Optimising Protein Intake for Gains

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I have discussed the optimal distribution of protein intake throughout the day and the benefits of combining different sources of protein. There are times when efficiency of uptake through the intestine and muscle cells is highest so you can optimise utilisation of what you eat.

"There are times when efficiency of uptake through the intestine and muscle cells is highest."

The hormone insulin changes in its concentration in the blood with the daily sleep-wake cycle. Insulin levels are lowest in the morning and increase during the day. This is why people say you are more likely to lay down excess food as fat in the evening than you are in the morning. You have probably heard a lot about insulin in relation to carbohydrate metabolism in respect of controlling blood glucose levels, and it is well known for its use as therapy in types of diabetes. Insulin is also heavily involved in protein metabolism, and is an extremely anabolic hormone. For this reason it too has become abused by bodybuilders and strength athletes, and injected to increase protein uptake by muscles.

Natural insulin levels are also highest straight after weight training, when there is a high demand on the muscles which have been trained to recuperate, if they have been fully worked. Insulin is needed here to help replenish the glycogen stores and put protein in the muscle cells for repair and growth. We have now identified a large protein 'window', i.e. a time when insulin concentration is high and the muscles are crying out for more protein. It is at this time that we should take advantage of the situation and consume a large protein dose, as uptake by muscles will be high. Absorption in the digestive system will also be more efficient at this time, due to the effect of hormones. The window is estimated to be open 'wide' for 30-40 minutes, after which time it closes to 'normal' level. In this time you may be able to utilise up to 20g more protein.

Another protein window is first thing in the morning. At this time you have fasted for hours at a time when your body is in growth mode, so it is crying out for protein to repair muscles from the previous few day's workouts. In the meal plan in Figure 1, I have put a protein drink immediately first thing in the morning followed by breakfast soon afterwards. I have also suggested a 40g protein drink straight after training. This optimises use of both protein windows.

It may be argued that the body's priority after training is to replenish glycogen stores, and it may be feared that the protein ingested here will be converted to carbohydrate to help fulfil this need. But, we are bodybuilders, and the demand for protein is high here, so amino acids will be utilised for muscle repair. However, it is imperative to consume carbohydrate foods to replenish glycogen stores soon after training.

Some bodybuilders wake in the night and down a protein drink. I can see the benefit of this, as it's another chance to consume protein, but I feel peaceful sleep is also important. I wouldn't set an alarm to wake up in order to do this. However, should you wake naturally, for example to go to the toilet at night, it may be an idea to have a previously prepared protein drink ready to consume. You can always drink it in the morning if you don't have it at night.

Informed Bodybuilding Nutrition Figure 1 : Example menu plan looking at protein foods only

This is based on a 90kg (210lb) man, moderate to low body fat. This is merely an example of the HBV protein foods spread out showing quality protein sources and combinations. Remember that the subject will also be eating carbohydrate sources like bread and potatoes, which contain protein too, bumping the total up by another 20 - 30 g a day.

Time

Food

Protein

Wake 7.30 am

7.30

1 scoop whey protein

20g

8.00 breakfast

cereal with skimmed milk

/ MRP*

30g

10.30

/ MRP

22g

12.30

tuna (95g)

22 g

/ small chicken breast (60g)

18g

low fat yoghurt

7g

3.00

/ MRP

22g

5.00

/ MRP

22g

TRAIN

6.30 (after training)

2 scoops whey protein

40g

7.30

tuna (95g)

22g

/ small chicken breast (6g)

18g

low fat yoghurt

7g

10.00

2 scoops weight gain

25g

11.30

1 scoop whey protein

11.30 bed

TOTAL PROTEIN 290g

*MRP stands for meal replacement powder (see Chapter 8).

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