It is common knowledge that protein is important for muscle building and repair. The scientific term for this process of repair is muscle protein synthesis, or MPS for short. The opposite of MPS is muscle protein breakdown, or MPB for short. And to achieve the desired adaptations from exercise one needs to achieve a positive protein balance. In other words MPS needs to exceed MPB. To do this we need to stimulate MPS and we do this by eating. And it is the feeding of protein that is most important when trying to “switch on” MPS.
This is not only important for those partaking in resistance training. Endurance athletes must also pay close attention. Unfortunately protein is often overlooked by this population, possibly due to fears of “bulking up” and the negative effects extra weight could have on power to weight ratio. But this is really a misconception, proteins have many many functions within the body, and it is important for the endurance athlete to understand that optimal protein intake will in fact enhance the adaptations they are striving to achieve. Adaptations such as increasing aerobic capacity and promoting the body’s ability to utilize fat as fuel will be enhanced with correct protein ingestion.
With the importance of protein for endurance exercise now understood, let’s look at how one can optimize their protein intake to maximize training adaptations. This can get complicated, but here we have kept things short and sweet so you can get a good idea of your requirements and use this as a platform to find what works best for you. Stay tuned to the blog for more posts on protein that dive deeper into more specific details and topics around this fascinating nutrient!
How much protein?
The RDA for protein is 0.8g per kg of body weight per day, however this is a guideline for the average person. This RDA certainly falls short for those who partake in endurance exercise, and absolutely does for those who perform resistance training. With regards to endurance exercise research suggests daily protein intakes ranging from 1g/kg to 1.6g/kg per day. Where you fall in this range will depend on the frequency, intensity, and duration of your training. If your training is at a low to moderate intensity a handful of times per week try a protein intake at the lower end of the range, if you are engaging in high intesnity interval training and/or supplementing with strength training you may want to consider a daily protein intake at the higher end of the range.
What type of protein?
So you now have an idea of how much protein you require on a daily basis and you may be wondering how you reach this requirement. Primarily you should consider whole food sources rich in protein such as lean meats, fish, eggs, milk, greek yogurt, tofu, and garbanzo beans. It may be challenging to hit your target through real food alone so using a protein supplement offers a practical and convenient option, especially if you are crunched for time and on a tight schedule. A high quality supplement that is easily digestible and has the correct amino acid profile is ideal. Extensive research has proven whey protein to stimulate MPS more effectively than any other type of protein, and a future blog post will analyze this in further detail so stay tuned. A whey protein isolate powder like this is a great option, but if you are lactose intolerant or have other dietary requirements other protein supplements like the Vega Performance Protein Powder is a very good alternative.
When to ingest protein?
With the amount and type of protein now addressed, we must now consider the timing. Strategically timing protein intake can have a profound effect and enhance training adaptations. Strategically timing protein ingestion will aid in maintaining muscle mass, building muscle (if that is your goal), aid in recovery, and may also help preserve immune function. Ideally you want to consume high quality protein sources in the time period around your training session. This is because MPB occurs during exercise, so in order to offset this breakdown protein should be consumed. There’s no need to overthink this, just make sure your meals have some protein content; around 15-30g depending on your weight and number of meals per day. For example if you usually have breakfast before your workout, make sure there is some high quality protein included, whether that be from milk, yogurt, eggs, or bacon is your choice, find what works for you. If your workout is long (greater than 2 hours), and includes some higher intensity work, you may want to consider protein ingestion during your workout. Eating a steak or scrambled eggs while running or on the bike is obviously not practical. The addition of BCAA powder to your water is a good option, this will provide the essential proteins to help offset MPB. There are also some bars with higher protein content that are also fantastic options while exercising. Shortly after your workout you should aim for between 20-30g of high quality protein to maximally stimulate MPS. Again real food is ideal, but after longer harder sessions it is important to take advantage of the 1 hour time period immediately after your workout. It is in this period your muscles are primed to initiate the recovery process; this is where a protein supplement or protein bar comes in handy!
Bonus timing tip: If you are in a period of training where your load and intensity is very high a recent study suggested beneficial effects of ingesting protein before sleep.
Don’t forget to check out the Fuelixir Protein Shake Builder to help hit your protein targets!