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The Truth About Protein: How Much And How Often? Written By Layne Norton
From the time that the first physique enthusiasts & bodybuilders ever started choking down extra chicken breasts, steaks, and vile concoctions to increase their protein intake for the purposes of gaining muscle; the question of just how much protein is optimal has been debated.
Fast forward more than half a century and people still debate the same question without much of a consensus.
Many people believe that protein is already over consumed by the typical person and bodybuilders and athletes have no need to take in extra, while there are those who will tell you that there is no upper limit to the benefits of protein. In reality the answer to this question probably lies well within the middle of these two extremes. The question of protein quantity at a meal and frequency of protein consumption has been debated almost as often as total protein consumption. Quite often we see the question, “What is the max level of protein that one can benefit from at a meal and how often should I consume it?”
Fortunately for us, this question actually has some data that we can start picking apart to get some general guidelines for protein size and frequency at meals.
Many ‘experts’ or gym know-it-alls out there who will tell you to only consume “X” amount of protein at a meal because only “X” amount of protein can be absorbed by the body at a meal (I’m sure you’ve all heard this one before). Let this nonsense stop here and now. To begin with, this entire train of thought isn’t even on the correct track. Hell it didn’t even depart from the right train station! Assuming that you have a healthy digestive system, the absorption of the amino acids from a meal containing protein is very efficient and almost never a limiting factor. Absorption only refers to nutrient uptake & absorption via the digestive track (most absorption occurring in the small intestine). If our digestive systems didn’t absorb most of what we eat than anytime you had a big meal you would have diarrhea like clockwork from the undigested material in the gut! It also makes very little sense from an evolutionary standpoint to be very wasteful with nutrients when primitive man may have only been able to eat one large meal in a day at times.
Our species would not have survived very long if we were wasteful with nutrients and did not absorb amino acids beyond a certain level.
In reality, the body has an extremely high capacity for amino acid absorption. What these people who spout this nonsense are really referring to is amino acid utilization. You see, even if we absorb 100% of the amino acids we ingest, that doesn’t mean they will all reach the skeletal muscle and input towards building muscle mass. In actuality a very small percentage are used for that role. The cells of the small intestine and liver extract a huge amount of amino acids for energy and their own synthesis of new proteins in first pass metabolism before they ever reach the bloodstream! Once in the bloodstream amino acids can also be taken up and utilized by other tissues such as the kidneys, heart, skin, etc. So it is not a question of how much protein/amino acids can be absorbed at a meal, rather the question is what level of protein at a meal gives the maximum benefit for muscle building?
Essentially anything below this level would not maximally support muscle building, while at a protein intake above this level, the body would merely oxidize the excess amino acids for energy.
In order to start answering this question of optimal protein intake at a meal we first must make clear as to what defines a “maximum level of benefit” from protein intake. Using rates of protein synthesis as a measure for this definition is logical as increased rates of protein synthesis would be required for the addition of new skeletal muscle tissue. To put it more plainly, in order to build muscle the body must increase the rate at which it synthesizes muscle tissue above the baseline rate. Decreasing the rate of skeletal muscle breakdown also can lead to increased tissue accrual, unfortunately data on protein breakdown is much more difficult to obtain, interpret, and it is much more variable than the synthesis data.
It is very difficult to measure short term changes in skeletal muscle breakdown as it has a very slow turnover rate so the focus on this article will be on protein synthesis, which likely plays more of a regulatory role in tissue accrual/loss in muscle than degradation since synthesis is the more regulated energy dependant process.
To find the optimal level of protein intake at a meal we must determine what the optimal level of protein at a meal for stimulating muscle protein synthesis is. It appears that maximizing skeletal muscle protein synthesis requires approximately ~15g of an essential amino acids. It has been postulated that the amino acid leucine is responsible for the stimulatory effect of dietary protein on protein synthesis and 15g of essential amino acids would contain 3.2g of leucine. Thus in order to determine how much protein from a specific source is required to elicit the maximal response it may be useful to back calculate how much leucine is contained in the source. One could then determine how much of the source must be consumed in order to reach the leucine threshold. For example, whey protein is approximately 12% leucine per gram protein, therefore about 27g of protein from whey would need to be consumed to reach the threshold for maximal anabolism, whereas a source like chicken, which has a protein content of about 7.5% leucine would require 43g of protein to reach the leucine threshold required for maximal stimulation. So it appears that the maximum benefit level for protein at a meal is varies depending upon the source of protein. It is important to note that most of these studies were done on individuals who weighed approximately 155-165 lbs on average.
So if you weigh less than this you might want to aim for the lower end of the threshold whereas if you weigh more you may want to aim for the higher end of the threshold.
