Today’s post comes from Dr. Donald Layman. Dr. Layman is the Director of Research at the Egg Nutrition Center and Professor Emeritus at the University of Illinois and a leading researcher studying dietary needs for protein and amino acids.
The importance of protein for athletes is well accepted but still confusing. Athletes hear lots of different messages about the amount of protein to eat and when to eat it. There are three simple messages about protein. The first message is that all adults interested in muscle health need to consume multiple daily meals each containing 30 grams of protein. To maintain healthy muscles, we must continuously make new proteins and breakdown old ones. The repair and replacement process only occurs during the anabolic periods after protein intake.
Most Americans eat the majority of their protein in a single large dinner meal with less than 10 grams of protein at breakfast. Your morning high fiber cereal with 8 grams of protein is useless for muscle health. Adults should have three meals each day with at least 30 grams of protein and breakfast is the most important meal of your day!
If you’re a bodybuilder trying to achieve maximum muscle size, you may want 4 to 6 meals each containing 30 g of protein. If you’re a runner, you need at least 3 meals to optimize muscle repair and recovery.
Surprisingly, the 30 g amount is the same for a small woman or a large guy and appears to relate more to blood volume than body size. If a meal contains less than 20 g there is no benefit to muscle health.
Second, athletes should consume protein soon after exercise to accelerate muscle repair and recovery. Intense exercise produces muscle damage – exercise is said to be catabolic or cause muscle breakdown. This is part of soreness but also an essential part of muscle training. To optimize training and minimize soreness, athletes need to consume protein within about 1 hour after exercise. The good news is that exercise increases the efficiency of protein use, so after exercise, 15 grams of a high quality whey protein or egg whites will maximize recovery.
The third message is that protein before exercise is not helpful. Protein consumed ahead of exercise has no beneficial effects on the quality of the workout or the speed of recovery. Protein is also slow to digest and may make you feel full and sluggish if consumed too close to exercise.
Whatever your athletic level, be sure to get the most out of your exercise with the right amounts of protein at the right times every day.