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How Much Protein Do You need After Your Workout?

April 18 2010

How much protein do you really need after your workouts? It is pretty common to see folks having a protein shake after their workout. Is more protein better?

Why Do You need Protein after Your Workout?

much protein do you need after your workout

Increase in Protein Breakdown: Although protein synthesis is higher after resistance exercise, it has been clear that protein breakdown can increase enough to cause a negative net protein balance..

An increase in muscle mass is only possible if net protein balance stays positive.

Studies: Number of studies have confirmed that having protein (amino acids) after your workouts will decrease protein breakdown and shift the net protein balance to a positive state. .

More important,  Increase in strength and muscle mass has also been observed in the long-term studies.

We know there is a dose response relationship of protein intake and protein synthesis in your muscle. Nevertheless, this hasn’t been looked at until this study.

What was the ‘protein after workout’ study design?

This study used 6 trained, fasted young men ( > 4 months to 8 years).

The protocol involved 4 sets of 8-10 of leg press, leg extension and leg curl and then ingested 0, 5, 10, 20 or 40 gm of whole egg protein.

What were the results of the ‘protein after your workout’ study?

The study showed a steady increase in protein synthesis until 20 gms of protein(8.6 gms of EAA), and then a plateau as shown below.

The study showed no significant increase at 40 gms of protein and showed a significant increase in lecuine oxidation ( protein burned off because it cannot be used) at this point.

protein dose response and protein synthessis after workout

Practical Applications

  • The study participants were around 190 pounds and trained. So 20-25gms will be sufficient protein after your workouts if you are around this weight category .
  • If you are above that weight category or doing a higher volume, 25 -30 gms would be more than enough considering the rate of protein synthesis has an upper limit. 
  • The study looks at acute adaptations,. The long term adaptations such as strength and muscle mass to such doses are yet to be seen
  • .

Reference 1

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Anatoly | Mon April 19, 2010  

Thanks, Anoop for a great articles you write.

Anatoly | Mon April 19, 2010  

BTW, if we taking protein shake before workout as well, what implication this study has?
Should I take no more than 10g before workout and no more than 10g after?

Anoop | Mon April 19, 2010  

Hi Anatoly,

Thanks for the comment!

I don’t think pr-workout shake is going to matter much if you have had some food before your workouts. I would make the shake and take it during and after the workouts.

Anatoly | Mon April 19, 2010  

I workout early in the morning and simply don’t have enough time to eat solid meal.
So I make the protein shake in milk + banana and consume this before workout. After workout I take another portion of shake in milk.
Should I use smaller portions then?

Anoop | Tue April 20, 2010  

This study might apply to you more than others considering you workout without having any food prior to it.

I would say split into half. maybe like 15 and 15.

Anatoly | Tue April 20, 2010  

Thanks, Anoop, I will

Mark Young | Wed April 21, 2010  

Hey Anoop,

I actually interviewed the primary author here:

http://markyoungtrainingsystems.com/2009/04/protein-after-exercise-an-interview-with-dan-moore/

However, Alan Aragon recently pointed out that if a person consumed 40-50 grams of protein at one or two sittings during a day they would (according to this theory) become protein deficient.  In some way, the body manages to utilize large amounts of protein even if oxidation is the acute effect.

Karky | Thu April 22, 2010  

One comment:
There IS a difference between the 20 and 40g dose, however, it does not reach statistical significance (p=0.29) this means that there is a 29 percent chance that the difference found is caused by coincidence.

There is a difference between no difference and a difference that does not reach statistical significance (usually set at p=0.05)

Also, he makes some comments about only needing 20g of protein about 5-6 times a day in the discussion section. I posted a comment in the link in the post above, but figured I’d post it here too:

20g 5-6 times during the day.. But this study only investigates the amount of protein needed to maximally stimulate protein synthesis after a workout. What about research that has tested the dose response of protein synthesis to protein outside of the time right after exercise? Wouldn’t that be needed to confirm how much protein to eat outside of immediately post exercise?

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12368423
If you look at table one, leucine balance was better in the 0.61 than the 0.44g/kgbw study. Though this is comparing two different studies where the subjects haven’t all been randomized from the same population, so it doesn’t tell us anything definitively, but it is interesting.

I think it’s important to find how much protein you need to maximally stimulate protein synthesis and how often you can do it (with regards to the refractory period seen with constant infusion, maybe this could trigger if you eat too frequently).

Another interesting observation is that there is that if protein synthesis has a refractory period after a meal that lasts more than 1.5 hours, whey protein can “bust” through it and doesn’t affect the increase in protein synthesis from the next meal
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15572657

perhaps we can gain additional muscle by supplementing with fast proteins in between our meals?

