This week I came across a recent review in the journal Frontiers in Physiology.
It’s actually just over a year old, but I just read it last week for a course I’m taking in school. And I’m pretty sure you haven’t read it either. So, let’s just pretend this is brand-spanking new information.
Anyway, I got excited when I read it.
No, not that kind of excited. But almost.
This review delivers practical takeaways about the amount and timing of protein to maintain and build muscle. Otherwise known as hypertrophy.
A review summarizes the current literature and understanding on a given topic. Researchers study the body of published studies and draw conclusions based on those.
The cool thing about this review is that it included studies with subjects with a wide range of resistance exercise history. That makes it more applicable to us lifters.
So in this week's blog post I'm going to break down the findings of this new review of scientific literature.
Who does this review apply to?
Any person who wants to look as good and be as strong as they possibly can right now, and for life.
It's Not Rocket Science. Lift Weights, Eat Protein
Beyond its thousands of metabolic and aesthetic benefits, muscle makes life better. It's the good stuff that lets you move, get off the toilet, pull off a new Kamasutra move, and lift things.
You build the good stuff with resistance exercise (lifting weights) and eating enough protein.
Resistance exercise sets off the cascade of events that build muscle. But protein is the key ingredient in muscle building.
It's like wheels to a bike; cheese to Kraft Dinner; caffeine to coffee.
When you lift weights, you make a call to construction workers to come and build you a house (muscle).
If there are no bricks (protein), the construction workers will stand by for up to 24 hours. They use whatever scraps they can find, and if no more bricks arrive, they head home.
This process is called muscle protein synthesis or MPS.
The more bricks you provide, the more they build - up to a point. Because there's only so much work they can handle at once. We'll get into the specifics below.
Eat More Protein
Some of you are already up in arms about what I’m going to say here.
So up in arms, you’re ready to smash me in the face with a tub of protein powder because you think that’s too much protein.
If that describes you, can you please make sure it’s vanilla flavor protein? It’s my fave :3
Also, please read my previous protein related article.
The optimal dose for MPS is 0.4 g/kg/meal. Or 0.2 g/lb/meal.
Me: 75 kg (165lbs)
Protein per meal: 165 x 0.2 = 33 grams
Protein does more than help you build muscle.
30 grams per meal improves appetite control, satiety (feelings of fullness), and weight management.
The recommended daily protein intake for those who lift ranges from 1.3g/kg/day to 1.8g/kg/day.
Older folks AKA those over 65 years should err on the higher end. This is to help prevent age-related muscle loss and strength.
Have Protein Before Bed and After a Workout
The best time to have protein is post-workout when the signal of MPS is initially sent out.
You don’t need to chug a protein shake or scoff down your meal in the locker room right after a workout.
Will it be detrimental if you do? No.
Will it be more beneficial if you eat within the first few hours after a workout? More likely than not.
So just do it.
You're not getting enough protein anyway. And it's the total daily protein intake that is the strongest predictor of muscle growth. Timing is only of secondary importance, at best.
The next best time to add protein is pre-sleep.
40 grams, or up to 0.6 grams per kilogram per meal, of casein protein to be exact according to the review.
Why casein? Because it’s a form of protein that takes longer for the body to breakdown. So it gives your muscles a constant supply of protein overnight. In the quest to optimize recovery and hypertrophy, this approach is worth utilizing.
You Don’t Need Carbs In Your Post-Workout Meal or Shake, Bro.
Back in my middle school days, when I still a gym newbie, I remember some bros saying I should load up on sugars and starches with my post-workout protein shake for better gains.
This idea is based on something to do with insulin. A topic I won't get into in this blog. In short, it doesn’t matter in this context.
So long as you lift weights and eat enough protein, you won't get a bigger boost of MPS by having additional carbs with your protein. But depending on your caloric targets, goals, or energy levels you can add them in.
But again, get enough protein to build muscle.
BONUS: Train to Failure
The last section in the review wasn’t nutrition related but the authors were awesome enough to include a summary of the current literature on lifting for hypertrophy.
Train to failure once in a while. The researchers believe that reaching failure is what drives muscle adaptation.
I’m going to paraphrase here but the review clearly says, “Stop being soft. Put in more effort and reach failure." *with good form and in a safe manner, of course!
Lunge until your legs are toast and curl until your arms give out. It’s needed for maximum muscle growth. Don’t do it every single set, but throw some in the mix.
Like parmesan on pasta. Sprinkle that good sh*t on there, but don’t turn into parmesan with a side of pasta.
And it doesn’t have to be with super heavy weights. Studies have shown that regardless of the weight lifted, training to failure results in hypertrophy.
I generally find most guys don’t need to be told to train to failure. Most women, on the other hand, I don’t see training as hard as they can.
Every muscle in your body will look tighter and more toned as it grows. Trust me.
If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below.
Morton, R. W., McGlory, C., & Phillips, S. M. (2015). Nutritional interventions to augment resistance training-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Frontiers in Physiology, 6, 245.
Phillips, S. M., Chevalier, S., & Leidy, H. J. (2016). Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health 1. Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism, 41(5), 565-572.