How Much Protein Do Athletes Need?

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in How Much Protein Do You Need

Position of the International Society of Sports Nutrition On Protein & Exercise

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

how much protein do athletes needThere is so much conflicting information about how much protein we should be getting. Some experts say we are eating too much. Others say we are eating too little. Some experts say we should just eat fruits and vegetables. Others say we should load up on meat. Some experts say athletes need more protein. Others say they get plenty of protein in the standard American diet. No wonder you are confused!

So, how much protein do athletes need?

Because of all the conflicting advice, I thought it would be worthwhile to share with you the International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Statement on protein and exercise (R. Jagr et al, Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition 14:20, 2017. DOI: 10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8).

How Much Protein Do Athletes Need?

 

Before summarizing the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommendations, I should start by pointing out that these recommendations are focused on the effect of protein on exercise performance. They are also focused more on high performance athletes than on those of us who are just trying to stay fit.

I have covered protein needs of people of all ages and exercise intensities in my article “How Much Protein Do You Need?” and will refer to that article from time to time.

Here are the ISSN recommendations:

exercise and protein#1: “An acute exercise stimulus, particularly resistance exercise, and protein ingestion both stimulate muscle protein synthesis and are synergistic”. In simple English, exercise and protein work synergistically to help you increase muscle mass.

#2: “For building and maintaining muscle mass…, an overall daily protein intake in the range of 0.6 – 0.9 gm/pound body weight/day is sufficient for most exercising individuals”. This is 1.7-2.5 times the RDA for sedentary individuals, and is more appropriate for elite athletes than for your average weekend warrior or fitness enthusiast.

Protein Requirements Calculator

They make the point that protein alone is sufficient for increasing muscle mass following resistance training. However, they also say that addition of carbohydrate to a protein supplement improves muscle glycogen recovery and reduces post-workout muscle soreness.

I also prefer some carbohydrate with a protein supplement because of a phenomenon called “protein sparing.”  In brief, in the absence of carbohydrate, some of the ingested protein is converted to glucose to restore blood glucose levels and muscle glycogen stores. If you include carbohydrate with the protein, the carbohydrate will be used to restore blood glucose & glycogen, and all the protein can be used to increase muscle mass.

#3: “There is novel evidence that suggests higher protein intake (>1.36 gm/pound body weight/day) may promote loss of fat mass in resistance-trained individuals”. This recommendation is primarily for body builders.

#4: “Optimal protein intake per serving…depends on age and [the intensity of] recent resistance exercise. General recommendations are…a dose of 20-40g”. In general, young people require less protein following exercise than older people. I have covered age-specific protein recommendations in my article “How Much Protein Do You Need?”. As for intensity of exercise, most of us engage in moderate intensity exercise and should aim for the lower dose recommended by the ISSN. The higher dose is more appropriate for elite athletes engaged in high intensity training.

leucine protein and exercise#5: “Acute protein doses should strive to contain 700-3,000 mg of leucine…in addition to a balanced array of the essential amino acids”. Older people also need more leucine than younger people. I have discussed age-related leucine needs in my article “Does Leucine Trigger Muscle Growth?”.

It is worth noting that in their position statement, the ISSN did not recommend any of the other ingredients that you often find in protein supplements.

#6: “These protein doses should be evenly distributed, every 3-4 h, across the day”. If you consume too much protein at one time, the excess will not be used for building muscle.

#7: “The optimal time period during which to ingest protein is likely a matter of individual tolerance…However, the anabolic effect of exercise is long-lasting (at least 24 h), but likely diminishes with increasing time post-exercise”. While the anabolic effect of exercise lasts for 24 hours or more, the maximum anabolic effect occurs during the first 2-4 hours after exercise. This is why a post-workout supplement is generally recommended immediately following a workout. Because there is a limit to how much protein can be consumed at any one time, additional protein should be consumed at regular intervals over the next 24 hours (recommendation #6).

#8: “While it is possible for physically active individuals to obtain their daily protein requirements through the consumption of whole foods, supplementation is a practical way of ensuring intake of adequate protein quality and quantity, while minimizing caloric intake.”

protein shakes#9: “Rapidly digested proteins that contain high proportions of essential amino acids and adequate leucine are most effective in stimulating muscle protein synthesis.”  This recommendation is most appropriate for protein(s) ingested during the acute 2-4 hour anabolic phase immediately after exercise. During the remaining 24 hours of the anabolic phase, it is more important to maintain a constant amino acid concentration in the bloodstream. For this reason, I generally recommend more slowly digested proteins, such as meat or soy, between 4 and 24 hours after exercise.

#10: “Different types and quality of protein can affect amino acid bioavailability following protein supplementation.”  Simply put, there are a lot of “junk” protein supplements out there. Look for a manufacturer with a reputation for integrity and for product quality.