Now there is the issue of meal frequency and time between meals. Assuming we maximize protein synthesis by achieving the required leucine/protein threshold, how long does the effect last?
Several studies have shown that the duration of protein synthesis in response to an oral leucine dose or an essential amino acid infusion is approximately two hours long. However, these are purified amino acid solutions and are likely to be digested rapidly and in the case of an infusion, no digestion is required at all. So it is possible that a whole food meal will have a different impact on the duration of protein synthesis than pure amino acids. Our lab has recently shown that the duration of protein synthesis in response to a complete meal containing protein, carbohydrates, and fats is approximately 3 hours long. Therefore, it appears that a complete meal slightly prolongs the duration of protein synthesis. What is interesting about our findings is that while protein synthesis had returned to baseline after 3 hours, plasma amino acid levels were still elevated above baseline and plasma leucine was elevated almost 3x above baseline! Accordingly, the phosphoryation of the initiation factors 4E-BP1 & p70S6K followed plasma leucine levels and maintained elevated levels of phosphorylation at 3 hours (phosphorylation of these initiation factors is required to start the process of protein synthesis). Thus it appears that the signal to maintain elevated protein synthesis is still being ‘transmitted’ but for some reason protein synthesis is becomes refractory after a certain period of time. This is also supported by data from Bohe et al which showed that the duration of protein synthesis in response to an infusion of essential amino acids was only 2 hours long even though the essential amino acids were infused for six hours! It is unlikely that eating another meal 2-3 hours after the first meal would be sufficient to induce another rise in protein synthesis since amino acid/leucine levels are already elevated anyway.
It may therefore be more useful to consume larger amounts of protein at a meal and wait longer between protein doses than the typical 2-3 hours that is typically recommended in the bodybuilding community.
Now I know you’ve probably spit your protein shake out all over your magazine, ruining it and now you are cursing me for 1) ruining your magazine and 2) telling you the bodybuilding meal eating protocol you’ve been following for so long may not be optimal for making gains.
Well I apologize for ruining your magazine but I won’t apologize for busting on musclehead dogma; that is just what I do. There is some precedent for what I am recommending however. Arnal et al compared elderly women consuming either 4 small meals per day with their total protein intake evenly spaced out verses those that consumed the same amount of protein but with 80% of their total protein coming in one meal. The researchers found that the women consuming the large single dose of protein actually had greater nitrogen balance, protein turnover, and protein synthesis rates than the group consuming their protein across four evenly spaced meals. Now the total protein intake for both groups was only 60g so the group consuming protein evenly only consumed 15g at each meal. Still it is interesting that the group eating almost all of their total protein in one meal had better results. Perhaps the group consuming the small meals never reached the threshold required to initiate a significant response of protein synthesis at any meal whereas the bolus dose group ate enough protein in at least one meal to initiate have one significant increase in protein synthesis above baseline during the day. Now I am not in any way shape or form implying that we are better off just consuming one large protein meal per day. What I am implying is that it is better to consume larger protein doses spaced further apart and maximize protein synthesis, rather than consume smaller doses of protein throughout the day, since research has shown that protein synthesis will become refractory to constantly elevated levels of amino acids.
It may be that a period where amino acids return to baseline or near baseline is required in order to initiate another bout of protein synthesis. I therefore suggest that one consume 4-6 larger protein doses per day instead of 6-8 meals and wait 4-5 hours between meals rather than 2-3 hours.
At the moment, there is no clear way to overcome the refractory response. However, there is evidence that supplementing with free form amino acids with carbohydrates between meals may improve protein synthesis compared to normal meals alone. It is possible that a free form amino acid supplement could spike plasma levels of amino acids to a far greater level than can be achieved with whole foods and perhaps this supraphysiological response is enough to overcome the refractory response. It is also possible that the carbohydrates in the supplement have an effect.
The insulin time course in the experiment we performed lasted 3 hours, the same as protein synthesis.
Additionally, Wolfe et al. also showed that the timecourse of insulin seemed to track protein synthesis during an essential amino acid infusion. Perhaps maintaining elevated plasma insulin levels is required to prolong protein synthesis in response to a meal. In either case, it appears that supplementing with an amino acid supplement containing ~2-3g of leucine along with some carbohydrates (~20-30g) is an effective way to maximize muscle protein synthesis.
Now I will be the first to admit that the research is just not specific or broad enough to address the size and frequency issue with absolute certainty, but I believe these recommendations are a good general starting point.
What is clear is that certain protein sources have a stronger impact on protein synthesis than others, and also that it appears that keeping amino acids constantly elevated by smaller protein doses throughout the day may NOT be optimal. Hopefully future research will address more specifics with regards to these issues.
