If you engage in strength training, if you’re trying to build muscle, if you fuss over your nutrition just as much as your exercise routine--then you’ve most certainly heard about the importance of protein in muscle growth. One of the most commonly discussed topics where protein and muscle growth is concerned is, “When to take it?” We’re going to dive into when to take protein, how much to take, and why.
Why is Protein so Important?
After you exercise, your body needs nutrients to direct to the fatigued muscles. This helps repair them and facilitate their growth. As far as research and anecdotal evidence shows, protein is the undisputed champ in building muscle.
So, we know we need protein, but how much is enough? In order to maintain a healthy supply of protein, experts suggest a daily recommended protein intake of 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight. For those who are strength training, that amount doubles, or even triples depending on the intensity.
That’s because the minimum amount of protein required to maintain muscle mass won’t necessarily be enough to contribute to the actual growth of the muscle. To understand why, we need to think about how protein operates in our body.
Your body has stores of protein it keeps and uses throughout the day to divert to your muscles when they need it. Think of it like money in a bank account, but instead of money the stores are full of protein. If your body doesn't have enough protein in its protein account (i.e., a negative balance), then it can’t pay its debts to the muscles and they won’t grow. In fact, you may likely lose muscle mass if your muscles are owed a debt for too long.
If you have a positive balance, your muscles will get the protein they need to facilitate growth and repair.
When should I take it?
We most often have a positive balance of protein immediately after we consume some.
Now that we’ve established that a fair bit of protein is necessary for muscle growth, the logical next question is: When should we take it? That is, how should we be distributing our protein intake throughout the day, particularly for those of us who engage in strength training?
Here’s where things get interesting. Because the truth deviates from commonly accepted knowledge. The maxim proposed by most in the fitness world goes like this: Post-workout protein equals more muscle growth. This makes sense when you consider that your muscles enter a hypertrophic state immediately following any heavy stress put on them.
There’s some old research that suggests this may be true, but the most recent research doesn’t lead in this direction.
There’s now plenty of hype surrounding the idea that consuming protein immediately before your workout results in more muscle growth than consuming it immediately afterward.
Again, this makes sense when you consider that as soon as your muscles enter the hypertrophy state, they’ll have positive protein stores ready to work their magic. There’s also this bit of research, which suggests that taking protein before your workout results in just as much benefit as if you eat protein after your workout.
So does it matter?
In short: no. The newest research on the protein-intake-timing discussion synthesizes all previous studies and concludes that it doesn’t matter whether you consume protein before or after your workout.
In fact, there’s no evidence to suggest that it’s even necessary to consume protein before or after your workout. That’s not to say it doesn’t help, but only because it contributes to the more important factor of building muscle growth, which is that you consume enough protein on a given day, rather than at a specific time. This is best achieved by consuming protein in smaller portions throughout your day.
Oats Overnight is (are?) an excellent way to sneak in some protein pre-workout, post-workout, or throughout your day. Each of the flavors comes packed with protein and is portioned perfectly for a balanced breakfast, or to squeeze between meals if you’re looking for an extra boost to your daily protein intake.