When to Eat Protein to Build Muscle

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The answer to this question is as varied as there are researchers and fitness trainers. The truth is there is research to support using protein before, during and after workouts!

Your body can either be anabolic, or fed with plenty of fuel stored in the liver and muscle. Or it can be a catabolic state, where it needs fuel to continue to work but you haven’t been fed. In this instance the body first uses the glycogen stored in the liver and then starts breaking down sugars stored in the muscle and then the muscle itself. Of course, when you are building muscle you don’t want your body breaking down muscle for fuel.

Your body uses proteins, basically amino acids or the building blocks of proteins, to build muscle. Which type of protein you use may also be determined by when you are eating it.

Let’s start with what you eat or drink before hitting the gym to build muscle.

Before starting your resistance training for the day you should ensure that you have enough branched chain amino acids floating around to fuel your muscles. These BCAAs don’t have to be processed by the liver but can head straight to the bloodstream.

As you exercise and lift you muscles breakdown and oxidize BCAAs. When you have enough onboard prior to your workout your muscles have them available so they don’t need to use the proteins in the muscles themselves to fuel to workout.

This idea was tested and published in Metabolism. Researchers found that for individuals particularly interested in gaining muscle size, protein supplementation had an advantage over carbohydrate supplementation prior to working out. (1)

However, conflicting research was published in the Journal of the International society of Sports Nutrition which found that the timing of a combination protein and carbohydrate supplement had no effect on muscle damage or soreness after eccentric exercises. (2)

Timing your pre-workout protein supplement may also help you to burn more calories and fat over the next 24 hours. Researchers published these findings in Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise and theorized that the increased burn may be due to the effects of increasing amounts of protein that the body had available to use during resistance training. (3)

Research has also uncovered another benefit to taking a carbohydrate and protein supplement prior to resistance training. Subjects who drank a combination shake 30 minutes prior to training experienced a significant reduction in cortisol up to 24 hours following the training session. Cortisol is a stress hormone that can trigger the development of visceral fat or belly fat, whether you are overweight or within normal weight limits. (4)

Take protein as a post-workout routine to help rebuild strong muscles also has a basis in research. In a clinical study released at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting, researchers detail the use of a blend of whey, soy ad casein proteins as the best combination to use post-workout to build muscle. (5) Each of these different types of proteins are digested and absorbed at different rates. Using a combination appears to provide the body with an extended release of amino acids during the recovery phase of the muscle.

The administration of protein over time was also backed up in another study released in Nutrition and Metabolism in 2012. (6)

(1) Metabolism: The Effect of resistance training combined with timed ingestion of protein on muscle fiber size and muscle strength

(2) Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: Effect of Carbohydrate-Protein Supplement Timing on Acute Exercise-induced Muscle Damage

(3) Medicine and Science in sports and Exercise: Timing Protein Intake increases energy expenditure 24-h after resistance training

(4) Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: The Effect of a Carbohydrate and Protein Supplement on Resistance Exercise Performance, Hormonal Response and Muscle Damage

(5) American Collee of sports Medicine: New Study Finds a protein combination is best o consume post-workout for building muscle

(6) Nutrition and metabolism: Daytime Pattern of Post-exercise protein intake affects whole-body protein turnover in resistance-trained males


BrianMac: The latest on pre/post workout nutrition

Muscle for Life: The Truth about protein absorption



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