It is a well-known fact that proper protein intake is critical for optimum muscle growth. Gym trainers and fitness experts however differ in opinion on the amount of protein one should include in their daily diet when building muscles. I went ahead and did some digging, talked to a few experienced gym loving people and decided to post my findings here.
I started hitting the gym about a year ago. I was never there for heavy muscle-building but I knew that proper protein intake was important for whatever little muscle-building I was doing. I asked the trainers, read blogs and talked to other people working out in the gym. After all that digging, I got myself confused. No matter whom you ask, no matter where you look for, there is always a different reply.
Some of the common doubts I had in the beginning were:
- How much protein should I consume per day?
- How often should I consume protein rich food items during the day?
- Are the proteins that I consume through my diet enough or should I seek help from protein supplements?
- What is a better time to have protein rich items, before or after the workout?
If you are also someone who has started muscle-building, I am sure you would also be facing these doubts.
Health and fitness experts often claim that your body can absorb only a limited amount of protein per meal and hence one should take proteins at regular intervals. It is believed that this way the body gets sufficient time to absorb and use it to feed the muscles.
A commonly circulated myth is that you should consume 30-35 grams of protein per meal, but in reality you would see everyone giving a different number. 30 grams a meal just doesn’t add up to a par figure for heavy muscle-building. So what is the right number?
Let’s get into some ‘protein ’science
To understand the right amount of protein and the frequency of protein intake, we need to get into some science and understand how proteins are actually used by the body. I will try to keep this simple and not use a lot of biological stuff.
Once you consume proteins, your body breaks them into simpler substances called amino acids, the basic building blocks of muscles. They are then transported to muscles through your bloodstream. Now, here comes the cause of the ’30 gram a meal’ myth.
There is a limit to the rate at which these acids are absorbed into the bloodstream and it depends on the type of protein consumed. This is why many fitness experts believe that since the digestion speed of the food would not slow down, the excess protein would be flushed out of the body at the end of the digestion process. However, our body is a lot smarter and knows exactly how to use up the protein taken with a meal.
Once the body detects that there is protein present in the stomach, it slows down the digestive process, which gives it sufficient time to absorb the protein from the meal. In addition, the body is also capable of storing these extra amino acids for up to 24 hours. So speaking scientifically, the protein you consume is never lost which makes the belief of ’30 grams a meal’ a myth.
Is the rate of absorption same for everyone?
Never! The rate of absorption varies from person to person and depends on a some factors that include:
- Your intensity of workout and your activeness throughout the day: The more active you are faster the protein is absorbed.
- Your body structure: A muscular body would absorb protein faster as compared to a lean body.
- Your age: The capacity of your body to absorb protein reduces with your age.
In addition, there are a number of hormones that control the rate of protein absorption that include Cholecystokinin (a hormone in the stomach), Pepsin and Secretin.
Which type of protein is absorbed at a faster rate?
Fitness experts recommend that you should include a variety of proteins in your diet. This creates a balance in your protein diet and gives your body a sufficient supply of some essential micronutrients.
If we talk about the absorption rate, whey protein is absorbed the fastest while egg protein is the slowest. This however, does not mean that you should load your diet with whey protein. A greater proportion of whey is advised when you are doing heavy workout or are aiming for heavy muscle-building.
Your daily diet can include about 8-10 egg whites, 2 glasses of milk, 100 grams of soya bean/sprouts, 100 grams boiled chicken and 20 grams of whey. The total protein available through these food items is generally sufficient for light to medium muscle-building.
Should I take protein before or after the workout?
Many studies and fitness experts agree that taking 20 grams of protein an hour before and an hour after the workout helps in easier absorption of protein and makes the workout easier. This 20 gram rule is however never strictly recommended. It is always advised to bring a variation in the amount as well as the source of protein that you use before and after your workout.
I generally prefer taking 4-5 egg whites or about 100 grams of boiled soy bean before the workout and follow it up with 10 grams of whey protein isolate as a supplement after the workout. You can always increase the amount of whey if you are aiming for heavier muscle-building.
How much protein should I consume?
Again, you would get a number of suggestions on the amount of protein you should take in a day. Most experts feel that with medium workout, about 90-95 grams protein a day should be sufficient for a person weighing about 180 lbs .
To sum this up mathematically, multiply your weight in pounds with a 0.56 and you would get the number of grams of proteins you should consume in a day. The factor however varies depending on the kind of workout you are doing and increases with the intensity of your workout.
The total quantity of protein that you consume is what matters more than the frequency you are consuming the protein at.
In fact, many studies also show that consuming the entire protein content in one meal and fasting the rest of the day did not have any negative impact on the body. If you are someone who prefers taking multiple small meals in a day, you can always break your protein intake into smaller portions.
More on Proteins and muscle-building:
- Whey Protein – the Complete Guide to Whey Protein Use
- Can Eccentric Training Increase Muscle and Strength?
- Muscle Building Snacks
References:  Perceived protein needs and measured protein intake in collegiate male athletes: an observational study. Elizabeth A Fox, Jennifer L McDaniel, Anthony P Breitbach and Edward P Weiss. http://www.jissn.com/content/8/1/9. ^Back to Top^  Increased protein intake and meal frequency reduces abdominal fat during energy balance and energy deficit. Arciero PJ, Ormsbee MJ, Gentile CL, Nindl BC, Brestoff JR, Ruby M. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23703835. ^Back to Top^  Optimal protein intake to maximize muscle protein synthesis , Layne E. Norton, Gabriel J. Wilson. http://www.biolayne.com/wp-content/uploads/Norton-J-Ag-Food-Ind-Hi-Tech-2008.pdf. ^Back to Top^  Phillips SM, Van Loon LJ. Dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22150425. ^Back to Top^
Last Updated: May 10, 2014
Next Scheduled Update: July 10, 2014