Karky | Thu April 22, 2010  

Additional comment. The participants had 4 months to 8 years of training experience. Also very few participants, which makes it harder to get a statistically significant result. Would have been interesting to see if the dose response was different between those who were well trained and those who weren’t.

Karky | Thu April 22, 2010  

yet another comment.. once I should really gather all my thoughts before I post and make it all in one post :S

The only trained lower body. Isn’t it possible that a higher protein dose would have been required if they had trained the upper body too?

If MPS is stimulated maximally at a certain blood amino acid level (let’s call it x) and let’s say it would be the same for lower body and upper body muscles. Right after a work out, more blood is still going to the muscles that have been worked, which means more amino acids. If they had worked the upper body too and blood flow there also had been increased, would the 20g protein dose be enough to get x amount of amino acids to both places at the same rate? rate of amino acid delivery, which increases with blood flow has been shown to be important in stimulating MPS (eg the effect insulin has on protein synthesis is due to it’s effects on blood flow)

Anoop | Thu April 22, 2010  

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the comment and the link to the article. Nice one!

I don’t think the study tells us much about how the protein synthesis will be impacted by solid meals which is usually a mix of carbs, fat and protein and how it is affected away from your workouts.

When you are having a real meal, the delay in gastric emptying and uptake by the splanchnic bed and the mix of carbs and fat might be different from what you see here. What are your thoughts?

Anoop | Thu April 22, 2010  

Hi Karky,

There is a difference, but it just might be the noise.

If I am reading it right, the rate of protein synthesis is limited(<.15/hr). I don’t think it will make a big difference if you are trained or untrained. The muscle mass doesn’t make a big difference because it is not the size of the sink that is limiting here but the limit is set by how much water can come through the tap.

Almost 65% of the muscle mass is in your lower body. Only around 35% of the muscle is in your upper body.So there might be a slight increase(5-10g more maybe) if you are doing a full body with all those sets .

I might have to look up the rest of your references karky to comment further. Good points.

Karky | Thu April 22, 2010  

Yeah, it might just be the noise, but according to their statistics there’s a 70% chance that there is a real difference between the groups. Obviously not enough to draw a conclusion and say that there is a difference, but surely enough to say that more research with larger groups needs to be done before this is confirmed.

This is all really interesting. The discussion about how much protein and when to ingest it for optimal results is very exciting. I’m looking forward to more research being published in the next years on this.

Anoop | Fri April 23, 2010  

If you look at the graph, you don’t see any clear difference between 20 and 40 gms. Maybe a .01 difference. Is that clinically significant?

If you have large number of participants, you will drive that .01 difference to be become statistically significant, but which very well may mean nothing practically. That’s the problem with just looking at statistical significance.

And when you see studies from reputed authors in leading publications, you can put a bit more confidence on the study results than you would otherwise.

Karky | Fri April 23, 2010  

Yeah, if it’s clinically significant is another matter. I didn’t think it looked that small. The study doesn’t give a number and it’s very hard to tell from the graph. But it might not make a difference at all in the long run.

I also have a pet peve about language in articles and p values. If there is a mean difference, no matter how small, there is a difference. Then you say it’s a difference and then resonate about whether or not it is clinically significant and use the statistics to show how statistically significant it is. But that’s probably because my research methods lecturer was kind of up into this whole p value thing. Always report it, don’t dichotomize it into significant and not significant, etc. I also think it’s very, very important to use very specific language in research.

Mark Young | Sun April 25, 2010  

Karky,

The nature of scientific research is only to call something a difference if it is statistically significant.  When it is not significant it is usually called a trend.

“i.e, there was a trend towards a difference between 20g and 40g, but this did not meet statistical significance”

However, it is usually only called a trend when the results are approaching significance.  In this study the results weren’t even close.  If the results are even remotely close the authors could do a power calculation to see how many subjects would be needed to allow the trend to reach significance.  This is pretty common practice and extra subjects are typically recruited at this point.  As Anoop said, this probably wasn’t worth it in this case because the clinical significance of the difference would have been small anyway.

I don’t think that the author was stating that the 20g five times per day was based exclusively on this study.  There have been several studies examining the daily protein requirement and dose response rates with protein.  You have to be careful when looking at elderly folks because their feeding related protein synthesis is blunted.

The protein pulse theory is pretty popular and I don’t think anyone would argue with eating any type of protein at 3 hour intervals to maximally stimulate protein synthesis.  I’m not sure whey (or any “fast” protein) is needed unless you’re just trying to hit your daily amount of BCAAs.  Interestingly the intermittent fasting research is throwing a monkey wrench into this because people appear to be able to maintain muscle mass while performing various types of fasts as long as they resistance train.

I agree with Anoop in that the protein required after training would probably be only marginally more if the whole body had been trained.

