Most people don't need to concern themselves with the concept of protein timing due to the fact that they will naturally consume adequate amount of protein by eating balanced meals for breakfast lunch and dinner. However, improvements in long-term physiological adaptations to exercise can be obtained from strategic timing of protein ingestion throughout the day. Such strategies should be reserved for thoroughly dedicated individuals such as athletes.
A study that compares the rate of muscle protein synthesis over a 12-hour period found that four servings of 20 grams of whey protein was superior to the timing strategies of two servings of 40 grams of whey protein and eight servings of 10 grams of whey protein equally spaced over the 12-hour period (Areta et al., 2013). This was due to a protein threshold. 10 g of protein was not enough to stimulate protein synthesis. However, they did with 20 grams and 40 grams; and with 20 grams, they crossed the threshold more frequently, once every 3 hours compared to once every 6 hours. An anabolic signal lasts approximately 3 hours from a high protein meal.
As part of another study design, participants consumed similar amounts of protein during each of three meals (30 grams each), or they consumed protein in a skewed distribution, including about 10 to 15 grams of protein with breakfast and lunch, and about 65 grams with dinner. The total amount of protein was still the same. Those with an even protein distribution had 25% greater rates of muscle protein synthesis throughout the day (Mamerow et al., 2014).
Therefore, 24-hour net muscle protein synthesis may be optimal if stimulated with dietary protein every 3 hours with 2 key points in mind: every meal should contain a least 0.45 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight and at least four meals throughout the day.
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