Protein supplements are the most commonly used supplement among athletes. The reasoning is that additional protein helps aid is muscle recovery and can lead to faster gains. Many researchers have made the distinction that a protein supplement is not needed if enough protein is consumed daily. The tricky part is figuring out how people define “enough.” The American College of Sports Medicine and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics hold the stance that 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight for strength athletes is adequate. However, if you browse around the internet you’ll find an old bodybuilding recommendation of 1 gram per pound of bodyweight, which is about 2.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.
Protein requirements are highly individualized and should be tailored to the person. Deciding what constitutes “enough” protein is a loaded subject that rightfully deserves it’s own article, but I’ll give a few statements that illustrate my opinion:
- If you are a competitor then your focus is not on long term health, it’s on performance. That isn’t to say there isn’t overlap between the two. If you are performance focused you should follow the recommendations of the ACSM or an experienced coach with a good track record.
- If you are not a competitor and you train to generally fit in life, then sustainability should be your focus. Find a range of protein intake within the recommendation made by the ACSM that works with how you enjoy eating in general. In the past two years I have gone from eating 2.0-2.4 grams per kilogram to eating around 1.3 to 1.6 grams per kilogram and have had no trouble maintaining performance and muscle mass.
So, if you’re a competitor of any sort you should check in with your coach about protein supplements and note that this article isn’t for you. This is for people like me; the people that train to be stronger and healthier for life in general.
Protein timing is the act of consuming small batches of protein at certain points in the day. The most common form of this is to drink a protein shake immediately post-workout.
Brad Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon have repeatedly (2013, 2017) shown that the myth that you need to consume protein during the “anabolic window” post workout in order to maximize hypertrophy is not as important as consuming adequate protein. Again this can lead into the discussion of how “adequate” is defined, but that is for another time. The review and study linked above are very well done and show that when hypertrophy is the primary focus the total amount of protein is more important than when you eat that protein.
However, things may be somewhat different for populations that do not want to consume a high protein diet. There are many people that believe that a high protein diet may not be good for long term health. This is also a loaded debate; studies have shown that consuming up to 4.4 g/kg per day had no adverse health effects (at least in the short term), while many books that look at the strong correlation between longevity, lack of western diseases, and general healthfulness and a lower protein diet (Examples: The China Study and Proteinaholics). If you fall into the groups that prefer a low-moderate protein intake but still wish to optimize the results you get out of your gym efforts then you may want to consider protein timing.
Personally, I do have a protein shake following my workout. Mostly because I do not eat the amount of protein deemed adequate for hypertrophy. I tend to feel better at this moderate level of protein intake and, since I’m not a competitor, I’m going to stick with what makes me feel better.
A couple of good protein supplements
A key component in protein supplements is the amino acid leucine. Leucine stimulates muscle protein synthesis in humans, especially resistance trained people. However, not all protein supplements contain adequate amounts of leucine. There are many brands that create their whey protein with added leucine for just this reason but they tend to be very expensive. If you have the money to spend I suggest you check out Whey+ by Legion Athletics.
If you’re like me and have to maintain a tight supplement budget then you can do what I do: Mix 1 scoop MyProtein Impact Whey (Mocha is the best flavor) with 0.5 – 1.0 teaspoon of L-Leucine. Just like that you have your own leucine spiked whey protein! I add 5g of creatine to mine and take it about 20 minutes after I work out. This is a simple step that many of my clients have reported seeing consistent benefits from without having to dominate their diet with protein.