It’s a known fact that protein supplementation actually assists in increasing your Fat-Free Mass or overall muscle mass; where it also was proven to have the maximum effect when combined with resistance exercise training.
The controversy of how much grams of protein your body can utilize or absorb in a single meal has been out there for years, setting the limit that your body can absorb to 20 – 30 grams of protein per meal. If this is true, then having a 2 scoop of your favorite protein shake containing anywhere from 40 – 50 grams would be a waste. Adding to that, the type of protein absorbed, such as slowly digested, like Casein, or fast digested, like Whey, has an overall effect on the muscle protein syntheses rate.
Now, let’s dive and look at a collection of scientific study will help you understand how to use protein supplementation.
A study was conducted in 1997 to test the speed of absorption of amino acids using two types of dietary protein, Whey Protein, and Casein Protein. Using Whey Protein an increase but short in plasma amino acids was induced. However, with Casein a prolonged hyperaminoacidemia was induced, probably because of a slow gastric emptying. After Casein ingestion a whole body protein breakdown was inhibited by 34% but not after Whey Protein ingestion. Postprandial protein synthesis was stimulated by 68% with the Whey Protein meal and to a lesser extent (+31%) with the Casein meal. Postprandial whole body leucine oxidation over 7 h was lower with Casein than with Whey Protein, although leucine intake was kept identical in both meals (380 μmol⋅kg−1). Therefore, net leucine balance over the 7 hours after the meal was more positive with Casein than with Whey Protein.
As a conclusion, “the speed of amino acid absorption after protein ingestion has a major impact on the postprandial metabolic response to a single protein meal. Protein breakdown is classically inhibited by insulin. Although their effects are less powerful than insulin, amino acids also inhibit protein breakdown. The absence of any change of protein breakdown with Whey Protein, despite very high amino acid concentrations, suggests that a slowly absorbed dietary protein such as Casein with a prolonged enough time of hyperaminoacidemia would be needed to obtain a significant protein breakdown inhibition without increase in amino acid concentration; as by contrast, a fast dietary protein stimulates protein synthesis but also oxidation.”
It’s important to note that this impact of amino acid absorption speed on protein metabolism is true when proteins are given alone, but as for co-ingestion of both protein and carbohydrate, this might be blunted in more complex meals that could affect gastric emptying (lipids) and/or insulin response (carbohydrate).
A study was done in July 2000 on elderly women vs. young women to test the effect of protein feeding patterns, using Pulse (protein consumed in one meal) or Spread (protein consumed over four meals) pattern. The study showed when 80% of the daily protein intake is consumed during lunch (Pulse pattern feeding), the results showed an improvement of the responsiveness of protein synthesis via an increased disposal of amino acids to muscle for elderly women. However, the same has not been reported in younger women. In younger women, no significant effects or differences detected in Fat-free muscles for either spreading feeding pattern or pulse feeding pattern on whole-body protein turnover or whole-body protein synthesis. Whereas protein breakdown tended to be higher in young women fed the pulse pattern than in spread pattern.
Another study conducted on October 2002 to test the influence of the protein digestion rate on protein turnover and protein metabolism in response to continuous feeding in young and elderly subjects.
There are two major factors that affect protein metabolism, amino acids and insulin. Both greatly differ after a single meal than during a continuous feeding. Typically, after a single meal, there is “an acute but transient elevation in plasma amino acids concentration whereas, with the same amount of protein, continuous feeding results in a smaller but more prolonged increase of aminoacidemia”. Similar results were observed with plasma insulin. “During a single meal hyperinsulinemia is higher and more transient than during prolonged feeding”. Data suggest that both amino acid availability and insulin action are important determinants of the regulation of protein metabolism”.
A study was done in December 2004 measuring the results of ingestion of Casein and Whey proteins in muscle anabolism post-resistance exercise training.
The study showed that the amino acid concentrations were evaluated after protein ingestion, and the net amino acid balance switched from negative to positive for both types of protein. Peak leucine net balance over time was greater for Whey ingestion (347 ± 50 nmol·min−1·100 mL−1 leg) compared to Casein (133 ± 45 nmol·min−1·100 mL−1 leg). Both protein types resulted in similar increases in muscle protein net balance after resistance exercise, resulting in net muscle protein synthesis with different blood amino acid patterns.
