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man in gym drinking from a shaker bottleAthletes who lift weights build muscle best if they ingest a 20g serving of protein timing every three hours throughout their day.  Splitting up the protein intake this way works better than taking it every six hours or every hour and a half.  Believe it or not, the obviously health conscious researchers at Nestle brought us this study.

Everybody and their alcoholic uncle know that athletes who train with weights build muscle easier if they eat more protein than the average person.  There seems to be constant debate however about the effect of ingestion timing.  A nutritionist at the Nestle Research Center, Daniel Moore, brings us the following:

24 young men, ages unknown, who were active in strength training four to six times per week, were participants in this study.  Moore had them train legs on a leg extension machine (scientists love using this near pointless machine) in his lab before they ate breakfast.  They first warmed up with 5 sets at 60-70% of their one rep max.  After the warm up sets they did 4 sets of 10 reps at 80% of their one rep max.  Moore concentrated on this one isolated exercise so it would be easier to measure protein synthesis activity in the muscle.  Following the training, the men were giving 80g of whey protein isolate throughout the next 12 hours.  “BOLUS” were given 40g of protein in two portions, one every six hours.  “INT” group ingested 20g portions of protein every three hours over the twelve-hour period.  The “PULSE” group was given 10g of protein every 1.5 hours over the twelve-hour period.  That equates to eight total servings of protein for the “PULSE” group.

The net protein balance, shown in the bottom graph, was higher in the INT group who spread their intake over three hour intervals.  The higher the net protein balance, the more anabolic you are.  Protein synthesis – Protein breakdown = Net protein balance











It is important to note the high P-values throughout the test.  This means that the test is not statistically significant.  In statistics and research, this is usually caused by a lack of participants.  This was a small study and the net muscle increase was subtle.   With a higher number of participants, it is likely that there would have been a more significant difference.

Moore responded to the test: “Whole-body protein balance tended to be greatest with moderate 20g feedings every 3hr, which may have implications for individuals aiming to enhance whole body anabolism including lean body mass accrual with training.  Collectively, our data highlight that the acute pattern, and not only the total amount, of ingested protein should be considered when determining feeding strategies to alter whole-body protein metabolism.”