ISSA, International Sports Sciences Association, Certified Personal Trainer, ISSAonline, Nutrition, Best time to consume protein?, Protein Timing – What Is it and Does it Work?

Protein Timing – What Is it and Does it Work?

Reading Time: 5 minutes 15 seconds

By: ISSA

Date: 2022-08-18


Protein timing is an accepted practice among many athletes, bodybuilders, and ordinary people looking to gain muscle, but the science is far from conclusive. Timing protein means eating it at certain times of day to maximize benefits, such as increased muscle mass. 

As a trainer, it’s important to be prepared to answer client questions on trending nutrition topics like this. Learn more about the science behind protein timing, whether it matters, and how to make the most of it. 

About Protein 

Protein is one of the three macronutrients—along with carbohydrates and fats—that everyone needs to consume daily. Proteins are made from chemical building blocks called amino acids. There are nine essential amino acids, meaning you must get them from food because the body cannot make them. 

We need daily protein for many reasons. These are just some of them: 

  • Protein provides structure in cartilage, skin, hair, bones, and muscle. 

  • Enzymes are proteins that power chemical reactions. 

  • Hemoglobin is a protein that carries oxygen throughout the body. 

  • Protein is needed to make some hormones. 

  • Proteins are essential to immune system functioning. 

Everyone needs adequate daily protein, but for active people and those who do a lot of resistance exercise, intake is particularly important. When you work out your muscles, the tissue breaks down. It 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. 

Learn more: Do You Need a Branched Chain Amino Acid Supplement for Your Workout?

What Is Nutrient Timing? 

The idea of nutrient timing is to carefully select when you eat certain nutrients to get a desired outcome. For instance, many athletes try to consume carbs and protein soon after a workout or event to replenish glycogen and support muscle growth. 

This is based on the so-called anabolic window, a period of 15 to 60 minutes after activity during which the body is best positioned to absorb and use the nutrients. 

Some athletes and serious fitness buffs focused on muscle hypertrophy also try to consume certain nutrients before tough workouts. For instance, caffeine before activity boosts performance, according to some studies. 

Learn more: Maximize Your Carbohydrate Intake for Muscle Growth

Types of Protein Timing

Protein timing goes well beyond taking advantage of the anabolic window after a workout. There are many different ways to schedule protein intake with different goals in mind. 

Muscle Gains

The simple math of muscle gains is that you need to consume more protein than your muscles break down during workouts. Of course, the reality is more complicated. The best time to eat protein for muscle mass increases is not definite. Most people aim to consume some protein within the 15- to 60-minute anabolic window after strength training. 

Some studies show that timing protein consumption for the evening could help improve muscle mass. In one study, participants who consumed 40 grams of protein before bed had higher rates of muscle protein synthesis during a 12-week resistance training program. The timing might aid the body’s process of recovery and repairing tissue overnight during sleep. 

Learn more: Muscle mass declines with age, so making gains is more difficult over 50, but still possible.

Weight Loss

Protein is important for weight loss. It helps you feel full longer, reduces appetite, and boosts metabolism. Studies show that when people eat small, protein-rich snacks between or before meals, they consume fewer calories. For weight loss, it’s best to spread out protein intake throughout they day. 

Recovery

Protein timing might also help with recovery from endurance events or strenuous workouts. One study looked at cyclists. The researchers found that those who used a protein-carbohydrate beverage during workouts had less muscle soreness and speedier recovery times as compared to those using a placebo. 

Does Protein Intake Timing Boost Gains? 

Muscle strength and hypertrophy gains are among the main reasons people time protein intake. Timing protein is not essential for muscle gain, but can it give you a boost? This is a question sports science researchers have been trying to answer, with mixed, often conflicting results. 

One study involved football players going through a resistance training program. They either had a protein supplement immediately before and after exercise sessions or in the morning and evening, well removed from sessions. The researchers did not find any differences in muscle mass gains between the two groups. 

In another study, groups were set up with similar timing schemes. The participants used a supplement with protein, creatine, and glucose. The researchers found more significant muscle mass gains in the group that took the supplement soon before and after resistance exercise. 

Protein Totals vs. Protein Timing

These conflicting results are typical of studies of protein timing. Most experts agree that the more important factor in gaining muscle mass is the amount of protein you ingest throughout the day. It certainly doesn’t hurt to time your protein within the anabolic window, and it might even boost your gains. 

