Protein: how to take it and which type to take
Protein is more complex than you might first think. The studies examining protein consumption and muscle growth are vast and, at times, inconclusive; but there are some findings that have been proven by multiple experiments that are worth listening to.
The daily recommended amount of protein intake in the UK is 55g. That’s about 0.65g per kg of body weight for an average male (who would weigh 84kg) but the recommendations do vary from country to country.
This recommendation of 55g per day has been made for a good reason. You may not realise it but the body is in a constant state of protein turnover. This means that the body is constantly breaking down proteins whilst also replacing them; this is especially true of skeletal muscle. In a typical day the body may turnover around 300g of protein and it may lose 40-60g of that because the body uses protein as a source of energy and for the creation of new carbohydrates.
These RDAs are based on a less physically active adult. So, if you are more physically active, in the case of this article resistance training, it seems logical that you will need more protein to repair muscles that you have damaged and to gain muscle mass by putting yourself into a positive protein balance, and this is certainly true.
You may have heard people saying you need around 2.5-3g of protein for each kg of body mass whilst resistance training (that’s 210-252g per day for an average male!) but this has been shown to be excessive. The muscle mass gains between ~1.5g/kg a day and ~2.5g/kg a day have been shown to be extremely minimal and one study has concluded that 1.2-1.7g/kg a day is sufficient. But I’d stick to the middle of that at around 1.5g/kg.
That’s the amount of protein sorted but there are so many different types of protein out there, what do you choose? The simple answer is whey protein (if any at all, a point which I’ll come onto later).
Whey protein has been shown in multiple experiments as more efficient at stimulating muscle protein synthesis (growth) than any other protein, thanks to its higher leucine content and relatively rapid digestion. Leucine is an amino acid (the building blocks of proteins) and leucine ingestion alone has been shown as less effective than protein supplementation, most likely due to the lack of other essential amino acids (EAAs), which it works in conjunction with to stimulate protein synthesis.
The last dilemma arising from protein ingestion and muscle growth is exactly when to intake more protein. Luckily the answer is relatively simple – as soon as possible after a training session. The reason being is that protein is believed to not only help in creating a positive protein balance but may also help to kick-start the metabolic pathways for protein synthesis. Many experiments have tried to discover an ‘optimum time’ for supplementing protein but to no avail, which is why the recommendation is left vague and why you might see lots of people mixing protein powder at the gym.
The amount of protein you should ingest immediately after a workout is around 20g. It has been shown that ingesting any more than this does very little to increase protein synthesis. Drinking milk after a workout is also highly recommended – apart from increasing your protein intake it has also been shown as better than water or even isotonic sports drinks at restoring fluid balance (plus, in my opinion, it tastes a lot better than mixing protein powder with water). If you enjoy flavoured milk then no problem, the additional sugar content helps to restore energy levels, so go right ahead.
So, in short, ingest 1.5-2g of protein per kg of your body mass per day. If you are managing to consume this amount of protein in your diet without supplementation do not waste your money on protein powder. Take 20g of protein immediately after a gym session, either as a shake or a high protein food. If you choose shake, then opt for whey protein and mix with milk (remember, flavoured is okay).
If you want to find out more on the studies mentioned, read ‘dietary protein for athletes: from requirements to optimum adaptation’.