Meal timing for protein intake throughout the day
In addition to increased protein intake to build muscle and the choice of the optimal source of protein, it is also crucial how the athlete takes in the protein intake throughout the day. This is called meal timing. In basic terms, you should distribute your protein intake evenly throughout the day in order to keep the amount of protein per meal as low as possible. Although the repeated claim that only a maximum of 30g of protein can be taken with a meal is in the realm of fairy tales and myths, there is no data supporting this theory. Quite the contrary, in fact, the gastrointestinal tract can even absorb 500-700g of amino acids daily. Nevertheless, it should be noted in the course of optimal protein utilization that a smaller amount of protein can be processed more efficiently than with a protein amount of 200g spread over just two meals.
However, all things come with quantitative problems to bear. A mere protein amount of 200g would equal more than 800g of chicken breast meat that you need to eat. Eating 800g of chicken breast proves rather difficult. However, theoretically, the body could get by without protein replenishment for about 12-15 hours. After that period significant protein breakdown of muscle and gluconeogenesis begins, as it has an amino acid pool sufficient for about that period.*
Special attention should be paid to protein intake after exercise, as well as the first meal of the day and last meal of the day before going to bed.
During and immediately after training (basically while not eating and resting), the body is in a catabolic state and strives to replenish the energy consumed as quickly as possible. For this reason, it may make sense at this time to eat a protein-rich meal directly, but the emphasis should rather be on fast-absorbing carbohydrates like dextrose. Recommended is a supply of 0.7-1g carbohydrates per kg body weight. Supplement companies have funded research that shows that ideally, these carbohydrates are supplemented with 10g amino acids and 30g whey protein. In addition, in their studies and research, glutamine and creatine may also be added.
However, when looking at this data and research that is sponsored and funded by supplement companies, one should always have a critical eye on these recommendations. In my opinion for the natural athlete who just got done with his workout, 1-2 portions of fruit with 30g of whey protein should be enough as a post workout meal, followed by a bigger meal consisting of real food 1-2 hours after the workout.
Research has shown, that 45-60 min post workout, the insulin level can drop again. In that case then a high-protein meal should be on the menu. Since the body is still trying at this time to balance its energy deficit, it would make more sense to resort to a slowly digestible protein source, such as meat, egg white or yoghurt. In these food items the amino acid levels are maintained in the blood over a longer period. Optimally, that meal should be supplemented with complex carbohydrates, such as pasta, brown rice or oatmeal. 0.7g-1g / kg body weight should also be a guideline for carbohydrates. Don’t forget to add high quality fats and oils to this meal.
The same applies to the last meal of the day before going to bed. Here it should be kept in mind that the body has to get by for about 8 hours without re-feeding, because you can’t eat while you sleep. Well, technically you can through a food pump that leads to your stomach through your nose, or intravenous nutrients. Back on topic: realistically it would be wrong to add an extremely fast digestible protein. Rather, you should, just like post workout, use a slow digestible source of protein. As a result, while sleeping, a loss of nitrogen and an associated burning of amino acids can be prevented and thus your muscles are protected against breakdown. Quite a few bodybuilders eat a portion of lean beef, yoghurt or cottage cheese before sleeping. Dairy foods are perhaps the best suppliers of casein and thus a slow absorption is ensured.
However, it should be noted that new research is looking more critically into why nutrient timing is not as important as we thought and why it is hard to prove that a so called “anabolic window of opportunity” even exists. Links to the studies have been linked below.
*Gluconeogenesis and muscle breakdown can of course begin even earlier, but it is at a lot higher level at 12-15 hours.