Mark Young | Sun April 25, 2010  

Anoop,

I tend to think that the addition of carbs probably wouldn’t increase protein synthesis, but it would likely have a result on breakdown so net balance my actually increase after the addition of carbs.

I’m aware of some research that has been done on fat with protein after training, but I can’t remember the outcome.  Grad school was a long time ago.  smile

Karky | Sun April 25, 2010  

Mark, my pet peeve is simply with the language. If he means no statistical difference, he should write “no statistical difference”

I can’t remember any references to other studies finding 20g to be optimal. Do you have links to them?
I was under the impression that this was the first study to examine this question.

The whey thing isn’t about getting enough BCAA’s for anything, it’s about the refractory period and showing that you can take a supplement in between your regular meals, get a boost in protein synthesis, without affecting the protein synthesis response from then next meal. The meals in this study was 4 hours apart (with a sup in the middle), though, not 3. This needs a lot more research, though, as we don’t even know if a meal of slow digesting protein at that time would inhibit the MPS response to the next feeding (it’s just a hypothesis that it will)

And yes, the paper I refered to was with elderly subjects, but they did find an increase with a much larger dose than in this study. Is the MPS response so blunted in the elderly that nearly the double amount is required? Regardless, I don’t think you can make any dietary recommendations about protein doses over the day from one study done post workout.

Mark Young | Mon April 26, 2010  

Karky,

I guess what I was getting at is that if there is no statistical difference it is assumed that there is no difference at all.

But you’re right, this was the first study to investigate the dose response of protein post-workout.  Although numerous studies have been done over the years to determine the ideal daily amount of protein required.  Tarnopolsky did these years ago and more recently Phillips SM and Rennie MJ have investigated this stuff.  The general understanding is that daily protein requirements are somewhere between 0.87 and 1.0 grams per kg per day.  When people first start resistance training their protein need is the highest.  However, many researchers believe that chronic resistance training actually DECREASES the need for protein since we become more efficient at hanging on to the muscle protein we do have.

If I recall, Mike Rennie said something once about 10g being sufficient to max out the protein synthetic machinery at rest although I think this is a little on the low side because those who were tested were not people with significant muscle mass.

I honestly think that the fast vs slow protein debate is a little bit useless because the effects on between meal consumption would have to do with what you ate at both meals as well as the meal replacement.  Frequent protein feedings will probably do the trick without getting too tied up in the minute details.


Btw, sorry I don’t have better references, I just got a new laptop and all of my papers have yet to be transferred.  grin

Karky | Mon April 26, 2010  

I’ve heard about the needs decreasing, but I’ve also heard a lot of critique against this view. Some say the training wasn’t that hard, etc. I don’t doubt that resistance training can decrease how much protein we need, but I don’t know about how much protein that is optimal.

If you eat a lot of protein, the body will get less “strict” in how it handles it, while if you reduce your protein intake, the body will become more strict in how it handles it by holding on to every last bit of nitrogen it can. This could be the same for exercise. It increases demand for protein, so if you keep eating the same amount, you will be in a nitrogen deficit for a while before the body adjusts and you will be at balance. But the goal is not to be in balance, but to have as large a positive nitrogen balance as possible.
Too bad nitrogen balance studies aren’t as good as most people think at measuring nitrogen balancmost people think at measuring nitrogen balance.. they usually underestimate nitrogen loss. I think some studies have reported ridiculously high nitrogen balances that would amount to inhuman amounts of muscle being added per week.

And yes, frequent protein feeding would be good. But how frequent can you go before you make your blood AA’s stay elevated constantly and enter into a refractory period?

Mark Young | Mon April 26, 2010  

As far as I can remember, when you eat a large amount of protein your branched chain amino acid dehydrogenase enzyme increases so protein breakdown is upregulated to match intake.  If one were to suddenly decrease protein intake there would definitely be a period where breakdown would exceed input.

And truthfully speaking, we go through periods of negative balance and positive balance throughout the day.  It is the sum of all these ups and downs that equals our total net balance for a 24 hour period.  If you believe the current research on protein balance it would suggest that it matters less how much total protein you take in and more how frequently and when it comes in such that the protein synthetic machinery is always maxed out. Having a higher nitrogen balance just means having more aminos which could either be used for hypertrophy or just broken down and excreted. The old nitrogen balance method for determining daily requirements is pretty outdated.  There are better methods now.

As you said, there is no clear picture on how frequently we have to eat protein and how much at each feed to get the idea result.

At the same time, there are those who are finding that with intermittent fasting you can go 16-18 hours without any food and still get a net positive protein balance for the day.  This somewhat flies in the face of what we think we know about protein.

Karky | Mon April 26, 2010  

nitrogen balance is the amount of nitrogen consumed - the amount of nitrogen excreted. It accounts for the oxidation of amino acids. If you have a positive balance, that means that nitrogen is staying inside the body as amino acids and thus proteins. So a high protein balance means a lot of new protein in the body, and the only place that can add significant amounts of protein is muscle.

