cheese: 40 g protein
Total: 160 g protein (= 2 g/kg)
Although the total protein intake on one day is decisive, you are probably ‘wasting’ protein if you hardly eat any protein during one meal and, for example, 80 grams during the other.
The popular intermittent fasting does not seem to be an optimal strategy for bodybuilders in a muscle building phase.
Last updated April 21, 2022.