How much protein do athletes need | SWÖLE science

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Muscle Protein Synthesis

The classic discussion around what amount of protein the body can process. People will say that the body can consume and process 20 to 30 grams of protein per meal and that if any more is consumed it will all be urinated out. Where does this stem from? Is there research to support the claim? Is it actually true about 20 to 30 grams of protein is peed out? And more importantly, how much protein is needed to get swole AF?


Let’s dive into this research and this to figure it out.


Think about going through a big lifting session. Maybe deadlift a tree trunk of girth or toss a massive snatch overhead. After the entire workout, we want to get bigger muscles so we need to consume our protein. We have to understand what happens when we consume protein either through a shake or chewing on a meal. 


Our saliva plays a massive role as we start consuming food. As the food enters the intestines, the constituent amino acids are transported through the intestinal wall to enter the hepatic portal circulation. Any amino acids that don’t enter the hepatic portal circulation will enter the bloodstream making everything available for the tissues to utilize to repair muscles and make the body stronger. 


The process is often referred to as muscle protein synthesis. The muscle protein synthesis process refers to how the body uses amino acids to help recover and improve skeletal muscle. It is a metabolic process that takes amino acids and incorporates them into bound skeletal muscle proteins.


We measure muscle protein synthesis by looking at how much of the amino acids being used are being used to enhance the skeletal muscle protein. We can think about consumption over a timeframe of an hour or even a day. Then that’s got to be compared to muscle protein degradation. There is always a see-saw balancing between muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein degradation. The balancing act is constantly occurring, with one being more prevalent than the other. Ideally, to be as swole as possible, we have to cater the see-saw in the favor of muscle protein synthesis.


“The plasticity of skeletal muscle is mediated, at least in part, by the constant turnover or remodeling of muscle proteins. In this regard, two metabolic processes occur: muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown. Both act concurrently in response to various stimuli to repair, replace, and generate new muscle proteins, leading to phenotypic adaptations.” 


Got love scientists and their big, intelligent manners of saying things! Upgrade that gray matter because someday it may matter.


To stimulate muscle protein synthesis and the actual remodeling, we have to understand satellite cells and their impact on muscle growth. We have to notice the different types of hypertrophy occurring and what type of training can stimulate each type of hypertrophy which then leads to greater levels of muscle protein synthesis, which then leads to individual goals.


Hypertrophy is actually growing the muscle belly. Take the pecs. The bench press exercise might break down the muscle and/or may lead to vibrations the body will analyze and then proliferate and mobilize satellite cells that lead into the muscle, increasing the shape and/or remodeling the muscle. Satellite cells play into the entire role of hypertrophy.   


There are three means of increasing muscle hypertrophy. Myofibrillar hypertrophy, connective tissue hypertrophy, and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Connective tissue hypertrophy (collagenous hypertrophy) plays a significant part in how much the actual body and muscle belly grow. All three forms of hypertrophy play a part in muscle protein synthesis.


Think of bodybuilders with sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Think of weightlifters with myofibrillar hypertrophy, which helps with contractile force within the muscles. Now we need to think of the role of exercise with hypertrophy and its impact on muscle protein synthesis.

How much protein at a single meal?

Brad Schonfeld and Alan Aragon deserve a lot of credit for their research on daily protein distribution. They have broken down the concept of muscle protein synthesis and the types of hypertrophy that occur to determine how much protein is needed for compound movements versus isolation movements. For example, a back squat compared to leg extensions makes a difference. Will the protein be localized to an area or will there be a greater impact from doing more compound movements?


Scientific research has something to say about it. 


Schonfeld had some experimentees rest for 12 hours after doing some moderate leg extension protocol. Each participant had 80 grams of whey protein ingested. The ingestion was done in three ways: eight servings of 10 grams of protein throughout the day, four servings of 20 grams of protein every three hours, and two servings of 40 grams of protein every six hours. Which one is more effective when using leg extensions? The results from Areta’s study say that muscle protein synthesis were greatest in those who ingested four servings of 20 grams of protein. Remember, this study focused entirely on leg extensions.


Let’s dive into compound movements.


Schonfeld points out that there is one trial where subjects received 20 grams of protein immediately out after performing a training bout. During another trial, they did this with 40 grams of a protein bolus. The results showed that the myofibrillar fractional synthetic rate was 20 percent higher in the 40 grams than the 20 grams. Meaning, if training a full-body, compound movement, something using multiple joints, there is a bigger payoff in myofibrillar hypertrophy taking 40 grams of protein. A little bit more protein payoffs in this scenario with compound movements.

