Can you achieve better muscle growth by spreading your protein into smaller amounts throughout the day?

Does Protein Timing Create Better Muscle Growth?

Written by Russ Howe PTI, and most recently updated 1 day ago.

3 min read

Can you achieve better muscle building results by eating protein every couple of hours?

Some “experts” say yes, but others claim it doesn’t matter.

So today we’ll get a definitive answer, as I jump into the academic research on protein timing to discover whether there is any truth to it.

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protein timing for building muscle

Bodybuilders have been doing this for decades, and the theory is pretty solid.

By spreading your protein intake throughout the day (as opposed to having 2-3 main meals) the belief is that you’ll provide your body with a constant stream of amino acids, which should lead to greater uptake and help you to build more muscle.

So with this in mind, two people who eat the exact same amount of protein could see very different results, provided one was smart about protein timing and the other didn’t know.


protein timing

Not only is the theory solid, but we have studies showing it works.

Back in 2012, researchers from Switzerland published a trial on this topic. Trainees were given 80 grams of whey protein after a leg workout, splitting the participants into the following categories to see if the timing caused any notable differences in results:

  • Group A had 10g protein every 90 minutes
  • Group B had 20g protein every 3 hours
  • Group C had 40g protein every 6 hours

While all of the trainees experienced muscle protein synthesis, better protein turnover, and better protein breakdown, it was the second group (20g protein every 3 hours) recorded the best results. (1)

This group also had superior net protein balance and higher protein metabolism, so it appears consuming smaller amounts of protein at regular intervals can indeed lead to better results.

graph showing the difference in muscle building with timed protein intake

Of course, just because this is possible doesn’t mean it’s something which you need to do.

Dietary adherence is (by far) the #1 most important factor in determining your long-term success, so if you currently eat your daily protein intake across one, two, or three meals per day and this approach works for you, then there’s no harm in continuing with it. (2)

After all, if you take a look at the graph above you can see that the differences in results were actually pretty minor.

But for those of you who enjoy experimenting, there you go, you now have an extra tool in your arsenal.


References:

  1. 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).
  2. Howell S., et al. “Calories in, calories out” and macronutrient intake: the hope, hype, and science of calories. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. (2017)

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I’m Russ. I’ve been a personal trainer since 2002, and I own russhowepti.com.

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