But, if you really want to focus on muscle growth, spend more effort ensuring you get enough total protein in your daily diet. The official recommended daily allowance (RDA) for protein is 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women. This amounts, approximately, to 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight or about 10% of daily calories. 

The RDA is low if you’re interested in building muscle mass. For anyone looking to lose weight, change body composition, and increase muscle mass, aim much higher. Anywhere from 1.2 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight, or 25% to 30% of daily calories will help you shift your body to more lean muscle, lose fat, and build more muscle tissue. 

Protein Supplementation

You can get enough protein from a healthy diet. If you’re really focusing on growing muscle mass, a supplement makes it easier to get adequate amounts each day. Supplements, like a protein shake, can also help you space your protein intake better throughout the day. 

Protein powders are typical supplements and can be used in a protein shake, smoothies, and other recipes, like homemade protein bars or oatmeal. Types of protein powder include: 

  • Whey. Whey protein comes from milk and is popular because it is easily and quickly digested. 

  • Casein. This supplement also comes from milk but casein protein absorbs more slowly, giving you a more sustained source of energy. 

  • Pea. A good protein source option for vegans, pea protein is a plant-based product. 

  • Hemp. Hemp protein is also plant-based and has omega-3 fatty acids, but it is not a complete protein. 

  • Mixed plants. A mixed plant protein powder is great for vegans and includes more nutrients and amino acids than single-plant options. They often include brown rice, pea, hemp, chia, and flax seeds.  

Learn more: Whey Protein vs Soy Protein 

Are There Risks of Taking Too Much Protein?

The risks of consuming too much protein have been overblown in the past, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any. The RDA of around 50 grams of protein is low, and most people can eat two to three times that amount without any issues. 

Of course, with anything, too much of a good thing is always a possibility. For instance, too much protein can put you at risk for kidney stones. Also, many high-protein foods are also rich in saturated fat which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease. To avoid overdoing it and to get the most out of what you do consume, spread protein out over the course of a day. Focus on a lean protein source. 

Anyone looking to supplement with protein or significantly increase their intake should talk to their doctor first. There could be individual health reasons to limit protein. 

Unfortunately, there is no final answer on protein timing. It could help you gain more muscle mass, but the research seems to indicate that total protein intake is most important. 

If you’re interested in sports nutrition and being a nutrition coach, theISSA Certified Nutrition Coach program is just what you need. Expand your offerings to clients and provide expert advice with this comprehensive certification course.  


Featured Course

Nutritionist

By becoming an ISSA Nutritionist, you'll learn the foundations of how food fuels the body, plus step by step methods for implementing a healthy eating plan into clients' lifestyles.


References

Protein. The Nutrition Source. Retrieved 2 August 2022, from https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/protein/.

Ryan, E. J., Kim, C. H., Fickes, E. J., Williamson, M., Muller, M. D., Barkley, J. E., Gunstad, J., & Glickman, E. L. (2013). Caffeine gum and cycling performance: a timing study. Journal of strength and conditioning research, 27(1), 259–264. https://doi.org/10.1519/JSC.0b013e3182541d03

Trommelen, J., & van Loon, L. J. (2016). Pre-Sleep Protein Ingestion to Improve the Skeletal Muscle Adaptive Response to Exercise Training. Nutrients, 8(12), 763. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu8120763

Ortinau, L. C., Hoertel, H. A., Douglas, S. M., & Leidy, H. J. (2014). Effects of high-protein vs. high- fat snacks on appetite control, satiety, and eating initiation in healthy women. Nutrition journal, 13, 97. https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-13-97

Valentine, R. J., Saunders, M. J., Todd, M. K., & St Laurent, T. G. (2008). Influence of carbohydrate-protein beverage on cycling endurance and indices of muscle disruption. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 18(4), 363–378. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.18.4.363

Hoffman, J. R., Ratamess, N. A., Tranchina, C. P., Rashti, S. L., Kang, J., & Faigenbaum, A. D. (2009). Effect of protein-supplement timing on strength, power, and body-composition changes in resistance-trained men. International journal of sport nutrition and exercise metabolism, 19(2), 172–185. https://doi.org/10.1123/ijsnem.19.2.172

PROTEIN INTAKE FOR OPTIMAL MUSCLE MAINTENANCE. Acsm.org. Retrieved 2 August 2022, from https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/protein-intake-for-optimal-muscle-maintenance.pdf.

Comments?
Sign Up & Stay Connected

Receive $50 off your purchase today!





I consent to being contacted by ISSA.
Learn More