New research on protein intake: protein each meal results in more muscle protein synthesis than the same amount of protein eaten in one meal
Protein synthesis is a high-interest topic of athletes and many male recreational athletes. Well-developed muscles are signs of health, strength and virility in men. Well-developed muscles are also important for women. Muscles as well as bone are lost as we get older. Much attention has been given to avoiding osteoporosis. Osteoporosis can lead to fractures, spine malformation, pain and loss of independence. Sarcopenia is the muscle equivalent of osteoporosis. Muscle mass is lost a bit each year. That can accelerate in menopausal women. Loss of muscle can lead to weakness, frailty and loss of independence too. Sarcopenia also happens to men. It is important to take care of “muscle health,” even if you’re not interested in looking jacked.
Timing of protein intake
There are some advantages to late protein intake. Protein intake before bed increases muscle synthesis. But what about the rest of the day? Many people get most of their protein at dinner. Many get most of their carbs at breakfast. Is there an advantage to spreading protein intake out over the course of your day? It looks like the answer is Yes.
Researchers looked at 24 hour muscle protein synthesis in a group of healthy adults (men and women). The subjects were first given a diet with most of the protein consumed at night (about 10 grams at breakfast, 16 grams at lunch and 63 grams at dinner). This was followed by a second diet where protein was consumed evenly at three meals (average about 31 grams per meal). Subjects stayed on each diet for seven days.
Protein synthesis was 25% higher when subjects consumed protein evenly at each meal.
Its better to have protein with breakfast, lunch and dinner than having a big high protein meal at night. This runs counter to some current diet practices among the health conscious such as intermittent fasting or eating one meal a day. For more information on intermittent fasting see this article by Dr. Jose Antonio of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Those practices may not be beneficial for prevention of muscle loss although they may be beneficial for other reasons. The paper is written more with an eye towards preventing sarcopenia in the ill and the elderly. The authors do suggest that the amount of protein in the RDA is low for optimal health. I don’t know of any research that’s been done on protein timing and performance for athletes. If anyone does, please send a link.
“There is broad agreement among many protein researchers
that the RDA for protein [0.8 g protein/(kgd)], although
sufficient to prevent deficiency, is insufficient to promote optimal
health, particularly in populations exposed to catabolic stressors
such as illness, physical inactivity, injury, or advanced age (4,22–
25). Several recent consensus statements have suggested that a
protein intake between 1.0 and 1.5 g/(kgd) may confer health
benefits beyond those afforded by simply meeting the current
RDA (4,26,27). In the current study we provided diets that
exceeded the RDA for protein by 50% but were consistent with
the average daily protein intake of the U.S. adult population [i.e.,
1.2 g protein/(kgd)]”