We can spend hours training every day, beating up our bodies, sweating like crazy, and pushing through pain just to get nowhere. Many of us do that exact thing. We carefully plan our reps and sets, push to beat our last AMRAP score, slap more and more weight on the bar, but yet see no progress in our fitness goals. Like a car stuck spinning its tires in mud, we work and work but can get nowhere. Is it possible that it is not a lack of effort in the gym, but instead what we do not put in our body post workout and in our daily routine? There is probably a missing link, and it is probably protein.
Protein has developed this stigma that only meatheads and body-builders use protein supplements. Words like “anabolic window” and “bioavailability” make the supplements seem too complex for ordinary people trying to lose weight, or gain a little muscle for the summer. I’m telling you that no matter what you do, eat low fat, eat low carbs, or drink green detox smoothies all day, if you neglect your protein intake, you are neglecting your body. Protein is the primary and functional component of every cell in the human body. (1) Our bodies are in a constant state of cell turnover, Muscle Protein Synthesis, and Muscle Protein Breakdown. When we workout, destroy our bodies and do not ingest protein, we just increase the rate muscle protein breakdown. Our bodies are most receptive to protein consumption and show an increased rate of muscle protein synthesis immediately following exercise. This is what we often hear called “anabolic window”. There is truth to the broscience. A protein supplement consumed following exercise will increase our bodies’ rate of building muscle and inhibit the bodies’ ability to break down muscle.
Some of you are reading this and thinking, “Ya bro, I know this, I always drink a protein shake after my workout.” The importance of protein intake reaches far beyond just after your workout. Several studies suggest, and most professionals would agree, that overall daily protein intake has a greater effect on the body than post-workout protein consumption. The National Strength and Conditioning Association define the recommended dietary allowance for protein to be 0.8grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. If less protein is ingested than what our body needs, then our muscles are in a constant state of breakdown. We also neglect the other functions of protein in the body such as; immune system health, glucose regulation, and improving bone mineral density. (3) This is what can leave many of us stuck in the mud.
The best way to beat this is by tracking your protein intake. If you have trouble reaching the recommended protein intake, take protein supplementation. This can be especially helpful for the intake of protein after exercise. Most protein powders are made to be digested quickly by the body and have high concentrations of leucine to provide the greatest amount of impact on protein synthesis. Leucine is an amino acid that maximizes muscle protein synthesis. When having trouble reaching your daily protein intake, I also suggest bookending your day with protein supplementation. Drink a protein supplement immediately following waking up, and immediately before bed. This prevents the body from staying in a muscle breakdown state. Throughout your day, dietary sources of protein should also be in animal protein sources such as; chicken, tuna, beef, and eggs because of the increased leucine content when compared to plant sources.
Protein could very well be the missing link to achieving your fitness goals. It’s simple, track your protein and make sure to ingest enough. Drink protein, preferably with a carbohydrate, immediately following exercise to prevent muscle breakdown and to increase muscle protein synthesis. Tell a friend to save their gains and let us know if this article helped.
(1) Haff, G., & Triplett, T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
(2) Klein, D. (n.d.). Post-Workout Nutrition—Nutrient Timing and the Anabolic Window. NSCA Personal Training Quarterly. Retrieved March 26, 2018, from https://www.nsca.com/education/articles/ptq/post-workout_nutrition_nutrient_timing_and_the_anabolic_window_u2014Nutrient_Timing_and_the_Anabolic_Window_/.
(3) Romotsky, S., & Bonci, L. (n.d.). The importance of protein for athletes. NSCA. Retrieved March 26, 2018, from https://www.nsca.com/uploadedFiles/NSCA/Resources/PDF/Education/Articles/Assoc_Publications_PDFs/importance_of_protein_for_athletes.pdf.