You may have noticed that the field of nutrition is constantly shifting. One week, eggs are bad for you. The next week, a new study shows that eggs are good for you. The same is true for red wine, coffee, chocolate, etc.
As personal trainers, it’s our job to sift through the scientific studies and the advertisements and find out what’s true so we can make it digestible (no pun intended) for our clients.
Today, we tackle the topic of protein timing and when you should eat protein
You may have heard that it’s important to consume protein within 30 mins after your workout. This is partially true, and partially an advertisement from people who are selling post-workout recovery drinks.
So here’s the (protein) scoop:
We aren’t exactly sure where the “within 30 minutes” came from. None of the studies or evidence suggests that there is a magic window of 30 minutes where protein intake is beneficial and after that, you miss your chance.
I’ve previously mentioned what happens when a person strength-trains: they tear their muscle fibers. Then the body sends protein to repair those tears, causing an increase in size over time. Think of this as the body sending little protein bandages to help the muscle fibers heal back stronger than before.
The studies say that eating protein within an hour or two of your workout helps the muscle fibers rebuild themselves. Even if you eat protein before a workout, that protein will still help muscle fibers rebuild themselves. Eating the recommended daily amount of protein anytime through the day will still help muscle fibers rebuild themselves, although the benefit is not as great for the muscles affected by the workout.
The only exception is if you work out in a fasted state like immediately upon waking up, or in the evening after lunch without a snack. This is when protein timing matters. Studies have shown that working out in a fasted state increases the amount of tears produced in the muscle fibers. This means that it is important to eat protein within about 45 minutes of a fasted state workout or the body might break down protein from intact muscles and send it to the torn muscles for repair. If you’re trying to build muscles, this is not ideal; so protein timing does matter for fasted state workouts.
Yes, protein is important. If you have been timing your meals to take advantage of the alleged 30 minute window after your workout to rebuild muscle, that’s fine. There is no harm in that. But studies show that, for the most part, as long as you get your recommended daily amount of protein in on the same day, then you should be fine.