Written by: Nikolaj Bach, BCs. Scient. Med.

Protein loosely translated "the first".

And when I have to help people get in shape, whatever it is in terms of fat loss, muscle building, or both, then protein intake and total calorie intake is just the first thing we most often look at.

But where most people know the importance of the total calorie intake for their goal - that is, that you have to be in a calorie deficit to lose weight, and in a calorie surplus to gain weight - then not everyone is equally aware of getting enough protein .

And it's a bit of a shame, because protein intake has a pretty big impact on the results of our strength training . As I wrote in an article the other day, a high enough protein intake, for example, is crucial for you to build muscle and lose fat at the same time .

Paradoxically, it is often the women who typically have this very goal (to be "toned") who do not consume enough protein, where the strength-training men are better with regard to protein.

No matter if you are a man or a woman, it is a low-hanging fruit to pick, to get control of your protein intake , in relation to optimizing your training results.

But what is so worth knowing about protein intake in connection with exercise? How much, when and what proteins to eat? I have gradually written a number of articles on the subject, but I fully understand that you do not have time to read them all, or plow through the entire scientific literature on protein.

But then it is good that the International Society of Sports Nutrition has published a "position stand" on protein and exercise , based on the overall scientific literature within this topic.

What does that mean? Yes, it is a number of official guidelines from ISSN, about the various aspects of protein intake that are important for your training.

And just as I did for their position stand on diets for a better physique , so in this article I have translated their recommendations into Danish.
We will therefore take a closer look at these recommendations in the following, as well as the evidence behind them and how you can use them in your training diet in practice.

1) An acute training stimulus, especially if it is strength training, and protein intake both stimulates muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and acts in synergy when consuming protein before or after strength training.

In other words, strength training and protein each have a positive effect on muscle building , via different mechanisms. The mechanical load from strength training is a stimulus that causes morphological adjustments in our muscle fibers - they increase their cross-section and grow, in order to better handle the workload.

Protein intake, on the other hand, affects muscle building because our muscles are made up of protein. The more building blocks (in the form of amino acids , the components of the protein) that are available, the better our conditions are for maintaining and building our muscle mass. In addition, the essential amino acids themselves help to ignite muscle protein synthesis - that is, the process by which we build muscle tissue.

An acute training stimulus, especially if it is strength training, and protein intake both stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and act in synergy when consuming protein before or after strength training.

The important point here is that these effects work in synergy - so we get a greater muscle growth from combining strength training and protein , than from the two stimuli separately. And it makes good sense when we think that it is proteins that must supply the building blocks for the muscle tissue that strength training builds.

2) To build and maintain muscle mass through a positive muscle protein balance, a total daily protein intake is between 1.4 - 2.0 g of protein per. kg body weight per day, sufficient for most exercising individuals. This amount falls within an acceptable macronutrient distribution.

For strength training specifically, it may even appear that the need may be marginally higher.

Thus, since JISSN's position, the largest meta-analysis of protein supplements and strength training to date has been published . Here, it was found that the subjects achieved maximum muscle growth on average at a protein intake of 1.6 g per. kg body weight per day - but there was a tendency for extra protein to become more important when the subjects already had training experience (1).

In addition, the upper confidence interval for this value was 2.2 g per kg body weight, which is why it makes good sense to increase the protein intake to be on the safe side.

When you then have an overview of your total intake, you can start looking at timing, dosage, and quality, but the total intake is most crucial.

3) There is recent evidence to suggest that higher protein intake (> 3.0 g per kg body weight per day) may have positive effects on body composition in strength training individuals (such as improving fat loss) .

This recommendation is partly due to the fact that the protein requirement increases slightly beyond what is otherwise seen in connection with strength training , during an energy deficit. In order to lose fat optimally, it is important that you consume fewer calories than you burn, but it also means that muscle mass is more prone to being broken down through the process called gluconeogenesis.

By eating extra protein , however, we partly ensure that there are amino acids available from elsewhere than the muscles, and at the same time add more building blocks for the maintenance of muscle tissue. Thus, in a new review, Hector and Phillips estimate that the protein requirement for optimal muscle preservation during diet is up to 2.4 g per day. kg per day, or perhaps even higher (2).

There is recent evidence to suggest that higher protein intake (> 3.0 g per kg body weight per day) may have positive effects on body composition in strength training individuals (such as improving fat loss).

At the same time, Antonio et al. made a number of studies where they have compared protein intake of 1.8 - 2.6 g per. kg (which is already high) with as much as 3.4 - 4.4 g of protein per. kg body weight per day. And here overall, it seems that there may be a beneficial effect on body composition (the ratio of fat mass to muscle mass) at the very high intakes (3-6).

Not least in relation to the calorie intake, where the high-protein groups have increased their calorie intake by 400 kcal or more from primary protein , apparently without gaining weight. The beneficial effects of protein during a weight loss thus have not only to do with muscle mass, but also increased energy consumption and satiety (7-11). I have described these effects in detail in this article:

4) There are different recommendations for optimal protein intake per. dose, for athletes to maximize muscle protein synthesis, depending on age and recent strength training. In general, it is recommended that in a single dose you consume 0.25 g of quality protein per kg body weight, or an absolute amount of 20-40 g of protein.

Several studies in protein dosing and the corresponding increase in muscle protein synthesis have been performed. Here, 20 g of quality protein (from whey or egg protein ) appears to increase muscle protein synthesis almost maximally, with a dose of 40 g leading to a 10-20% further increase in muscle building (12,13,14).

Based on this research, Morton et al. suggested that one consumes between 0.25 - 0.40 g of protein per. kg body weight in single doses - or up to 0.60 g per. kg for the elderly, where more is needed to "turn on" muscle protein synthesis (15).

