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Protein before or after training? Everything for optimal protein intake

optimal protein intake

The necessary know-how for optimal protein intake

Important tasks of protein / protein

Even before we start thinking about whether it’s better to take in protein before or after a workout, let’s take a closer look at what proteins do.

Most people automatically associate the word protein with the term muscle. This is also not wrong – protein plays an important role in muscle building. But protein (for athletes) also fulfills a number of other tasks, such as:

  • Damaged body protein is replaced and/or repaired
  • Proteins in muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments are adaptively remodeled to better withstand the training load
  • Maintaining the function of metabolic pathways
  • Immune system support
  • Support of the optimal production rate of plasma proteins
  • Support lean mass optimization (if desired) [1].

Protein deficiency and its symptoms  

As we now know, protein performs a number of important tasks. If we supply too little, these tasks can no longer be fulfilled and a protein deficiency occurs with corresponding consequences. Athletes in particular should make sure they get enough protein, as the increased demand can lead to an undersupply more quickly.  

In particular, runners and gymnasts emerge as a risk group for protein deficiency. In fact, observational studies have shown that, on average, they do not consume enough protein. [3]

The symptoms of protein deficiency are initially very non-specific. Thus, sufferers are often tired and depressed. A general lack of concentration may also be noticed.

Protein intake also has a major influence on the immune system: a protein deficiency can significantly weaken the immune defense. The consequence is, among other things, an increased risk of infection. For athletes, this can be fatal in terms of their performance, as many sick days lead to a lot of lost training.

Athletes who consume too little protein also lose muscle mass and – as a result – performance. The limited ability to regenerate due to a protein deficiency is another factor that stands in the way of increased performance.

Last but not least, a protein deficiency reduces wound healing and promotes cravings.

In extreme cases, protein deficiency can also lead to death, but such extreme cases are not expected in the Western world. Rather, such extreme protein deficiency occurs in the course of severe malnutrition (also called protein-energy malnutrition).

Such pronounced forms of malnutrition contribute significantly to the high mortality in the under-5 age group. In developing countries, these extreme protein and energy deficiencies are the cause of about 60% of infant deaths. [6]

This is why the protein requirement for athletes is increasing

Athletes require more protein than the average population. There are several reasons for this:

  • Amino acids (building blocks of proteins) are oxidized during exercise. If these are therefore consumed, there is an increased demand for amino acids.

It has been shown in studies that endurance exercise leads to increased consumption of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine.

These are essential amino acids that the body cannot produce itself. So it is important to keep the “external” protein intake high enough to provide the body with these important amino acids.

  • Also, athletes need more protein to repair muscle damage and to allow adaptation to training.

Overall, the protein requirement for athletes increases to approx. 1.5 – 2.0g per kilogram  body weight. During very long loads, such as the Tour de France, the requirement even rises to approx. 3g/kg bw. (You can learn more about the protein requirement HERE)

However, it is not only the amount of protein consumed that determines whether your body is well supplied with protein. The quality of the protein, the timing of the intake, and the nutrients with which the protein is combined also play a major role.[3]

The right combination: How to optimize your protein intake

To optimize protein intake, it is important to combine proteins with carbohydrates. The simultaneous intake of carbohydrates creates a hormonal environment that favors the absorption of protein.

In the course of carbohydrate intake, the insulin level increases. The increased insulin level promotes the uptake of protein on the one hand and inhibits protein breakdown on the other. So it’s a win-win situation.

Specifically, 0.8g of carbohydrates and 0.2-0.4g of protein are considered the optimal combination of proteins and carbohydrates. [4]

This combination is especially important in the regeneration phase after a workout. For example, Howath et al. shown that the intake of carbohydrates and proteins after exercise can significantly increase the performance of the subsequent training (within 18h)!

Well suited here would be, for example, our  RECOVERY SHAKE . This offers an optimal mix of carbohydrates and proteins to support your recovery. 

It also contains natural ingredients such as organic KAKAOto provide you with important protective substances. These help your body to better process the “oxidative stress” caused by the training – and thus strengthen your immune system, among other things.

Protein (shake) before or after training?

