With the somewhat belated appearance of the sun comes the inevitable rush to achieve the Summer body – chiselled muscles and 6 pack abs the call of the day. This leads to extreme calorie drops, unsustainable levels of training and cardio, consequently, increasing stress levels. Over the next few weeks we will discuss the ways in which you can achieve the body you desire without the outrageously complex, wholesale alterations that the “go hard or go home” movement push. Intelligent manipulation of energy balance, training, cardio, tracking and supplementation enabling you to create a plan that works around your lifestyle rather than the other way around. The first thing that we will discuss is the role of protein.
Protein is the key macronutrient when it comes to cutting. Allowing the maintenance of Lean Body Mass (LBM) in times of hypocaloric (calorie deficit) intake (4, 8). Protein, or rather the Amino Acids (AA) within protein, are the building blocks of muscle, therefore, sufficient intake is vital for maintaining or building muscle mass (hypertrophy) and preventing muscle breakdown (catabolism) (5, 10). Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS) is the driver of muscle hypertrophy, stimulating this will, therefore, allow the adaptations and benefits of training to occur. Protein has the highest Thermic Effect of Food (TEF); this is the amount of energy required to digest and utilise a food source, ~23% of protein ingested is burned in this way (1). Increased TEF will increase Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE) and emphasise the effect of a Calorie Deficit within your diet, encouraging further breakdown of fat and aiding weight loss (1, 5). In addition to these benefits Protein is also the most satiating of all the macronutrients, suppressing Ghrelin release (hunger hormone) and encouraging feelings of satiety (feeling full) (5). High protein diets have been shown to elicit increased fat loss, muscle hypertrophy of both type I and II fibres and strength (4, 7, 8). So now we have agreed on the benefits; what is the best way to implement this? How much do I consume? What are the best sources? When should I take it? All of them valid questions, so let’s take a look at research.
When choosing your protein there are 2 values to consider: Biological Value (BV), this is the efficiency of exogenous (food/drink) protein sources at stimulating MPS in tissue post absorption (Max score 100), and Protein Digestibility Corrected Amino Acid Score (PDCAAS), the measure of how many Essential Amino Acids the food contains (Max score 1.00) (5, 8). Meat and animal products (milk and eggs) have the highest BV’s and PDCAAS e.g. Milk has a BV of 91 and PDCAAS of 1.00 (8). Plant sources are a good option, however they are not as biologically available e.g. Soy has a BV 74, PDCAAS 1.00 (5, 8). Consuming this much protein through food alone would be ridiculously expensive and this is where supplementation with powder comes in.
There are 3 common powders, Whey and Casein protein (derived from milk) and Soy protein (from the soya plant) (5, 9). All 3 are viable options, with differing properties. Whey is both the most common and, arguably, the best choice; it has the highest BV at 104 and a PDCAAS of 1.00, it is rapidly digested and has consistently been shown to elicit adaptations when combined with training (particularly resistance) (9, 10). Increased strength, LBM, fat loss, performance, muscle hypertrophy (type I and II) and increased MPS all associated with Whey (4, 5, 8, 9). The underlying mechanism here is believed to be Whey’s superior Leucine content; Leucine is 1 of 3 Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA’s), it is essential in MPS. Without Leucine, MPS and, subsequent, muscle hypertrophy cannot occur (3, 5). A minimum of 2.5g per feeding is required to maximise MPS, although research tends to recommend 3g as a dosage (3). Ideally, Leucine should be supplemented pre and post workouts; ensuring adequate Leucine content in your Whey supplement is advised, it has been suggested that 8g.day is adequate (3, 8). More does not mean better with Leucine, do not believe that 15g servings will promote super-enhancement of MPS and muscle growth, this is a myth pedalled by Bodybuilders and has no scientific backing (1, 3). As mentioned before (particularly for vegetarians!), Soy protein is a viable alternative to Whey, eliciting many of the same adaptations, however, the adaptations have been shown to be slower and less significant; West et al (2011) propose that Soy Protein promotes a lesser anabolic response over time than Whey. Casein Protein is a little different, but can play a very useful part in both cutting and mass gaining due to its unique make up. Casein is a slow releasing protein, after consumption forming a gel/clot in the stomach, slowly drip feeding protein into the system (7, 8). Snijders et al’s (2015) recent study showing the benefits of ingesting Casein immediately prior to bed; MPS increased ~22%, linked to increases in muscle hypertrophy (type I and II), strength, recovery and subsequent training efficiency. This may also be possible with Whey ingestion, however, Casein is believed elicit greater adaptations (7, 9).
Current Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8g.kg.d of body weight, many question whether this is enough for a sedentary adult, let alone someone training regularly (1, 5). Research shows that those in a hypocaloric state require greater intakes of protein, general consensus ranging from 2.0 – 3.4g.kg.d (1, 4). In a recent study by Longland et al (2016), a cohort of recreational male trainers were able to not only lose fat, but GAIN LBM in a severe calorie restriction (~40%) when combining resistance training with a 2.4g.kg.d intake of protein. A starting intake of between 2.2 – 2.4g.kg.d would appear to be a good place to start as a recreational trainer. For years 20-25g of protein per serving every 3-4 hours, has been believed to maximise MPS, anything above this of little use; recent studies have suggested this may not be the case, recommendations now ranging between 20-40g pre and post workout; consuming a 25-40g protein shake, pre and post should be more than enough to maximise MPS with no adverse effect (4, 8, 9). In regards of Casein supplementation pre-bed, 27.5g with 15g of Carbohydrate was the dosage used in the Snijders et al (2015) pre-bed protein ingestion study.