A Study was done in 2012 to compare the different effect between Whey and Casein on myofibrillar protein synthesis at rest and after 4 hours recovery of resistance training in elderly men. Healthy elderly men, 72 of age, received a 20g of casein or whey after performing a unilateral leg resistance exercise. Results showed that the “blood essential amino acids and leucine concentration peaked 60 min post-drink and were greater in amplitude after whey protein ingestion” compare to Casein. The study concluded that ingesting isolated whey protein supports greater rates of myofibrillar protein synthesis than Casein does for both at rest and after resistance training.
The draw or weak point of this study is that the test time period, which was 4 hours according to the study. As Whey has fast-acting, fast absorbing characteristics, it might explain the results of this experiment.
The study tested the effect of strength, power and body composition of 33 resistance trained men in 2009. Participants were divided into two protein-intake timing strategies and a third group (control group) without the use of any nutrition supplementation over the course of 10-weeks of resistance weight-training. The first group consumed a protein supplement (hydrolyzed collagen, whey-, and casein-protein isolates) pre/post-workout. The second group consumed the same supplement in the morning upon awakening and in the evening, and the third group didn’t receive any supplementation.
One repetition maximum was measured for all three groups to asses muscle strength, power and body composition on bench and squat. The study indicated an increase in muscle strength through the 1RM assessment for squats and bench press, but no significant difference between groups. No changes in body composition or body fat were observed in any of the groups. “Results indicate that the time of protein-supplement ingestion in resistance-trained athletes during a 10-week training program does not provide any added benefit to strength, power, or body-composition changes.”
Another study done in 2012 on the same topic examined 23 male bodybuilders divided into two groups with different supplementation timing over the course of 8-12 weeks of resistance weight training. Group one received their supplement before and after a workout, and group two received their supplement in the morning and evening. The supplement contained 40 g protein (from whey isolate), 43 g carbohydrate (glucose), and 7 g creatine monohydrate per 100 g. Adding a small twist to Hoffman previous study; at the start of week 10, the weight training program was broken down to three stages: preparatory (70–75% 1RM), overload phase 1 (80–85%1RM), and overload phase 2 (90–95% 1RM).
Opposing to Hoffman finding, the results indicated significant differences in body composition between the two groups. An increase in Lean Body Mass and decrease in body fat was observed in group one consuming the supplement pre- and post-workout. Both groups showed an increase in muscle strength, but group one (pre/post workout) resulted in significantly greater gains, indicating that timing of the ingestion of the protein supplement was crucial to maximizing muscle gains.
The finding of this study was that once a protein has been consumed by an individual, anabolism is triggered for about three hours postprandial with a peak at about 45–90 minutes. After that, muscle protein synthesis drops back to baseline even though serum amino acid levels remain elevated. The results that the study demonstrated show that there is potentially a limited time window (Anabolic Window) to induce or maximize protein synthesis.
A study was published in 2013 where it tested the ingestion time of 80g of whey protein after resistance exercise through three different dosages throughout the day.
- Dosage no.1: 8 servings of 10g every 1.5h
- Dosage no.2: 4 servings of 20g every 3h
- Dosage no.3: 2 servings of 40g every 6h
The study was measured over a 12 hour period. The results showed that the “4 servings of 20g every 3h” produced the maximum muscle protein syntheses, and in turn the optimal feeding pattern.
In 2015, a study was conducted comparing Whey Protein Concentrate to Milk Protein Concentrate results in increasing Muscle Protein Synthesis in middle-aged men (45–60 years). The purpose of performing the study on middle age was selected as it’s considered to be the period where the muscle size, quality, and function begins to decline. Which makes middle age adults the ideal target group for interventions which might prevent or delay sarcopenia.
“Previous studies have stated that the primary determinate of Muscle Protein Synthesis response is the peak Essential Amino Acids or leucine concentrations. However, the findings of the current study state that despite eliciting a significantly lower Essential Amino Acids, and leucine concentration in plasma, Milk Protein Concentrate ingestion resulted in equally robust stimulation of Muscle Protein Synthesis”
It’s important to know that Whey protein comprises 20% of milk protein and is characterized by a rapid aminoacidemia in the blood and muscle. Where Casein in its micellar form makes up the remaining 80% of milk protein and is characterized by a slow and sustained release of amino acids into the blood and muscle.
A 20 g of Milk Protein Concentrate was found equally as effective at increasing muscle protein synthesis in both young and older men as 20 g of Whey Protein Concentrate and proved no effect on muscle protein synthesis between a rapid vs. sustained protein source in the rested state.