It has been studied many times how to time protein intake to optimally support protein synthesis. There is often debate as to whether pre-workout or post-workout protein intake is more effective.

Tipton et al. conducted an interesting study on this. Volunteers consumed 6g of essential amino acids combined with 35g of carbohydrates, either immediately before or immediately after exercise. The training was strength training (emphasis on legs).

Tipton concluded that more essential amino acids were absorbed when consumed before exercise. In contrast, almost no difference was noted with respect to the anabolic response. [5]

The fact that more amino acids were absorbed when consumed before exercise was explained as follows: Due to the increased blood flow to the muscles during exercise, more essential amino acids are transported to the muscle and absorbed.

However, some comments must be made about the study. Only isolated essential amino acids were used as protein. In practice, athletes rarely use isolated amino acids.

Furthermore, the study was not conducted on trained athletes, so the statements cannot be transferred to (competitive) athletes without hesitation.

For this reason, some other studies were conducted which used protein powder (Whey) instead of isolated amino acids. Regarding the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis, this study design could no longer detect a difference between pre- and post-exercise intake.

Nevertheless, the valid recommendation is to consume proteins within one hour after training . 

This is because proteins are not very easily digested. So if you eat a lot of protein before your workout, it can lead to gastrointestinal problems during your workout and thus affect your training.

In addition, protein intake within an hour of exercise takes advantage of the “open window.” During this time, the body is particularly receptive to absorbed nutrients and can process them well.

As a result, protein supply within the “open window” stimulates muscle protein synthesis and optimally supports regeneration. [2]

The right protein intake in (training) everyday life

Although the right timing of protein intake is not unimportant, the total amount of protein consumed per day appears to be the most important factor in stimulating muscle protein synthesis and driving recovery.

It is important not to consume all the protein at once, but to spread it out in smaller amounts throughout the day.

For this purpose, data were collected from athletes who were required to consume high amounts of protein during a 12-hour recovery phase. One group consumed 20g every 3 hours, another group consumed 40g every 6h, and a final group consumed 10g every 1.5h.

In the first group (20g every 3h), muscle protein synthesis was best stimulated. [2]

This makes it obvious that a consistent protein intake is very important for muscle protein synthesis, but also for recovery.

In order to consume plenty of protein, athletes should generally try to include about 20-25g of protein in every meal. This way, enough protein is absorbed and evenly distributed throughout the day.

In practice, however, most athletes consume the most protein in the evening, while breakfast is very low in protein.

So a high-protein breakfast is a simple tip to increase your muscle protein synthesis in the long run.

Final note on protein quality

Last but not least, protein quality also plays a major role. 

There are 8 essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body itself and therefore must be supplied through food.

If all – or many – of these essential amino acids are found in a food, it is considered high quality. If an athlete mainly consumes high-quality proteins, the risk of protein deficiency is reduced.

Basically, animal proteins provide more essential amino acids than plant protein sources. However, there are also ways to get plenty of protein through a plant-based diet. 

As a protein shake after muscularly particularly demanding units / competitions, our   RECOVERY 8  provides you with all 8 essential amino acids – from fermented vegetables in premium quality. Combined with the natural power of the mango, the R8 is a real regeneration turbo to which  many top athletes  trust every day.

[1]  Phillips 2012
[2]  A. Jeukendrup, M. Gleeson; Sport Nutrition,Third Edition.
[3]  Erp- Baart et al. Nationwide survey on nutritional habits in elite athletes
[4]  DOSB (German Olympic Sports Confederation, Competitive Sports Division) brochure “Nahrungsergänzungsmittel”, 1st edition June 2014.
[5]  Tipton et al.  Exercis, protein metabolism, and muscle growth
[6]  Ibrahim Elmadfa, C. Leitzmann, Ernährung des Menschen; 6th ed.

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Robert Gorgos

Robert Gorgos

Robert is a authority when it comes to sports nutrition science. As a nutritionist, he coaches many well-known top athletes, including the professional cyclists from BORA – hansgrohe. At the same time, he is a competitive athlete himself. And: Robert has developed the sports nutrition of MoN Sports.

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