Does eating protein every couple of hours lead to greater muscle building results?
That’s the topic of today’s article, where I’ll be delving into the latest research surrounding protein timing to see whether it’s a useful nutrition strategy – or whether it’s just another piece of bulls**t advice from a fitness world that loves to overcomplicate everything!
Let’s dive in!
Why Should Increased Protein Timing Build More Muscle?
Bodybuilders have been using this strategy for decades, and the theory is pretty solid.
Spacing your protein intake throughout the day will provide your body with a constant stream of amino acids and should lead to greater uptake into muscle cells, and thus greater muscle growth.
Essentially we could have two people eating the exact same amount of protein overall but one will build slightly more muscle because they capitalized on optimal protein timing.
Of course, we’d be foolish to take it at face value without putting it to the test.
(I mean, lots of so-called “fit pros” still believe eating small frequent meals speeds up your metabolism!)
So let’s look at what science has to say on protein timing…
Does Eating Smaller, More Frequent Servings Of Protein Increase Muscle Growth?
In a nutshell, yes it does.
Researchers from Lausanne, Switzerland, conducted an interesting study on the topic of protein timing back in 2012. Following a leg workout, three groups of trainees were given 80 grams of whey protein in the following intervals over the next twelve hours:
- Group 1 had 10 grams of protein every 1.5 hours
- Group 2 had 20 grams of protein every 3 hours
- Group 3 had 40 grams of protein every 6 hour
If you look at the graph below you can see that group 2 got the best results.
All of the participants experienced greater muscle protein synthesis, better whole body protein turnover and improved protein breakdown, but group 2 also had better net protein balance and protein metabolism, so it appears that consuming smaller doses of protein (around 20 grams every three hours) can actually lead to greater muscle growth! (1)
How To Apply These Findings For Maximum Results
Okay, let’s not get carried away here.
Protein timing is a thing, but I don’t want you to stress out about it.
As you can see from the graph above the improvements were very small, so I wouldn’t recommend overhauling your current lifestyle just for this (especially if what you’re doing right now is working just fine!). It’s very easy to get caught up in minutiae and overlook the more important stuff (i.e. most people don’t eat enough protein to build muscle anyway, never mind the frequency of the meals).
Certain individuals in the fitness industry also like to cite this exact study to support their belief that “the body can only absorb so much protein per meal” (I’m sure you’ve had a gym bro tell you that!) and that the rest is simply wasted (i.e. excreted or stored as fat), but that’s not what it’s saying at all.
Let me be clear on this:
The only thing which will result in body fat gain is too many calories overall (regardless of whether it’s protein, fat or carbs) and the body will in fact use all of the protein you eat. This study just suggests we can enhance those results (very slightly) with this approach. (2)
If you’d like to test out the protein timing theory, go for it!
All you need to do is to split your daily protein intake into mini-servings of 20 grams eaten every 3 hours. This can be done with 3 main meals and a couple of whey protein shakes as snacks, or any other way you choose.
- Moore D. R., et al. Daytime Pattern Of Post-Exercise Protein Intake Affects Whole-Body Protein Turnover In Resistance-Trained Males. Nutr Metab (Lond) (2012).
- Howell S., et al. “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. (2017)
Who Is Russ Howe PTI?
Russ has been a personal trainer in the UK since 2002, and provided both training advice and full programs on this website since 2011.
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