The hypothesis was that Milk Protein Concentrate would result in a lower Muscle Protein Synthesis response compared to Whey Protein Concentrate. However, despite the observed differences in the plasma Essential Amino Acids and leucine response, it’s been shown an equivalent stimulation of Muscle Protein Synthesis in response to either Milk Protein Concentrate or Whey Protein Concentrate.
Adding to the above, according to the study, it is much sensible now that in middle-aged men, the total delivery of leucine concentration required to maximize Muscle Protein Synthesis is more important than the peak concentration of leucine while at rest.
The derived conclusion is that dairy protein sources represent a high-quality protein which has shown to induce Muscle Protein Synthesis in both young and older adults. It has been previously revealed that Whey Protein is much more superior at inducing Muscle Protein Synthesis, both at rest and after resistance exercise, compared to casein protein source. However, this is this present study directly compare Whey Protein Concentrate to Milk Protein Concentrate. The study shows that Milk Protein Concentrate is equally as effective as Whey Protein Concentrate in stimulating Muscle Protein Synthesis for middle-aged men in the resting state. These findings show that the use of milk protein is a simple and cost-effective approach to induce Muscle Protein Synthesis in middle-aged men.
One of many studies was made which involved 1863 participants to test the effect of protein supplementation along with resistance training on muscle gain and strength in healthy adults in August 2017.
The test results showed that a significant increase in strength, in terms of 1RM and muscle size. The study also showed a lower impact of protein supplementation to increase Fat-Free Mass as age progressed; as older individuals are anabolic resistant and require higher protein per meal. Another conclusion from the study was that any protein supplementation above 1.6g per kg of body weight/day of your total protein intake will result in no further gains in your Fat-Free Mass.
The study also showed that “the post-exercise protein dose did not affect the efficacy of protein supplementation on resistance exercise training and changes in Fat-Free Mass. This analysis and those from others lead us to conclude that the specifics of protein supplementation (e.g. timing, post-exercise protein dose or protein source) play a minor if any, role in determining resistance exercise training-induced gains in Fat-Free Mass and strength over a period of weeks.” Based on the current evidence a minimum daily protein intake of 1.6 g/kg/day divided into 0.4 g/kg/meal and a maximum intake of 2.2 g/kg/day divided into 0.55 g/kg/meal spread out across minimum of four meals, is more influential to maximize muscle anabolism along with resistance exercise training, at least for younger individuals.
A study in 2017 aimed to test the effect of pre versus post-exercise protein intake was done on 21 resistance trained men divided into two groups. Group one where they consumed 25 g of protein and 1 g of carbohydrates of supplements immediately prior-exercise. Group two consumed the same amount of supplements immediately.
Participants in the “prior-exercise” group were instructed to avoid eating for at least 3 h after the exercise bout while those in the “post-exercise” group were instructed to avoid eating for at least 3 h prior to the exercise bout.
The study was observed over 10-week duration of resistance weight training, where measurement of body composition, muscle thickness, and maximal strength was collected prior to the start of the training session (T1), at the mid-point of the study (T2) and after the final training session (T3).
Across the range of measures, there was no meaningful results difference between pre- versus post-exercise protein ingestion groups. The meaning of these findings is that athlete is free to choose, based on individual factors (i.e., preference, tolerance, convenience, and availability), whether to consume protein immediately pre- or post-exercise.
So, the bottom line is that protein comes in all size and shapes, choosing the right type of protein could be crucial for some professional athlete and minor for others. As we age, our skeletal muscle mass attenuates with time. So, it’s important to increase our protein intake and reduce the amount of fat to stimulate muscle protein synthesis and help prevent or attenuate the loss of skeletal muscle mass in situations where total energy intake is compromised.
Despite the similarities and differences shared in the above research. You still have to understand that your body structure, composition, reaction can differ to anyone else. So, my opinion is to test your body, which method delivers you the best results and from there you’ll get to understand what exactly your body needs to produce the maximum results.
So, to make life simpler for you, here you go:
1. Should I take protein before or after training?
Either pre or post will induce the same effect on muscle gains.
2. How many scoops should I take?
It’s better to consume 2-3 scoops (depending on your daily protein intake) divided across your day, around 3-4
hours between scoops.
3. Should I take Whey or Casein after my workout?
Whey protein has proven more faster to digest and absorbed to stimulate muscle growth than a slower
digested protein source such as Casein
Yves Boirie, Martial Dangin, Pierre Gachon, Marie-Paule Vasson, Jean-Louis Maubois, Bernard Beaufrère Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Slow and fast dietary proteins differently modulate postprandial protein accretion 1997 Dec 23; 94(26): 14930–14935
Link to Study
Arnal MA, Mosoni L, Boirie Y, Houlier ML, Morin L, Verdier E, Ritz P, Antoine JM, Prugnaud J, Beaufrere B, Mirand PP. Protein feeding pattern does not affect protein retention in young women. J Nutr. 2000; 130(7):1700–4.