#11: “Athletes should consider focusing on whole food sources of protein that contain all the essential amino acids.”  Simply put, you should avoid supplements that contain only a few selected amino acids. Instead, choose supplements that provide whole protein from natural sources. Leucine, for example, is very beneficial when added to a whole protein supplement containing all the essential amino acids, but leucine by itself would be of little value.

protein endurance#12: “Endurance athletes should focus on achieving adequate carbohydrate intake to promote optimal performance; the addition of protein may help offset muscle damage and promote recovery.”  In short, endurance athletes benefit from a combination of carbohydrate and protein, but carbohydrate is of primary importance.

#13: “Pre-sleep casein intake (30-40 g) provides increases in overnight muscle protein synthesis and metabolic rate without decreasing the overnight fat breakdown.”  The definitive studies on this have been fairly recent. This recommendation is most appropriate for elite athletes who are primarily interested in increasing muscle mass. For the rest of us, calorie considerations would outweigh the small increment in muscle mass we could gain overnight.

The above gives a summary the ISSN statement on protein and exercise and offers an answer to the question how much protein do athletes need?

 

The Bottom Line

 

This article is different from my previous articles in that it is a summary. It would be pointless to make a summary of a summary, so I have done away with “The Bottom Line.”  Read the article above for a quick summary of the International Society for Sports Nutrition position statement on protein and exercise.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Does Protein Supplement Timing Matter?

Posted May 15, 2018 by Dr. Steve Chaney

How Do You Gain Muscle Mass & Lose Fat Mass?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

protein supplement timingMost of what you read about protein supplements on the internet is wrong. That is because most published studies on protein supplements:

  • Are very small
  • Are not double blinded.
    • Both the subjects and the investigators knew who got the protein supplement.
  • Are done by individual companies with their product.
    • You have no idea which ingredients are in their product are responsible for the effects they report.
    • You have no idea how their product compares with other protein products.
    • There is no standardization with respect to the amount or type of protein or the addition of non-protein ingredients.

Because of these limitations there is a lot of misleading information on the benefits of protein supplements timing and maximal benefit. Let’s start by looking at why people use protein supplements. Let’s also look at what is generally accepted as true with respect to the best supplement timing.

There are 4 major reasons people consume protein supplements:

  • Enhance the muscle gain associated with resistance training: In this case, protein supplements are customarily consumed concurrently with the workout.
  • Preserve muscle and accelerate fat loss while on a weight loss diet: In this case, protein supplements are customarily consumed with meals or as meal replacements.
  • Provide a healthier protein source. In this case, protein supplements are customarily consumed with meals in place of meat protein.
  • Prevent muscle loss associated with aging or illness. There is no customary pattern associated with this use of protein supplements.

How good are the data supporting the customary timing of protein supplementation? The answer is: Not very good. The timing is based on a collection of weak studies which do not always agree with each other.

The current study  (J.L. Hudson et al, Nutrition Reviews, 76: 461-468, 2018 ) was designed to fill this void in our knowledge. It is a meta-analysis that compares all reasonably good studies that have looked at the effect of protein supplement timing on weight gain or loss, lean muscle mass gain, fat loss, and the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass.

How Was The Study Done?

The authors started by doing a literature search of all studies that met the following criteria:

  • The study was a randomized control trial with parallel design. This means that study contained a control group. It does not mean that the investigators or subjects were blinded with respect to which subjects used a protein supplement and which did not.
  • The subjects were engaged in resistance training.
  • The study lasted 6 weeks or longer.
  • Reliable methods were used to measure body composition (lean muscle mass and fat mass).
  • The subjects were healthy and at least 19 years old.
  • There was no restriction on the food the subjects consumed.

The authors started with 2074 published studies and ended up with 34 that met all their criteria. They then separated the studies into two groups – those in which the protein supplements were used with meals and those in which the protein supplements were used between meals.

Both groups were diverse.

  • Group 1 included subjects who consumed their protein supplement with their meal and those who consumed their protein supplement as a meal replacement.
  • Group 2 included subjects who consumed their protein supplement concurrent with exercise (usually immediately after exercise) and those who consumed their protein supplement at a fixed time of day not associated with exercise.

Does Protein Supplement Timing Matter?

 

protein supplement timing workoutsBecause the individual studies were very diverse in the way they were designed, the authors could not calculate a reliable estimate of how much lean muscle mass was increased or fat mass was decreased. Instead, they calculated the percentage of studies showing an increase in lean muscle mass or a decrease in fat mass.

When the authors compared protein supplements consumed with meals versus protein supplements consumed between meals:

  • Weight gain was observed in 56% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 72% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In other words, protein supplements consumed with meals were less likely to lead to weight gain than protein supplements consumed between meals.
  • An increase in lean muscle mass was observed in 94% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 90% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In other words, timing of protein supplementation did not matter with respect to increase in muscle mass.
  • A loss of fat mass was observed in 87% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 59% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In other words, protein supplements consumed with meals were more likely to lead to loss of fat mass.
  • An increase in the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass was observed in 100% of the studies of protein supplementation with meals compared to 87% of the studies of protein supplementation between meals. In short, protein supplements consumed with meals were slightly more likely to lead to an increase in the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass.