WBFF Bikini Pro Laura Michelle Prestin Talks Simplyshredded.com [Updated 2012]
When did you get started with fitness?
I have always been physically active since I was 7 years old and I played competitive soccer, and ran OFFSA cross country and track during my younger years. I also was a swimmer, and at one point in gymnastics for a little bit.
I started actually training in the gym in high school but took it more seriously when I was about 21 years old. When I started modeling it came to a point where I was receiving over 100 emails a day on questions relating to fitness. So I started blogging and becoming more involved with helping other people achieve their goals. I am a personal trainer and constantly read health and fitness articles one after another.
I still do this and that is why I am developing programs to get the body that people want. Recently working alongside with Gaspari Nutrition has made me more involved with the fitness industry more than ever now and I love it.
How do you stay so motivated? What drives you?
Since I was 14 years old I had this notion that it was my job to be in the entertainment business. So for me just being in this business is very motivating because you always need to look your best and this motivates me not to slack. I get a complete high off training, competing, and playing sports. For me life without training on a daily basis would become disorganized with no structure. Having a scheduled workout allows me to balance my own business, student-life, modeling and travel. I love planning out my days incorporating physical activity into them. I not only do it for myself because it is a lifestyle, but my fans really keep me on top of my game too.
You develop a relationship with your fans where you become their motivator and in turn they become yours.
What does your current training schedule look like?
As of right now I have been training with heavier weights then normal especially for my legs and butt.
On a leg day I love super setting. For example, Barbell Squats combo with One Legged Hip Bridges, Deadlifts with Hamstring Curl combos on the stability ball and Lunges with Jump Squats etc.
I don’t measure my food. I usually try to stick to a handful of each type of food. I eat every 2-3 hours and about 7 meals a day if not more. I make sure I have plenty of fiber, protein, veggies/fruits and water etc.
Meal 1: Oatmeal or Egg Whites, Banana & Juice
Meal 6: Chicken or Fish, Vegetables, Salad & Spinach or Rice
Is there anyone in the fitness industry you look up to?
Not really. I just keep pushing myself to strive to always be the best I can possibly be. My fans push me to and I’m more intrigued by business owners and entrepreneurs in this industry and how they got to where they are now.
What is the biggest fitness myth you encounter in the fitness industry every day?
There are many myths outs there. A popular one is that women who lift heavy weights or weights in general will get bulky muscles like men do. This isn’t true as you should lift weights that are challenging for you. If you lift a challenging weight with a high number of reps you will become a little stronger and look more toned but definitely not ‘bulky’.
Also you can’t go about your workout with just cardio, you need to incorporate weight training in your program as well to gain the full benefits.
When trying to cut down do you prefer to use HIIT or just normal cardio?
HIIT for sure! Peoples biggest mistake is going on a treadmill for 2 hours you want to do short and very intense workouts to burn that fat
Top 10 tips for people who want to get in shape?
2. Commit to seeing them through to the end
4. Don’t obsess about every single thing you eat
5. Don’t overtrain (don’t go 7 days a week 3 hours a day)
6. Try to train with a partner so you keep each other motivated
7. If you get off track, don’t worry tomorrow is a new day. Wake up and start again
8. When you partied hard the night before and wake up still feeling tipsy, go straight to the gym for some cardio and you will feel much better!
9. If you don’t feel like training, train anyway, you will be glad you did
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10, 000 ways that won’t work ~~Thomas Edison
Keep The Drive Alive: Simplyshredded’s Ultimate Bodybuilding Motivation
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”
“It is never too late to be what you might have been”
Music: Blue Foundation — Bonfires (Danil88 Remix)
“In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure”
“The best way to predict the future is to create it”
“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”
“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor”
“A year from now you will wish you had started today”
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WBFF Pro Fitness Model Melissa Leigh Morrison Talks With Simplyshredded.com
How did you get started with bodybuilding?
I started out cheerleading for the CFL Calgary Stampeders and began training to stay fit for the field. This made me fall in love with fitness in general and I went onto competing in my first show at the age of twenty. I really enjoyed the thrill and challenge of stepping on stage and I even entered many more fitness competitions after having my daughter in 2006.
I now compete in Pro Fitness for the WBFF and absolutely love it!
Where does your motivation come from?
I am always motivated by seeing fellow friends accomplish their training goals and seeing them transform and succeed. I also have an amazing coach, Nathan Harewood, who has been coaching me for many years and helping me achieve my goal physique. I believe in pushing myself. I won’t allow myself to do a half ass workout! Seeing results is also very motivating.
