So, you go to the gym and lift weights…

You’ve just been lifting weights in the gym with the goal of increasing muscle mass and strength, this means that you’ve caused both mechanical and metabolic stress on the worked muscles.

Once you’ve applied a stimulus or stress on the worked muscles through training, an adaptation occurs in order to cope with the demands for the next session – This adaptation is known as muscle hypertrophy, or muscle growth. Whilst lifting weights, your working muscles undergo a process known as muscle protein breakdown (MPB). MPB is a process when the muscle reduces in size and breaks down as a result of your training session – don’t worry you wants this to happen. Once you’ve completed your training session, another process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS) occurs. MPS is the adaptation phase that rebuilds the muscle that you’ve broken down in the gym – bigger and stronger.

So, you’ve done all the hard work during training, now let your recovery measures from nutrition take care of the rest by ensuring that muscle is being built at a higher rate than which it is being broken down.

Since the goal is to build muscle, get stronger, and recovery quicker, this article aims to highlight how to promote the adaptive phase; muscle protein synthesis (MPS).

The nutrient in focus to promote muscle gain and strength (MPS) is protein. Once protein is consumed after lifting weights; the rate of muscle growth begins to increase beyond the rate of which the muscle has been broken down – This will allow you to lift heavier in your proceeding training sessions. This adaptation phase where you build muscle at a higher rate can last between 24-48 hours, however, is dependent on the ‘training age’ of the individual.

To maximise this adaptive response, the protein amount, timing of the the protein meal, and the quality of protein needs to be addressed.

So, here’s what you need to know.

1.Weight training stimulates muscle growth (MPS) for up to 24 hours; however consuming protein during this period can determine the magnitude of the training adaptation (muscle growth, strength etc). For example; the training adaptation can be seen as a dimmer switch – Training alone will stimulate muscle growth and turn the dimmer switch on slightly. Some nutrition will further turn this switch, however consuming sufficient protein, from the correct sources at the right times may turn the dimmer switch all the way round and maximise your efforts in the gym.

2. It appears that approximately 20 grams, or 0.25g/kg/bw of whey protein is a sufficient dose to promote muscle growth. However, you’re not going to drink whey protein shakes all day. Therefore, approximately 30g of protein from whole foods such as lean beef appears to be just as effective. Interestingly, rates of MPS at the dose of 30g from whole foods in a meal were just as effective as consuming 90g of protein in a meal. This suggests that there is an optimal dose for protein per meal with regards to maximally stimulating MPS. I.e. more doesn’t necessarily mean better when it comes to protein consumption. High protein intakes per meal above what has been stated may result in wastage (higher oxidation rates and urea production). Furthermore, it has also been reported that lower protein amounts, such as a large glass of whole milk (400mL) can produce similar results as consuming a whey protein shake.

However, when the types of protein are accounted for, it is suggested that the optimal protein dose per meal is approximately 0.4 grams per kilogram of your bodyweight. So, if you weigh 80kg, you’ll need to consume approximately 32g of protein per meal.

3. Once muscle growth (MPS) has been stimulated through dietary protein and all the relevant mechanisms have been activated, consuming another protein rich meal close to this time will not yield any greater results. This terms is known as the ‘muscle full effect’. Stimulating muscle growth through protein rich meals resembles turning on a light switch; once the switch has been turned on, you can’t make the light brighter by pushing the light switch harder. You have to wait for the switch to be turned off before turning it on again. Similarly to the light switch, protein activates the mechanisms to increase muscle growth and remain ‘switched on’ for approximately 3-4 hours – so why consumed another protein meal if all the mechanisms are turned on? Therefore, it is advisable that 3-4 meals are consumed per day to maximise; muscle growth, strength and recovery.

4. Protein is comprised of approximately twenty one amino acids. Of which, one of the twenty amino acids; leucine arises particular interest as it has been identified as a key regulator and driver of muscle growth. Therefore it can be said that the effectiveness of a protein source is a result of its leucine content where Churchward-Venne et al have suggested that a dose of ~3g of leucine is required per serving to maximise MPS. Here are the amounts of common foods in their dry/uncooked weight that you’ll need to consume in one sitting to reach the ~3g leucine threshold in order to maximally stimulate MPS:

Food SourceAmount Required (g)Leucine Dose (g)
Chicken Breast1002.7
Tinned Tuna1002
Pork (lean)1502.7
Beef (lean)1002.8
Non Fat Cottage Cheese2002
Whole Milk1000 (ml)2.6
Semi Skimmed Milk1000 (ml)3.3
Whey Protein252.5
Soy Protein302.5
Greek Yoghurt2502.5
Brown Rice4002.4

5. It has been reported that higher protein meals prior to sleep, approximately 40g or 0.6g/kg/bw in the form of Casein appears to keep protein synthesis elevated throughout the night, in return improving protein balance and long term muscle adaptations. Although the study looked at consuming casein protein shake, a mixed meal consuming the required dose of protein may also suffice.

6. You don’t need to consume carbohydrates post exercise to stimulate muscle growth (MPS) if the protein dose is adequate. Carbohydrate post exercise should be consumed with the goal of replenishing muscle glycogen.

7. It appears that putting strategies in place to take advantage of the ‘post training-anabolic window’ isn’t necessary as this window lasts for 24 hours, 48 hours, or even longer after exercise. This means you don’t have to consume a protein rich meal or shake immediately post exercise, simply consume a protein rich meal 3-4 hours after you last meal regardless of your training session.

Putting theory into practice, consume a protein rich meal approximately 1 hour prior to training; perform resistance exercise for one hour, followed by consuming another protein rich meal one hour post exercise. This would result in a protein rich meal being consumed approximately every 3 hours. Furthermore, the 3 Rs of recovery (rebuild, replenish and rehydrate) should be acknowledged in your post training meal as this will promote a pragmatic habit to ensure the recovery process has been initiated.

There you have it; 7 protein tips to put into practice straight away to help maximise muscle growth, strength and recovery from your training sessions.

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