We all need protein as part of a balanced diet and to stay healthy. Some people consume protein for specific reasons, such as to help them lose weight or gain muscle mass. However, it is not yet clear when the best time is to have that protein. There is some evidence that consuming protein can help a person lose weight, and there is clear evidence that it can help people build muscle mass if they also exercise. However, research, as yet, does not make it unclear when is the best time to have protein. It is also unclear if there is any best time at all, why this is the case, or whether it is the case for everyone.
Most people in the United States get enough protein in their diet. Still, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) say many people should vary the types of food containing protein that they eat. If a person is trying to build muscle mass, they may also take protein in the form of supplements to help them build muscle tissue after exercise.
There is some evidence that eating protein can help a person lose weight. Evidence suggests protein does this in part by increasing satiety. Satiety is the feeling of being full. Currently, there is little solid evidence regarding when the best time to eat protein might be to encourage weight loss. For example, researchers published a study in the journal Advances in Nutrition suggesting that eating snacks that contain protein may reduce the number of calories a person consumes at their next meal. However, the research paper also points out that studies demonstrating this are scarce and sometimes conflicting. They suggest more studies are needed to confirm their findings.
Various studies have looked at whether there is a link between the time a person consumes protein and hypertrophy, which is how much muscle a person builds after exercise. However, the results are unclear. More research is necessary to establish if there is a link between the timing of protein intake and the amount of muscle a person builds. The researchers conclude that there are no known downsides to eating protein before or after a workout. Also, if that helps an athlete get sufficient nutrients for their body to recover, then there is no issue.
The original article sited lots of studies with little or no conclusions. One of the older studies cited recommended eating protein within 30 minutes of vigorous exercise. I have followed this recommendation for years.
Eating during exercise was not covered. During long periods of exercise, like long distance cycling or running, it is vital to replace calories as well as water and electrolytes. I recommend eating if your exercise lasts more than an hour. Protein bars can easily be carried and consumed with little effort. We always carry them on our bikes, along with some carbohydrate source, like goo, to replenish fuel for the body.
To date, there is no “best practice” for consuming protein. Try some of these recommendations and see if they work for you. Adequate protein intake is easy for most of us. Those on a plant-based diet must work harder to ensure they get at least 45 g of protein daily.
Source: March 25, 2019 NIH
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