I love a challenge and always try to push myself to higher limits every time I step into that gym.
What workout routine has worked best for you?
Flat Bench Dumbbell Fly’s – 4 X 12-15
Seated Single Arm Cable Row – 4 X 12-15
Hyper Extensions – 4 X 20 (with A Medicine Ball)
Side Lateral Dumbbell Fly’s – 4 X 12-15
If you had to pick only 3 exercises, what would they be and why?
Squats: As they burn an incredible amount of fat and are great for shaping the lower body.
Dumbbell Rear Fly’s: Because they tone the shoulders and help give them a 3D look.
Hanging Leg Raises: This exercise really helps keep the tummy tight.
I eat a high protein, moderate carb, and moderate fats diet with as many green leafy vegetables as possible.
Meal 1: ¼ cup of Oats, 6 Egg Whites, Spinach & 10 Almonds
Meal 2: ½ cup of Quinoa, Wild Rice, Yams or 4 oz. of Chicken & ¼ of Avocado
Meal 3: ¼ cup of Rice, 4 oz. of Chicken or Fish or Extra Lean Beef & 2 cups of Spinach
Meal 4: Chocolate Protein Powder with 1 tbsp. of Natural Peanut Butter
Meal 5: 3 cups of Spinach or 6 Asparagus Spears with 5 oz. of Lean Meat & a bowl of Salad
Meal 6: 1 scoop of Protein, Egg White Omelette with 1 cup of Spinach and ¼ Avocado
When trying to cut down do you prefer to use HIIT or just normal cardio?
I am always switching my cardio. I prefer to use high intensity training like running stairs, sprints, hill sprints and kickboxing.
It keeps the heart rate high and burns the fat fast while also making my cardio sessions short and intense.
I take a variety of supplements including:
“Never give up on something that you can’t go a day without thinking about.” – Winston Churchill
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GET BIGGER ARMS WITH HEAVY WEIGHTS
Building mass in your arms isn’t any different than it is with larger muscle groups like your chest or quads. Like those muscles, your arms respond to both heavy weight and high volume, but they also need time to recover for sizable gains.
The following biceps-triceps workout takes care of the heavy weight with big moves like close-grip benching, dips, and seated curls; and high volume with a series of smaller movements. Perform the following workout once or twice per week, with at least 72 hours between sessions. To maximize your growth potential, train arms on their own dedicated day instead of tacking them onto the end of a workout involving compound exercises.
*Perform two drop-sets on your last set.
Finally it is a time to lead a healthy lifestyle ! But what should I do ?
What can I do to help stay healthy?
If you smoke, stopping smoking is often the single most effective thing that you can do to reduce your risk of future illness. The risk to health falls rapidly as soon as you stop smoking (but takes a few years before the increased risk reduces completely). If you find it hard to stop smoking, then see your practice nurse for help. Medication may be advised to help you to stop.
Physical activity that gets you mildly out of breath and a little sweaty is fine – for example, jogging, heavy gardening, swimming, cycling, etc. A brisk walk each day is what many people do – and that is fine. However, it is thought that the more vigorous the activity, the better. To gain most benefit, you should do at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days. Two shorter bursts are thought to be just as good – for example, two 15-minute bouts of activity at different times in a day.
AT LEAST five portions, or ideally 7-9 portions, of a variety of fruit and vegetables per day.
A THIRD OF MOST MEALS should be starch-based foods (such as cereals, wholegrain bread, potatoes, rice, pasta), plus fruit and vegetables.
NOT MUCH fatty food, such as fatty meats, cheeses, full-cream milk, fried food, butter, etc. Use low-fat, monounsaturated or polyunsaturated spreads.
INCLUDE 2-3 portions of fish per week, at least one of which should be ‘oily’ (such as herring, mackerel, sardines, kippers, pilchards, salmon, or fresh tuna).
If you eat meat it is best to eat lean meat, or poultry such as chicken.
If you do fry, choose a vegetable oil such as sunflower, rapeseed or olive.
Try not to add salt to food, and limit foods which are salty.Try to lose weight if you are overweight or obese
You don’t need to get to a perfect weight. If you areoverweight you can gain great health benefits by losing 5-10% of your weight. This is often about 5-10 kg. (10 kg is about one and a half stone.)
Don’t drink too much alcohol
Keep an eye on the amount of alcohol you drink. Men should drink no more than 21 units of alcohol per week, no more than four units in any one day, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week. Women should drink no more than 14 units of alcohol per week, no more than three units in any one day, and have at least two alcohol-free days a week. Pregnant women should not drink at all. One unit is in about half a pint of normal strength beer, or two thirds of a small glass of wine, or one small pub measure of spirits
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