Link to Studies
Related Study: Protein pulse feeding improves protein retention in elderly women
Study #3, #4
Dangin M, Boirie Y, Guillet C, Beaufrere B: Influence of the protein digestion rate on protein turnover in young and elderly subjects. J Nutr 2002, 132(10):3228S–33S.
Link to Studies #3, #4
Tipton KD, Elliott TA, Cree MG, Wolf SE, Sanford AP, Wolfe RR. Ingestion of casein and whey proteins result in muscle anabolism after resistance exercise. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2004; 36(12):2073–81.
Link to Study
Burd NA, Yang Y, Moore DR, Tang JE, Tarnopolsky MA, Phillips SM. Greater stimulation of myofibrillar protein synthesis with ingestion of whey protein isolate v. Micellar casein at rest and after resistance exercise in elderly men. Br J Nutr. 2012;108(6):958–62.
Link to Study
Hoffman JR, Ratamess NA, Tranchina CP, Rashti SL, Kang J, Faigenbaum AD. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. Effect of protein-supplement timing on strength, power, and body-composition changes in resistance-trained men. 2009 Apr;19(2):172-85.
Link to Study
Matthew Stark, Judith Lukaszuk, Aimee Prawitz, Amanda Salacinski J Int Soc Sports Nutr. Protein timing and its effects on muscular hypertrophy and strength in individuals engaged in weight-training. 2012; 9: 54. Published online 2012 Dec 14. doi: 10.1186/1550-2783-9-54
Link to Study
Related Studies: Hoffman; Cribb
Areta JL, Burke LM, Ross ML, Camera DM, West DW, Broad EM, Jeacocke NA, Moore DR, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, Hawley JA, Coffey VG. Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. J Physiol. 2013;591(Pt 9):2319–31.
Link to Study
Mitchell CJ, McGregor RA, D’Souza RF, Thorstensen EB, Markworth JF, Fanning AC, Poppitt SD, Cameron-Smith D. Consumption of milk protein or whey protein results in a similar increase in muscle protein synthesis in middle-aged men. Nutrients. 2015;7(10):8685–99.
Link to Study
Robert W Morton1, Kevin T Murphy1, Sean R McKellar1, Brad J Schoenfeld2, Menno Henselmans3, Eric Helms4, Alan A Aragon5, Michaela C Devries6, Laura Banfield7, James W Krieger8, Stuart M Phillips1. A systematic review, meta-analysis, and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance-training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults
Link to Study
Brad Jon Schoenfeld, Alan Aragon, Colin Wilborn, Stacie L. Urbina, Sara E. Hayward, James Krieger PeerJ. Pre- versus post-exercise protein intake has similar effects on muscular adaptations. 2017; 5: e2825. Published online 2017 Jan 3. doi: 10.7717/peerj.2825
Link to Study
Aminoacidemia/Hyperaminoacidemia: is a condition where your body has an excess of amino acids in the bloodstream
Muscle hypertrophy: Hypertrophy is the enlargement of an organ or tissue. This enlargement in size is due to an increase of cells. There are two factors that contribute to muscle hypertrophy, or muscle growth are sarcoplasmic hypertrophy, which is an increase in your muscle glycogen storage, and myofibrillar hypertrophy, which is an increase in myofibril size.
Muscle Protein Synthesis: In simple English, it’s the opposite of muscle breakdown. MPS is the rebuilding/repairing of muscle tissue as a result of muscle damage resulting from resistance training.
Proteolysis: the breakdown of proteins or peptides into amino acids by the action of enzymes
Protein Turnover: “Protein turnover is the balance between protein synthesis and protein degradation. More synthesis than breakdown indicates an anabolic state that builds lean tissues, more breakdown than synthesis indicates a catabolic state that burns lean tissues”
Oxidization: Oxidation is any chemical reaction that involves the moving of electrons. The reduction is the opposite of Oxidation, where a substance gains an electron. This process is referred to as the Redox reaction. This reaction is translated into energy storage and release. Whether this energy is stored for the short or long term will depend on what kind of molecule will use it to transfer this energy.
Sarcopenia: is the Loss of muscle mass and strength associated with the aging process.