Protein Timing: When Is Best?
Whenever we discuss protein, we usually just hear questions like:
“How much protein should I eat?”
“Is whey protein good for me?”
“Do I need to eat more protein?”
“How much protein is in this?”
All of these questions are of valid concern, and worth of answer, but very rarely do we hear people discuss when we should be eating protein.
Protein timing obviously isn’t NEARLY as important as overall protein intake. Your timing of protein intake might be spot on, but if you’re not having enough, or only having incomplete proteins, it doesn’t matter too much. You’ll be stepping over $100 bills to pick up pennies. But if you’re already nailing your intake and your protein sources, you may be able to milk some more gains out of timing your protein appropriately.
Protein before bed is generally the first place to make concessions and changes to protein timing. Some evidence suggests that consuming 30-40g of protein from any complete protein source leads to higher levels of 24-hour protein synthesis. Think about it logically, what are you doing during the time you sleep? Certainly not eating. You’re going 6-9 hours without ANY protein getting into your system. If you eat dinner at 6 pm, go to bed at 11 pm, and wake up at 7 am, you’re going almost 12 hours without ingesting any protein. You wake up in a state of catabolism and have spent the last 12 hours not actively working on laying down new tissue, which brings us to the next point.
Protein Upon Waking
Like it was mentioned in the last section, you’re going the entire night without eating protein. If we use the same evening scenario, and you’re not having your fist feeding of protein until 10 am or so, you’re going 16 hours without any protein! When your body is looking for amino acids to use to lay down new tissue, none are to be found in circulation. It’s important to start your day with a protein-rich meal, to supply your muscle with the amino acids it wants to lay down new muscle tissue.
Generally, it is best to space your protein intake out evenly throughout the day, over the course of 4-6 meals. This is with the goal in mind of having muscle protein synthesis elevated throughout the day. We know muscle protein synthesis stays elevated after a protein-rich meal for 2-3 hours before it returns back to normal. This is part of the reasoning that bodybuilders eat so often! Having 3 meals a day leaves you with 3 big spikes in protein synthesis, but eating 4-6 times per day leaves you with more time in heightened leaves of protein synthesis, so more gains!