And I agree that protein timing probably is very important. We need to find the amounts that are needed and how frequently they can be consumed to avoid a refractory period.

We often gain muscle during the day and lose it again during the night, which is why so many take casein before bed (to keep MPS elevated far into the night) and some even get up to take a protein shake in the middle of the night (a bit extreme IMO)

Maybe consuming a lot of protein in one meal makes protein synthesis not be higher (ceiling effect) but last much longer than with smaller amounts of protein. However, if eating a lot of protein would result in constantly elevated AA levels in the blood for a long time, one would think the refractory period would set in.. It really is difficult to reconsile the protein pulse feeding effects with what we think we know about protein.

Anoop | Tue April 27, 2010  

The 10 gms was not protein, it is the amount of EAA. This study used around 8.6 gms of EAA. That might come around 4 ounces of beet, chicken and so on. If you express it in Leucine, it’s around 2-3 gms. Egg protein is around 8% luecine.

I think looking at the refractory period of protein, higher protein and less frequent meals seems to be better.The leucine content might have to decrease to re-sensitize those pathway.And if you think about it, if protein synthesis was always elevated, why aren’t people putting on muscle every week? Maybe 4-6 hours spread out than the usual 2-3 hours wold be the best way.

I think the study shows that there is a limit on the rate of protein synthesis. You cannot push in more and expect more to go in. You can only grow muscle so fast you know.

Karky | Tue April 27, 2010  

Yeah, I agree on the frequency thing. I also believe that if you were to go for meals every 4 hours, you can put a fast digesting protein in between those meals and not affect the MPS response to the next meal (as shown in one of the studies I referenced) and get an MPS response to the fast digesting protein. We need studies that examine if replacing this fast digesting whey with a regular slow digesting meal will give a different result, though.

Anoop | Tue April 27, 2010  

I know most people think that trained individuals need higher protein or something similar. And anecdotal evidence support high protein intake for trained.

But Dr. Joe Klemczewski who is considered to be the nutrition and peaking expert in professional natural bodybuilding circles actually recommends a moderate protein. I think like 1 gm per LBM. So that’s the problem with anecdotal evidence.

And if you put things in perspective, most people gain 90% of their muscle within the first couple of years anyways.

Anatoly | Tue July 13, 2010  

I don’t get it.
The full MPS cycle starts after workout and lasts at least 24 hours. At the best 72 hours.
In a study they check for MPS after 4 hours ONLY.
And nothing after that.
How critical is higher level of MPS after 4 hours vs. all cycle level?

Karky | Thu July 15, 2010  

Well the total area under the protein synthesis - time curve would be what matters most. A study that only checked MPS after 4 hours? That can’t really tell you much about how long it lasts.

mavros | Thu July 29, 2010  

Just read through this after having posted on the forum re: problems with interpreting acute effects studies…seems like Anatoly beat me to it!

Incidentally, there hasn’t been a great deal of discussion of the fact that the study in this article looked at fasted subjects.

As Alan Aragon is always at pains to point out, it’s not much use looking at findings from fasted subjects when almost all weight trainers train in a post-prandial state!

Anoop | Thu July 29, 2010  

If individuals were fasted, that only makes the case stronger since the protein synthesis will be much less in non-fasted. So I don’t think that will change the conlusuion.

I had asked Alan about his opinion and he said it was a well designed acute study. His concerns were more in realms of why they used egg protein than whey and one of the speculation in their discussion part about the maximum intake of protein throughout the day which I do agree with him. He also mentioned about the long term effects could only be realized with a long term study which I had written in my conclusion.

And I am guessing they only checked the levels at 4 hrs because they are checking for difference in maximum levels or the peak which can only be evident in a short time period. If you extend it too far, you might miss it.

Sirdon | Sat January 22, 2011  

Anoop,i think only nitrotech provides quality 24gram proteins,should we go for nitrotech?

near60lifter | Sat July 02, 2011  

Perhaps we don’t need that much protein to promote muscle protein synthesis. 15 grams of whey protein seems to work quite well.

http://jn.nutrition.org/content/141/4/568.short

Uttam | Sun August 21, 2011  

Hello… Howmuch protein, fiber, fat n carbs should i take In order to gain weight about 20 kgs.

jaco | Sun October 30, 2011  

so how much proiten shoud we consume in work out day ? and should this iddfer from non work out day?

Emma Palmer | Tue July 31, 2012  

I think it requires much because while working we don’t consume anything but the process of protein synthesis continues regularly so to supply sufficient protein for the processing we have to take it after workout at a decent rate. Thanks Anoop for a thoughtful post.

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