The Three Laws of Protein

The purpose of this article is straightforward and simple – help you reach your fitness or physique goals with three simple, science-backed tips for getting the most from your dietary protein.  Protein consumption is such a popular subject that the basics can be lost in all the noise (and supplement company hype), so the goal here is to simplify and get to what’s actually important.

1.  Eat enough protein

How much?  .82g/lb (1.8g/kg).  Rounding up to 1g/lb or 2g/kg may be easier to remember, and getting a little more certainly doesn’t hurt, but the point here is that the crazy recommendations of 2g per pound (or even more) are overkill.  As you eat more past that point, rates of protein synthesis and breakdown both increase at essentially the same rate – so again, there’s no problem with erring on the high side, but unless you’re on steroids to further elevate protein synthesis (to make use of extra protein), you hit a point of diminishing returns.

On the flip side, if you’re not getting in this amount regularly, you WILL probably benefit from increasing intake.  For some people, .82g/lb may seem like a ludicrously high number.  However, if you’re currently under that level of intake, you will accrue benefits as you eat more protein.

As an aside, increasing protein intake above .82g/lb may have benefits if you’re trying to lose weight.  Protein is more satiating per gram than either carbohydrate or fat, and in a caloric deficit, erring on the high side to ensure you hold onto as much muscle as possible is wise anyways.

2.  Space your protein intake throughout the day

A recent study showed that, on average, 24 hour protein synthesis rates are about 25% higher if you space your protein intake out throughout the day, rather than eating the majority of it in one meal.

Obviously there are implications for intermittent fasting (personal opinion – it can be a useful tool for cutting, but for gaining size, it’s hard to beat eating food all day.  Shocking thought), but also for extreme post-workout nutrition protocols.

In a recent meta-analysis, Alan Aragon, Brad Schoenfeld, and James Krieger showed that post-workout nutrition only “worked” insofar as it increased overall protein intake for the day.  Essentially, getting enough protein in your diet is the important factor, not bombing huge amounts of protein around your training session.

Maybe there was some wisdom in your parents’ insistence that you eat 3 square meals a day after all (provided they all have a fair amount of protein).

3. Get your protein from high-quality sources

This issue is definitely not as important as the first two, but it’s still worth mentioning.

Whey, in particular, seems to be particularly good at stimulating muscle protein synthesis, leading to hypertrophy.  It’s been shown to be superior to both soy and casein for this purpose (and not just acutely, but in training studies showing increased lean mass gains from lifting).

Although all possible protein sources haven’t been compared at this point, obviously, as a general rule of thumb animal sources are better than plant sources for stimulating protein synthesis.  When in doubt, though there are a ton of options on the market, it’s hard to beat a plain old whey isolate when you need some more protein and don’t have time to make some meat.

Pictured: gains

The takeaway:

Get somewhere in the neighborhood of 1g/lb or 2g/kg of protein per day, space your intake out rather than concentrating it all in one period, and prioritize protein sources like whey, meat, and eggs.  It sounds so simple, but it’s amazing how often people get sucked in by some exciting new study or fad and forget the basics

 

Want to learn more?

Check out Examine.com’s series on Schwarzenegger.com.  They go into a lot more detail than I do.  This article is simply meant as a helpful reminder to some, and a basic primer for others.  It’s the type of thing that should be shared around for people who are confused or new to working out – the Schwarzenegger series is for people who want to go into a little more depth

Also, if you’re scared that protein = death because of the recent sensationalized study, I suggest you check out Examine’s in-depth analysis of the study.

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