Stuart Phillips, PhD one of the leading researchers in protein synthesis and metabolism went on to determine the amount of protein needed in single doses (or the amount of protein required at each meal). His recommendations for optimal protein intake are 0.25-0.3g protein/kg body weight per meal consuming 4 equally spaced meals daily, as well as 0.6 g protein/kg body weight at a 5th pre-sleep meal. Per the research of Dr. Phillips, this type of protein dosing provides the maximal amount of protein synthesis leading to desired muscle hypertrophy.
Most bodybuilders make dinner the biggest meal of the day and consume much more protein than at dinner that at other meals. Previous research has shown that the duration of protein synthesis in response to a complete meal containing protein, carbohydrates, and fats is approximately 3 hours long. An interesting finding of the study was that while protein synthesis had returned to baseline after 3 hours.
Researchers sought to examine protein timing and its effect on protein synthesis. Researchers studied 24-hour muscle-protein synthesis in a group of healthy men and women. The subjects were first asked to stick to a diet with most protein consumed at night (about 10 grams at breakfast, 16 grams at lunch, and 63 grams at dinner). This was followed by a second diet in which protein was consumed evenly at three meals (with an average of about 31 grams per meal). Subjects stayed on each diet for seven days. Protein synthesis was 25% higher when subjects consumed protein evenly at each meal. The researchers concluded that it’s better to have spaced equal servings of protein with breakfast, lunch, and dinner than having a big, high protein meal at night.
In another study, researchers set out to determine the effects of different protein feeding strategies on protein metabolism in resistance-trained young men. Participants were randomly assigned to ingest either 80g of whey protein as 8x10g every 1.5h (PULSE), 4x20g every 3h (intermediate), or 2x40g every 6h (BOLUS) after an acute bout of bilateral knee extension exercise (4×10 repetitions at 80% maximal strength).
At the end of the study, In conclusion, despite equivalent total protein intake, whole-body protein synthesis and breakdown are greatest when small (i.e. 10g) as compared to larger (i.e. ?20g) protein feedings are consumed at regular intervals during a 12h postprandial period after a bout of exercise. However, whole-body protein balance tended to be greatest with moderate 20g feedings every 3h, which may have implications for individuals aiming to enhance whole-body anabolism including lean body mass accrual with training.
Collectively, the 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. Individuals aiming to maximize protein synthesis would likely benefit from repeated ingestion of moderate amounts of protein (~20g) at regular intervals (~3h) throughout the day. When planning your daily meals, there should be a consistent source of protein spaced throughout the day as opposed to large feedings at one time.
Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, Casperson SL, Arentson-Lantz E,Sheffield-Moore M, Layman DK, Paddon-Jones D. Dietary protein distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in healthy adults. J Nutr. 2014 Jun;144(6):876-80.
Robbie Durand has been in the sports supplement and bodybuilding industry for 15 years. He has contributed to many national magazines and web sites. He has an M.A. in exercise physiology from Southeastern University and a B.A. in Dietetics from Louisiana State University.