Training Status

Do world-class athletes’ bodies adapt differently than noobs? Do their bodies use protein differently? Do the bodies adapt differently from an isolation movement or compound movement? Does the body need more protein? 

We have seen in research that the training status of an individual does indeed impact the amplitude and duration of the acute response of muscle protein synthesis to resistance-based exercises. The trained athlete’s response is more rapid and shorter-lived. Their body recovers quicker. The untrained individual the body is figuring out how to use the amino acids. Over a longer period of time, the untrained body figures out how to partition the amino acid. The research also shows us that things can alter over the training process. More advanced athletes probably need protein within a 30 to 90-minute window, but for an untrained individual, it takes more time with the synthesis rate.

Midway Review

Based on Schonfeld’s research, there is a greater fractional synthetic rate for myofibrillar hypertrophy in a 40-gram bolus compared to a 20-gram bolus. The compound movement plays a big factor. Athletes with a younger training age, just starting out to train, maybe doing move isometric work on machines. Individuals who train longer have a bigger spike in their overall reaction to partitioning the amino acids in their bloodstream; it happens faster, it is more rapid. For people with a younger training age, it takes longer but happens over a greater duration. Training age matters, but in most cases, trained athletes and untrained athletes will use the protein over a 24 to 36-hour timeframe. Yes, there is an anabolic window, but it isn’t all about that 60-minute window.

How Much Protein: Biolo, Bird, and Witter

Is there such thing as too much protein or too little protein?


“Resistance-based exercises sensitize the muscle to the anabolic stimulation of elevated amino acid levels from protein feeding. It’s clear that the sensitivity of muscle to amino acids remains enhanced for at least 24 hours following resistance-based training.”


Because muscle protein synthesis is a balance between synthesis and degradation, both variables must be considered in any discussion with dietary usage of protein. The results showed that higher protein intake drastically improved the anabolic response. 70 grams of beef protein eaten as a meal with other macronutrients did even better than the 40 grams study and 20 grams study. This reveals a massive, muddied area. 


The massive amount of protein points us to the science that the thermic effect of food is real. It will take 20 calories just to break down the 70 grams of protein. The massive anabolic response won’t just get urinated out. It will be used. Higher protein diets lead to more lean individuals.

Application

Compound movements need more protein intake than isolation movements. Training age has an impact on recovery and the amount of protein needed to get swole. We also know that eating other macronutrients increases an anabolic response if we eat a higher amount of protein. Having carbs and fats in there will improve our anabolic response. We also know that muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein degradation play on a see-saw.


With training, we have to start with the idea that training age matters. An elite athlete needs more protein. A young athlete, I recommend, 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight while training 3 days a week while participating in sports. A well-trained athlete probably needs 2.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.


Supplementing and meals bring us into the training age discussion again. For elite athletes, who recover quicker, it is probably easier to have them consume whey protein with raw milk to partition the protein quickly. Removed from that time period, later on, 3 to 4 hours later, they need to have a large meal with carbs, fats, and a large amount of protein to increase and lengthen muscle protein synthesis to increase the anabolic window.


“The collective body of evidence indicates that total daily protein intake for the goal of maximizing resistance training-induced gains and muscle mass and strength is going to be around 1.6 grams per kilogram of bodyweight. A recent meta-analysis on protein supplementation involving resistance trainees reported an upper 95% confidence interval of 2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight.”

how much protein should athletes eat

Using that upper confidence interval, that is about .55 grams of a kilogram of body weight per meal. Weighing 100 kilos means eating 50-55 grams of protein per meal over the course of four or five meals. That is for anyone with a resistance-based training background. A not as well-trained athlete will be closer to .4 grams. So a 100-kilo athlete who is not as well trained to get swole AF needs to consume about 40 grams of protein per meal throughout the day. The body will use the protein.

Recap

That’s a lot of information from a meta-analysis of a bunch of different studies. The important takeaways are knowing the three different types of hypertrophy and how they impact muscular growth. We can then break it down by understanding training age and the impact of compound movements and isolation movements. From there, we can start to think about consuming other macronutrients with a large amount of protein to help how the body responds.


Newbies, 1.6 grams is optimal relative to bodyweight. Well trained, 2.2 grams is optimal relative to bodyweight. 

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Welcome to the Garage Strength Blog, where it is my goal to provide you with the experience and knowledge I've gained in the strength and conditioning world over many years of learning from both successes and failures. I train elite-level athletes in a multitude of sports from the high school to professional levels, already producing 5 Olympics and 30+ National Champions. If you want to be the next champion I train, check out my strength programs below!

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