The long standing myth that immediate intake of Whey post training is required to prevent loss of gains has been disproved. Alan Aragon, Brad Schoenfeld and James Krieger’s (2013) nutrient timing paper suggesting that, provided adequate pre workout protein is provided, there is a post workout window of >60minutes to harness adaptations; although intake within 2 hours is still advisable. The most important factor here is overall daily intake, both protein and calorie; if you have your energy balance right and are consuming less calories than you expend you will lose weight, if your daily protein intake is adequate then LBM will theoretically be maintained (2, 4, 8). Where timing may have an impact is pre and post workout, a 25g Whey shake, containing 3g of Leucine per serving, taken 45-60 minutes pre training and another within 2 hours of training eliciting optimal adaptations (8,9).This believed to maximally stimulate MPS and result in significant Strength, LBM and fat loss adaptations (8, 10). Current research is of the belief that timing of nutrients becomes increasingly important with exceptionally lean individuals, essentially those looking to attain exceptionally low body fat for competing (2). With all these changes exercise is essential, training believed to increase MPS for multiple hours post training (interestingly max MPS may actually be 3-4 hours post training) (4, 8). Casein supplementation will promote optimal changes when taken immediately before bed (7).
Take Away Points
· Protein intake should be around 2.2 – 3.4g.kg.d when in a hypocaloric state maintaining LBM and optimising adaptations.
· Increased protein will make you fuller and increase TDEE, aiding fat loss.
· Whey protein offers the best “bang for your buck”.
· Rapidly digested protein (Whey) should be consumed pre and post training, in a minimum 25g dosage.
· Protein servings should contain 2.5-3.0g of Leucine to maximise MPS.
· Casein protein intake immediately prior to bed may promote significant adaptations.
· Exercise is fundamental to maximise the bodies’ adaptations to exercise.
1. Antonio, J., Ellerbroek, A., Silver, T., Orris, S., Scheiner, M., Gonzales, A., Peacock, CA., 2015. A High Protein Diet (3.4g.kg.d) Combined with a Heavy Resistance Training Program Improves Body Composition in Healthy Trained Men and Women – a Follow Up Investigation. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 12(39).
2. Aragon, AA., Schoenfeld, BJ., Krieger, JW., 2013. Nutrient Timing Revisited: is there a Post-Exercise Anabolic Window? Post-Exercise Nutrient Timing. Journal of the International Society of Sports, 10(5).
3. Breen, L., Churchward-Venne, TA., 2012. Leucine: a Nutrient “Trigger” for Muscle Anabolism, but What More?. Journal of Physiology, 590(9), pp2065-2066.
4. Longland, TM., Oikawa, SY., Mitchell, CJ., Devries, MC., Phillips, SM., 2016. Higher Compared with Lower Dietary Protein during an Energy Deficit Combined with Intense Exercise Promotes Greater Lean Mass Gain and Fat Loss: a Randomized Trial. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 103, pp738-746.
5. Pesta, DH., Samuel, VT., 2014. A High-Protein Diet for Reducing Body Fat: Mechanisms and Possible Caveats. Nutrition and Metabolism, 11(53).
6. Phillips, SM., Chevalier, S., Leidy, HJ., 2016. Protein “Requirements” beyond the RDA: Implications for Optimising Health. Journal of Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 41, pp1-8.
7. Snijders, T., Res, PT., Smeets, JSJ., van Vliet, S., van Kranenburg, J., Maase, K., Kies, AK., Verdijk, LB., van Loon, LJC., 2015. Protein Ingestion before Sleep Increases Muscle Mass and Strength Gains during Prolonged Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Healthy Young Men. The Journal of Nutrition, 145, pp1178-1184.
8. Stark, M., Lukaszuk, J., Prawitz, A., Salacinski, A., 2012. Protein Timing and its Effects on Muscular Hypertrophy and Strength in Individuals Engaged in Weight Training. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(54).
9. Tang, JE., Moore, DR., Kujibida, GW., Tarnopolsky, MA., Phillips, SM., 2009. Ingestion of Whey Hydrolysate, Casein, or Soy Protein Isolate: Effects on Mixed Muscle Protein Synthesis at Rest and Following Resistance in Young Men. Journal of Applied Physiology, 107, pp987-992.
10. West, DWD., Burd, NA., Coffey, VG., Baker, SK., Burke, LM., Hawley, JA., Moore, DR., Stellingwerff, T., Phillips, SM., 2011. Rapid Aminoacidemia Enhances Myofibrillar Protein Synthesis and Anabolic Intramuscular Signalling Responses after Resistance Exercise. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 94, pp795-803.