It is accepted among scholars and athletes alike that whey protein is one of the best and most effective supplements that provides tangible results. Protein is a heavily studied macronutrient when it comes to athletic performance, and it has been proven in a plethora of studies that lack of protein in the diet is detrimental to muscle retention and recovery. We will review some of the latest protein research in this article and give you some practical takeaways to help you achieve your goals.
How Often Should I Be Consuming Protein?
Nutrient timing is the concept that when you eat your macros can influence performance, recovery, strength, muscle building, etc. For example, it's not just about how many total macros you consume, i.e. the grams carbs or grams of protein, but also about when you eat them and how they are spread out during the day.
There is some research showing that protein intake leads to optimal recovery and hypertrophy if evenly spread out every 3-4 hours with approximately 20 grams of high quality protein per meal. In a 2013 study by Areta et al, the researchers determined how different distributions of protein feeding during the 12 hour recovery period after resistance exercise affected anabolic responses in skeletal muscle.
“In conclusion, 20 g of whey protein consumed every 3 h was superior to either PULSE or BOLUS feeding patterns for stimulating MPS throughout the day.”
Whey protein digests quickly and has a complete amino acid profile, which is why it was used in this study. In another recent study in 2020, the authors concluded that consuming a protein-enriched meal at breakfast and less protein at dinner while achieving an adequate overall protein intake is more effective than simply consuming more protein at dinner.
However, there is also plenty of research showing that 20 g of protein is not the maximal dose for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. A study by Park et al showed that 70 g of protein with a mixed macronutrient meal in older subjects elicited greater muscle protein synthesis than 35 g. Witard et al in a 2014 study showed that while 40 g of protein did not seem to have a significantly larger benefit for stimulating muscle protein synthesis than 20 g, the same 40 g taken post-exercise significantly increased muscle protein synthesis compared to 20 g of protein. Stokes et al showed that protein synthesis can be maximized at 0.24 g / kg of bodyweight per meal (24 g of protein per meal for a 100 kg athlete) for younger individuals and about 0.60 g / kg of bodyweight per meal for the older population. This is primarily due to a concept known as anabolic resistance that occurs as we age.
The primary takeaway from this is that protein intake, when spread out evenly throughout the day, will likely lead to optimal results, with the amount of protein per meal ranging from 20 g - 50 g depending on your total daily protein and calorie needs.
Before you workout, you might want to make sure you consume macros that will be the fuel source for the upcoming exercise. So eating enough carbs and protein before and after a workout might help the anabolic response of the workout itself. Typically, the closer you get to the training window, the more of a focus you would have on carbs/protein and less of fat/fiber. ⠀
How Much Protein Should I Be Eating?
This number ranges, with studies showing anywhere from 1.5 - 2.5 g protein per kg of bodyweight per day being optimal for muscle building and muscle protein synthesis. This depends on a number of factors, but most importantly, on activity level and intensity of training. The more intensely and frequently you train, the more protein you will need to be able to recover. Protein quality is very important, which is why we recommend whey protein isolate especially post-workout. You would need less total protein from a source like whey, which is high in the amino acid L-leucine, known as the anabolic trigger, than one that is low in L-Leucine, which would require more total protein.
Higher Protein Intake During Weight Loss
When we think about losing weight, what is the actual goal? Is it to lose as much weight as possible, regardless if it is fat or muscle? Probably not. When it comes to losing weight, we are most often looking to lose fat while maintaining our muscle mass. However, this isn’t as easy as it seems. It takes a well thought-out diet and resistance training program
A caloric deficit is the only way to lose actual fat or muscle mass. The equation is simple. Calories in must be less than calories burned. This is the only way to lose fat and keep it off long term. However, while the body doesn’t naturally choose to lose muscle or fat, our diet can largely influence how we lose mass.
So how do we lose fat without compromising muscle? By increasing our overall protein intake relative to our total calories. Numerous studies have shown this. For example, in a 2015 study by Heather Leidy et al in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition titled “The Role of Protein in Weight Loss and Maintenance” the authors conclude that “Collectively, these data suggest that higher-protein diets that contain between 1.2 and 1.6 g protein / kg / day and potentially include meal-specific protein quantities of at least ∼25–30 g protein/meal provide improvements in appetite, body weight management, cardiometabolic risk factors, or all of these health outcomes.”
The key takeaways?
Make sure you are getting enough protein on a daily basis and are evenly spreading out your protein intake between your meals. When trying to lose weight, a higher ratio of protein in your diet/meals can help with satiety (how full you feel after your meals) which, practically speaking, can help you stick to your diet better. During weight loss, higher-protein diets also prevent a decline in resting energy expenditure and the data shows a significant positive effect of increased protein consumption on energy metabolism. In a caloric deficit, a higher protein diet helps preserve muscle when combined with resistance training.
“A high-protein diet is highly beneficial for anybody attempting to lose weight and maintain as much muscle as possible. In particular, this is the most helpful for athletes hoping to optimize their body composition and athleticism.”(1)
While protein itself won’t actually make you lose weight directly, the long term benefit of having more muscle relative to your total body mass is the increase in resting metabolic rate, i.e. your metabolism. Protein also had the highest thermic effect of food of all the macronutrients which directly and indirectly helps boost your metabolism.
In another study, Frestedt et al examined the changes in body composition when dieting with or without whey protein supplementation. Their results showed both groups lost similar amounts of weight, but the group supplementing with whey protein lost more fat and preserved muscle whereas the other group also lost a significant amount of muscle.
One primary reason to eat a high protein diet during periods of weight loss is to aid in muscle retention when combined with a resistance training program. Although the process is typically referred to as “weight loss”, virtually all individuals undergoing caloric restriction are specifically looking to lose fat mass. In general, we typically want to preserve as much muscle mass as possible during the weight loss process. Although many will have aesthetic or performance goals that will require as much muscle as possible, anyone can benefit from maintaining or even slightly increasing their muscle mass.