The following seem to suggest protein supplement timing matters:

The authors pointed out that their findings were consistent with previous studies showing that when protein supplements are consumed with a meal they displace some of the calories that otherwise would have been consumed. Simply put, people naturally compensate by eating less of other foods.

In contrast, the authors stated that previous studies have shown that when foods, especially liquid foods, are consumed as snacks (between meals), people are less likely to compensate by reducing the calories consumed in the next meal.

The others concluded: “Concurrently with resistance training, consuming protein supplements with meals, rather than between meals, may more effectively promote weight control and reduce fat mass without influencing improvements in lean [muscle] mass.”

What Are The Limitations Of The Study?

Meta-analyses such as this one, are only as good as the studies included in the meta-analysis. Unfortunately, most sports nutrition studies are very weak studies. Thus, this meta-analysis is a perfect example of the “Garbage In: Garbage Out (GI:GO)” phenomenon.

For example, let’s start by looking at what the term “protein supplement” meant.

  • Because the studies were done by individual companies with their product, the protein supplements in this meta-analysis:
    • Included whey, casein, soy, bovine colostrum, rice or combinations of protein sources.
    • Were isolates, concentrates, or hydrolysates.
    • Contained various additions like creatine, amino acids, and carbohydrate.
  • As I discuss in my book, Slaying the Food Myths, previous studies have shown that optimal protein and leucine levels are needed to maximize the increase in muscle mass and decrease in fat mass associated with resistance exercise. However, neither protein nor leucine levels were standardized in the protein supplements included in this meta-analysis.
  • Previous studies have shown that protein supplements that have little effect on blood sugar levels (have a low glycemic index) are more likely to curb appetite. However, glycemic index was not standardized for the protein supplements included in this meta-analysis.

protein supplement timing workout peopleIn short, the conclusions of this study might be true for some protein supplements, but not for others. We have no way of knowing.

We also need to consider the composition of the two groups.

  • Protein supplements used as meal replacements are more likely to decrease weight and fat mass than protein supplements consumed with meals. Yet, both were included in group 1.
  • Some studies suggest that protein supplements consumed concurrent with resistance exercise are more likely to increase muscle mass than protein supplements consumed another time of day. Yet, both are included in group 2. We also have no idea whether the meals with protein supplements in group 1 were consumed shortly after exercise or at an entirely different time of day.

This was the most glaring weakness of the study because it was completely avoidable. The authors could have grouped the studies into categories that made more sense.

In other words, there are multiple weaknesses that limit the predictive power of this study.

What Can We Learn From This Study?

Despite its many limitations, this study does remind us that protein supplements do have calories. This is of relatively little importance for people whose primary goal is to increase lean muscle mass.

However, most of us are using protein supplements to lose weight or to increase our lean mass to fat mass ratio. Simply put, we are either trying to lean out (shape up) or lose weight. And, we want to lose that weight primarily by getting rid of excess fat. For us, calories do matter. With that in mind:

  • If we are consuming a protein supplement immediately after exercise or between meals we probably should make a conscious effort to reduce our daily caloric intake elsewhere in our diet.
  • Alternatively, we could consume the protein supplement with a meal, but time the meal so it occurs shortly after exercise.

 

The Bottom Line:

 

A recent study looked at the optimal timing of protein supplements consumed by subjects who were engaged in resistance exercise. Specifically, the study compared protein supplements consumed with meals versus protein supplements consumed between meals on weight, lean muscle mass, fat mass, and the ratio of lean muscle mass to fat mass. The study reported:

  • Protein supplements consumed with meals were less likely to lead to weight gain than protein supplements consumed between meals.
  • Timing of protein supplementation did not matter with respect to increase in muscle mass.
  • Protein supplements consumed with meals were more likely to lead to loss of fat mass.
  • Protein supplements consumed with meals were slightly more likely to lead to an increase in the ratio of lean mass to fat mass.

The authors pointed out that their findings were consistent with previous studies showing that when a protein supplement was consumed with a meal it displaces some of the calories that would have been otherwise consumed. Simply put, people naturally compensate by eating less of other foods.

In contrast, the authors said that previous studies have shown that when foods, especially liquid foods, are consumed as snacks (between meals), people are less likely to compensate by reducing the calories consumed in the next meal.

As discussed in the article above, the study has major weaknesses. However, despite its many weaknesses, this study does remind us that protein supplements do have calories. This is of relatively little importance for people whose primary goal is to increase lean muscle mass.

However, for those of us who are using protein supplements to lose weight or to increase our lean mass to fat mass ratio, calories do matter.  With that in mind:

  • If we are consuming a protein supplement immediately after exercise or between meals we probably should make a conscious effort to reduce our daily caloric intake elsewhere in our diet.
  • Alternatively, we could consume the protein supplement with a meal, but time the meal so it occurs shortly after exercise.

For more details, read the article above:

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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