5) Single doses of protein should preferably contain 700-3000 mg of leucine or more, and should also contain a complete and balanced spectrum of essential amino acids (EAA).

This is because it is the amino acid leucine that stimulates muscle protein synthesis when we ingest protein . There is thus talk of a "threshold value" for leucine of 3+ g, in order to optimally boost muscle building (16).

Of course, this requires that at the same time essential amino acids are present, as otherwise there are only very limited amounts of building blocks available for muscle building.

6) These doses of protein should ideally be evenly distributed every 3-4 hours, throughout the day.

It is estimated that the stimulating effect on protein synthesis lasts for ~ 4 hours after a meal, depending on how quickly the specific protein source is absorbed. Therefore, it theoretically makes good sense to distribute one's doses of protein roughly with this time interval if one is interested in optimizing muscle building.
For example, in a new review, Aragon and Schoenfeld suggest consuming a minimum of 4 daily doses of protein, a 'up to 0.55 g per day. kg body weight (17) - thus you get a total of 2.2 g per. kg, which should be sufficient to cover the protein head.

7) The optimal time period to consume protein inside is probably individual, since there is an advantage of consuming protein both before and after training. In all cases, the anabolic effect after exercise is long-lasting (at least 24 hours), but probably decreases the further away from the time of exercise you get.

Where previously it was thought that it was very important to eat protein right after training, it seems that the need is not as urgent. Instead of an anabolic window, it is rather a charging door that gradually closes.

But protein intake in the period after exercise is certainly relevant. A good practical recommendation is that one's protein-rich meal before and after exercise is not separated by more than 4 hours (or 6 in the case of large meals) (18).

8) Where it is possible for physically active individuals to cover their daily protein needs solely through food, protein supplements can be a convenient way to ensure that you consume enough protein of a good quality, while keeping your calorie intake low, especially for athletes with a high training volume.

In other words, protein supplements are not magical, but they can be a convenient solution to help meet your total protein needs - especially if you do not eat meat and do not have room for so many extra calories from fat or carbohydrate.

9) Fast-absorbing protein, high in essential amino acids (EAA) and enough leucine, is most effective in stimulating muscle protein synthesis.

Here, the content of essential amino acids is probably somewhat more important to focus on than the uptake time of the protein. Admittedly, there are studies that show that fast-absorbing protein (like whey protein ) gives a stronger response than slow-absorbing (like casein) (19), but this difference does not really seem to be present when measuring over a longer period of time, and precisely takes into account that the latter is available for a longer period of time (17).

Fast-absorbing protein, high in essential amino acids (EAA) and enough leucine, is most effective in stimulating muscle protein synthesis.

Sections 10 and 11 both deal with protein quality, and can therefore be merged together.

10) The type and quality of the protein affect the availability of amino acids by protein supplementation.

11) Athletes should focus on complete protein sources that contain all the essential amino acids, as these are the ones needed to stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

The animal protein sources are generally of a higher nutritional quality than vegetable. That is, dairy products, eggs, fish and meat (mentioned in order of priority) are better sources of protein than beans, legumes and cereals, just as whey protein is better than rice protein.
They have a higher and more complete content of the essential amino acids, which the body cannot produce itself, and must therefore have supplied through the diet (16).

This does not mean that you can not cover your protein needs from protein sources of a lower quality, but you must eat more varied of these, and in larger quantities.

12) Endurance athletes should focus on consuming enough carbohydrate to ensure optimal performance. If you also consume protein, it may help with muscle damage and improve recovery.
Here I would add that while extra protein may have benefits for an endurance athlete, carbohydrate does not have the same relevance for muscle building . Thus, there is no further effect on muscle protein synthesis of adding carbohydrate to a sufficient dose of protein, and large amounts of carbohydrate in a protein shake may even slow down the uptake rate of the protein (20,21).

13) Casein protein before bedtime (30-40 g) increases muscle protein synthesis overnight, without affecting fat burning.

There are several studies that point in the direction that protein before bedtime can be particularly important for muscle building, seen in relation to protein intake earlier in the day (22-25).

It makes good sense. Partly because the sleep period is the longest period of the day where no nutrition is consumed, and partly because it is precisely while we sleep that we recover from our hard training. And in order to recover optimally, we need building blocks to create new muscle mass.

Thus, a larger dose of slowly absorbed casein protein (and probably quality protein in general) before bedtime can increase muscle protein synthesis, and lower muscle protein degradation throughout the night.

Therefore, Trommelen and Van Loon, who have been involved in some research in this area, recommend that you consume a minimum of 40 g of quality protein before bedtime (22).



(1) Morton RW, Murphy KT, McKellar SR, Schoenfeld BJ, Henselmans M, Helms E, Aragon AA, Devries MC, Banfield L, Krieger JW, Phillips SM. A systematic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults. Br J Sports Med. 2017;

(2) Hector A1, Phillips SM1. Protein Recommendations for Weight Loss in Elite Athletes: A Focus on Body Composition and Performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2017 Nov 28: 1-26. doi: 10.1123 / ijsnem.2017-0273.

(3) Jose Antonio, Anya Ellerbroek, Tobin Silver, Leonel Vargas, Armando Tamayo, Richard Buehn, and Corey A. Peacock. A High Protein Diet Has No Harmful Effects: A One-Year Crossover Study in Resistance-Trained Males. Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism. 2016.

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(15) Morton RW, McGlory C, Phillips SM. Nutritional interventions to augment resistance training-induced skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Front Physiol. 2015; 6: 245. doi: 10.3389 / fphys.2015.00245.

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