If building muscle mass is one of your fitness goals, odds are you’ve come across a slew of information and guidance on how your diet can help or inhibit you. One particular school of thought centers around how and when to eat protein to enhance muscle growth. But in such a noisy landscape, it can be difficult to discern myth from fact and good advice from misleading information. In this article, we’ll break down how protein timing can help you break down and build bigger and stronger muscles.
Why Protein Matters
Just like carbs and fat, our bodies need protein not only to improve our muscles but to survive and function every day. Protein provides structure for hair, cartilage, bones, and muscles, is essential for immune system functioning, and carries oxygen throughout the body – just to name a few of its functions. And if you’re active and do a lot of resistance exercise, then protein intake is particularly important. That’s because when you work out your muscles, the tissue breaks down and then rebuilds bigger and stronger. These are your gains, but you won’t get them unless you eat enough protein to rebuild the muscle tissue.
What Is Protein Timing
The idea behind protein timing is to intentionally choose when and how much you eat it to achieve muscle gains. Why is timing important? Because there’s a period of time after activity known as the anabolic window when your body is best positioned to absorb and use nutrients you ingest (opinions and science differ on exactly how long this window really is). Additionally, protein timing can go beyond just leveraging the anabolic window and can be implemented in different ways to achieve specific goals, such as weight loss or aiding in recovery.
For muscle gains, protein timing is not an exact or definite science. While the simple math is that you need to consume more protein than your muscles break down during workouts, there are many factors that can complicate that, and what works for one person may not work for another. While many people aim to consume some protein within a 15 to 30-minute window after strength training, there are different ways you can approach protein timing based on what works for you.
- Start with breakfast. Researchers from Waseda University in Japan found that protein loading first thing in the morning can maximize muscle growth. Researchers landed at this conclusion by zeroing in on something called clock genes, which are related to our circadian rhythms. The study was able to find a direct link between eating more protein early in the day and higher skeletal muscle mass and better grip strength.
- Indulge before bed. Another study found that consuming protein in the evening could help improve muscle gains. In the study, participants who consumed 40 grams of protein before bed had higher muscle protein synthesis rates during a 12-week resistance training program. This could be due to protein aiding the body’s recovery and tissue repair during sleep.
- Spread it out. Another approach to protein timing is snacking on small, high-protein foods between meals. This can be a helpful way to get extra protein and help stabilize your hunger levels throughout the day. Studies show that when people engage in this type of snacking, they consume fewer calories, which is an important focus for losing weight.
Find What Works for You
While the different and sometimes contradictory guidance on protein timing may seem confusing, it really points to finding what works for you. Just like with the types of exercise you engage in, protein timing may be a highly personalized and tailored approach based on your lifestyle, habits, body type, age, and much more. It’s also important to talk with your doctor before making any significant changes to your diet to ensure it won’t negatively impact your overall health.
Working with a nutritionist or fitness coach (or both!) could also be helpful. A trained professional who gets to know you can create a customized approach to your workouts and diet (including protein timing) and make adjustments along the way to ensure you meet your goals.
Our team at Forge may be just what you’re looking for! We offer immersive custom fitness and nutrition coaching to individuals all over the world. Our trainers and dietitian are all certified and ready to help you on your journey, so reach out today!