By: Judah Schulman  | 

The Protein Craze - The Bottom Line in Health

Protein is essential for maintaining and building muscle. That being said, you do not need to gulp down a carton of raw eggs after your workout like Rocky Balboa to get the maximum benefit. For avid exercisers, and even for the average Joe or Jane who hits the gym once or twice a week, protein seems to sit high and mighty on a throne above other macronutrients such as fats and carbohydrates. Protein has been hyped up by the dietary supplement industry to the point where people believe that pumping this macronutrient into your body is necessary to fuel your body, like pumping gasoline into a car is necessary for it to run. While it is agreed that protein plays a crucial role in the recovery, development, and maintenance of lean muscle mass, the most effective combination of amount, type, and frequency of protein consumption following strength workouts is a hotly debated topic.

According to a recent study by British researchers, consuming twenty grams of protein after one’s workout should do the trick. The study had forty-eight men ingest ten, twenty, and forty grams of protein immediately after a strength workout. The twenty gram and forty gram doses more effectively stimulated muscle protein synthesis (the process that helps promote the muscle repair and growth after exercise) in participants than the lower amounts. However, the forty gram dose didn’t produce any added benefit. On an overall daily basis, the protein requirements for sedentary males and females are 0.8-1.0 grams per kilogram per day. For elite sports men and women who generally train five or more times per week, these levels are increased to 1.0-1.7 grams per kilogram per day, depending on their intensity, duration, gender, and experience. A range is given because the amount of protein needed to provide two grams of leucine, the universally agreed key player in muscle protein synthesis, varies in different foods. In addition to this, it is important to take into consideration one’s exercise goals. For example, athletes who focus less on resistance exercise and more on aerobic activities require less protein (and generally more carbohydrates) than resistance athletes.

With these results in mind, it is important to remember that the findings of one study cannot be used to deduce a blanket rule or law. However, they can be used to contribute to an overall theory about how much protein someone really needs after a strength workout. So, if you want to use this twenty grams of protein as a target range for you post-workout meal, where should you turn? Ideally, choosing a meal that includes a type of protein called whey protein will best support muscle growth for those seeking improved athletic performance and health. Whey protein, known for its fast-digesting quality, travels quickly to help repair and rebuild your muscles. It also contains the amino acid leucine, which activates protein synthesis and initiates the muscle development process. Dairy products are a prime source of whey protein and usually contain ten percent leucine. Animal-based proteins, on the other hand, may have as little as five percent leucine. To include dairy products in your diet, try adding items such as low-fat yogurt or skim milk to a fruit smoothie to make a delicious post-workout snack. Whey protein powders are also quick and easy sources of protein that can aid in speedy muscle recovery and reduced soreness. Having said that, non-dairy foods, such as chicken or fish, are still healthy choices for your post-workout meal. These foods will pack about twenty grams of protein in a portion about the size of a deck of cards.

You do not need to guzzle down a protein shake or gnaw on chicken immediately after your last exercise. Muscles can remain responsive to protein for over twenty-four hours, although the effect is higher immediately after exercise and decreases over time. But for the average active individual, eating protein after a workout will not matter if you do not meet other nutritional needs throughout the day. Interestingly enough, a recent study by Canadian researchers found that consuming twenty grams of protein every three hours—four times a day—was better at helping men build lean body mass than eating smaller amounts more often (ten grams of protein eight times a day) or larger amounts less frequently (forty grams of protein twice a day). To ensure optimal strength and muscle gains, you should spread out your protein intake across the day instead of just the typical protein-laden dinner. Protein’s satiating characteristic will also help keep you satisfied between your larger meals and prevent unnecessary snacking. But do not drive yourself crazy trying to synchronize your meals to a clock. When it comes to improving general physical performance, like building lean muscle mass and losing fat mass, the most important factors in your mission are to include sixty minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise four to five times a week. Equally important is to refuel your body after these workouts with a combination of proteins, unsaturated fats, and complex carbohydrates. Follow these simple guidelines and watch as you conquer your fitness goals!

A Note on the Author: the Bottom Line in Health seeks to provide simple fitness and nutrition tips for the Yeshiva University community. As a National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer and Fitness and Nutrition Specialist, it is my goal to enhance the readers’ understanding of how to maintain a healthy standard of living while improving performance in and out of school and supporting an overall sense of well-being.