I want to look at this from a different perspective to the usual ‘ideal time to take protein supplements’, to 'when is best to consume protein during meals' over the course of the day? All of these are relevant questions, and all have proven to be worthy of further investigation. Dr Jose Antonio of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has reflected on a study by Mamerow et al. (2014), and it goes some way to rationalising nutrient timing and loading.
What the studies say…
Perhaps the most pertinent study relating to this matter was one presented in The Journal of Nutrition which looked at subjects (people) consuming an isocaloric (same calories) and isonitrogenous (same protein) meal in 2 different ways. Researchers ensured that all variables (things that could effect the outcome) were kept constant or adjusted for. Ultimately the subjects were divided into 2 groups, 1 group was instructed to eat in an ‘even pattern’, and the other in a ‘skewed pattern’. The ‘even pattern’ had subjects eating the calories and protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner, consisting of 800kcal and 30g protein per meal. The ‘skew pattern’ had them eating 537kcal for breakfast, 683kcal for lunch and 1100kcal for dinner. Each meal consisted of 11g, 16g and 64g protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner respectively.
What the study showed
The subjects ate the same total calories but spread them out differently over the day. They consumed a total of 2400kcals, 94g protein, 312g carbs and 85g fat…pretty well balanced I think it’s fair to say. The researchers ascertained that eating in an ‘even pattern’ exhibited greater muscle protein synthesis compared to those eating in a skewed pattern. Therefore it is fair to surmise that eating the bulk of your calories at your evening meal isn’t the best way to increase muscle mass.
It is thought that the lesser protein synthesis may well be attributed to lower levels of protein eaten in the morning and midday time, potentially limiting the Leucine content of the diet. If Leucine is too low then chances are the ‘Leucine threshold’ won’t have been met resulting in reduced protein synthesis. Dr Antonio postulates that maybe the inclusion of a Leucine supplement in those subjects not eating a protein dense meal (minimum of 20g protein per meal) in the morning and lunch, might promote better muscle synthesis.
The study was quite conclusive, it asserts that people who spaced their meals, calories and protein out over the day were able to synthesis muscle protein more effectively than people who ate small amounts of protein in the morning and lunch, and instead consuming the bulk of their calories and protein with their evening meal. So in order to promote muscle size and growth be sure to consume a minimum of 20-25g of protein with each meal over the course of the day (although this figure fluctuates slightly relative to size).
Antonio, J & Lowery, L, M. (2014). Dietary Protein and Resistance Exercise. Retrieved 10th April, 2014, from http://www.theissnscoop.com/even-steven-spread-those-protein-calories/
Mamerow, M, M. et al. (2014). Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. Retrieved 10th April, 2014, from http://jn.nutrition.org/content/early/2014/01/28/jn.113.185280.full.pdf