Increased muscle mass leads to a higher resting metabolic rate, which is directly helpful for losing weight and maintaining that weight loss over the long term. Furthermore, in the elderly and other populations at risk of sarcopenia, maintaining muscle mass is absolutely critical for preserving the ability to pursue activities of daily living.
One reason to eat a high protein diet for individuals who are trying to lose weight is to reduce hunger and make it easier to comply with a caloric deficit. The research clearly shows that a caloric deficit over an extended period of time is the only way to lose weight, but increased hunger can make that a very difficult task. In the ancestral environment, losing weight could be a death sentence, so hunger creates an incredibly powerful drive to seek out additional calories. Therefore, anything that can help stave off hunger is a potent tool for a weight loss diet.
One way to reduce hunger is to increase the volume of food that is consumed, usually by adding vegetables or other very low calorie-dense foods (sugar-free desserts, shirataki noodles, etc.). The other way is by preferentially including higher protein foods in the diet. On a per calorie basis, protein is more satiating than either fat or carbohydrate. Essentially, every calorie of protein that someone consumes will make them feel subjectively “fuller” than a calorie of fat or carbohydrate.
This satiety effect is further enhanced by the fact that many lean protein sources have low palatability in comparison to other foods. As an extreme example, it’s much more difficult to overeat plain chicken breasts (a lean, low-palatability, high-protein food) than donuts (a hyper-palatable food with almost no protein).
Protein and Your Health
Consuming sufficient protein, especially if workout frequently or at high intensities, is vital to keeping you healthy long-term. In a study titled “High dietary protein restores overreaching induced impairments in leukocyte trafficking and reduces the incidence of upper respiratory tract infection in elite cyclists,” by Oliver Witard, et al. the authors conclude that a high protein diet (3 g / kg) might reduce the incidence of upper respiratory tract infections in athletes by potentially mitigating training-induced impairment of the immune system.
Now, for a little background to this study. We must first understand that exercise, when looked at a macro scale, is beneficial for various health markers. This is widely accepted as fact and there is substantial research backing this. However, when looking at things from a micro scale, it is also true that there are times when training and exercise can be slightly detrimental to one’s health, specifically during times of overreaching (usually planned) and more seriously during overtraining (usually unplanned). Planned overreaching is often associated with higher intensity training cycles and is useful and often necessary to make significant progress. There is a fine line that, when crossed, leads to overtraining, which is actually detrimental to our long-term progress.
This is why it is so important to have a well thought-out training program that builds in waves of intensity while maintaining consistency. As noted in this study (Recovery of the immune system after exercise), “the notion that prolonged, intense exercise causes an open window of immunodepression during recovery after exercise is well accepted. Repeated exercise bouts or intensified training without sufficient recovery may increase the risk of illness.” Pretty simple. So the key point to focus on is your recovery. Optimal recovery is determined by everything you do before and after you workout - how you sleep, what/when you eat, and what other activities you perform.
It is interesting to see that a high protein diet “combined with high-intensity training was associated with fewer symptoms of URTI [upper respiratory tract infection] compared to performing high-intensity training with a normal diet.”
What’s the conclusion? Consuming higher amounts of protein evenly spread out throughout the day and after your workouts can help mitigate the immunosuppressive effects of high-intensity training and make you healthier overall. If you are training heavy, hard, and/or often, it may be wise to up your protein intake to the levels mentioned in the study, which again can be as high as 3 g / kg of bodyweight.
Why Supplement With Whey Protein Isolate?
Why should we use whey protein isolate? Compared to other forms of whey protein, whey protein isolate is a more pure, concentrated form of whey protein with higher protein content and less filler, i.e. carbs and fat per serving. It is an ideal post-workout recovery supplement for athletes, with a complete amino-acid profile, which is crucial for building muscle and post-workout recovery. Several studies have demonstrated whey protein isolate to be superior in terms of potency to other forms of protein for increasing muscle protein synthesis, which ultimately leads to increased muscle mass.
If you’re looking for a great tasting, clean, and all-natural post-workout protein source, check out our Whey Protein Isolate. Each serving provides 22 grams of some of the highest-quality whey protein out there. The ingredients are all-natural - we only use cocoa powder (in our chocolate flavor), Himalayan rock salt, and Stevia for flavoring - resulting in a protein that quite simply tastes amazing. On top of that, each batch of our whey isolate undergoes a strict quality control process that includes independent third party testing to ensure that our protein is exactly what we say it is, free of any harmful substances or contaminants. Your body only deserves the best!
- Protein intake spread out evenly throughout the day will likely lead to optimal results, with the amount of protein per meal ranging from 20 g - 50 g depending on your total daily protein and calorie needs.
- Total daily protein intake will fall somewhere in the 1.5-2.5 g / kg range, depending on workout intensity and frequency
- If you are in a caloric deficit and/or trying to lose weight, you will want to increase your protein intake to help preserve muscle.
- Protein has the highest thermic effect of food, which helps boost your metabolism as compared to other macronutrients
- Endurance athletes may want to intake even more protein to ensure proper recovery
- For athletes, bodybuilders, powerlifters, etc who have a very high level of intensity in their training, higher protein intake is associated with improved health outcomes
- Whey protein isolate is one of the best protein sources for post-workout recovery, as it has a complete amino acid profile, and is quickly absorbed and digested by the body.
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Frestedt, J. L., Zenk, J. L., Kuskowski, M. A., Ward, L. S. & Bastian, E. D. A whey-protein supplement increases fat loss and spares lean muscle in obese subjects: A randomized human clinical study. Nutr. Metab. 5, 1–7 (2008).
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