How to optimize muscle growth with protein intake

 

Protein consumption is known to aid in the growth of muscle mass (i.e. hypertrophy). The abundance of studies that have repeatedly shown the benefits of protein supplementation has grown in recent years, and with it, so have the number of protein brands on the market. 

It seems like the common message from these companies, fitness influencers, and your neighborhood gym bro is that you need to get lots of protein immediately after your workouts for the best effect on muscle growth. Instead, thanks to a study released in July of 2021, we now know that you can optimize your hypertrophy by shifting the majority of your protein intake to the morning hours. [1] 

When and what to consume

Interestingly, the typical Western breakfast contains very little protein. The distribution of protein then skews later in the day. 

In this most recent study, researchers discovered that the exact opposite trend leads to the greatest hypertrophy in animals subjected to overloading (a type of animal study aimed to mimic the process of muscle growth in humans). This trend was later followed by a study in humans as well. 

Specifically, the japanese study found a time-dependent effect on the ingestion of dietary protein that follows a circadian clock of muscle protein expression. In other words, just like the brain secretes melatonin to fall asleep at night, certain molecules are more active in the morning to process protein and induce hypertrophy. [1]

In the animal studies (which are able to more accurately measure muscle volume after treatment and dissection), mice fed high morning protein and a lower amount of protein in the evening had 17% greater measurements of muscle weight than those that consumed high protein in the morning and high protein in the evening. To emphasize, the best case scenario in this study was to skew the highest consumption of protein in the morning and have less dietary protein in the evening. 

Furthermore, the intake of specific amino acid content plays a critical role in accelerating muscle hypertrophy. [1] 

We’ve discussed the role of branched chain amino acids (BCAAs) on hypertrophy (especially the wildly important influence of leucine on muscle protein synthesis) [2-5], and the same theme continues with BCAAs in the morning. Based on the findings of this study, adding BCAA content to your morning routine may help you put on more muscle mass, faster. [1-5]

That’s interesting, but what about human studies?

In a study evaluating skeletal muscle mass of participants who consumed more protein in the morning or more protein in the evening, researchers found that muscle mass tended to reach higher levels in the morning protein group. Further, the same study showed that skeletal muscle index (SMI, a ratio of muscle mass to height) and measures of skeletal muscle strength were both higher in participants who consumed more protein in the morning hours. [1]

Summary

If you are interested in optimizing your muscle hypertrophy, aim to skew your protein intake to earlier hours of the day. While the typical maxim of having an abundance of protein after training may still hold true, this study might help you accelerate the results you see from training. [1]

Secondly, evaluate the role of BCAA supplementation in your life. We’ve written about the importance of BCAA consumption previously, and it’s a core element of our flagship stack (the result of over half a decade of research at multiple institutions). If you choose to supplement with BCAAs, consider skewing the 2:1:1 (optimal) ratio to your waking hours as well. 

Finally, ensure you put in the work to facilitate these kinds of muscle gains. Resistance training maximizes muscle hypertrophy more than any other type of training. Beyond muscular adaptations, bone strength and overall resilience increases more with resistance training and weight lifting than any other form of training (shown in studies). If you want to use a proven method of resistance training for maximal results, see our Part 1 and Part 2 explanations. 

References

  1. Shinya Aoyama, Hyeon-Ki Kim, Rina Hirooka, Mizuho Tanaka, Takeru Shimoda, Hanako Chijiki, Shuichi Kojima, Keisuke Sasaki, Kengo Takahashi, Saneyuki Makino, Miku Takizawa, Masaki Takahashi, Yu Tahara, Shigeki Shimba, Kazuyuki Shinohara, Shigenobu Shibata. Distribution of dietary protein intake in daily meals influences skeletal muscle hypertrophy via the muscle clock. Cell Reports. Volume 36, Issue 1. 2021. 
  2. Waldron, Mark. The effects of acute leucine or leucine-glutamine co-ingestion on recovery from eccentrically biased exercise. Amino Acids. 2018.
  3. Norton, Layne E. Leucine Regulates Translation Initiation of Protein Synthesis in Skeletal Muscle after Exercise. Branched-Chain Amino Acids in Exercise. Journal of Nutrition.
  4. Shimomura, Yoshiharu. Nutraceutical Effects of Branched-Chain Amino Acids on Skeletal Muscle. The Journal of Nutrition. 2006.
  5. Blomstrand, Eva. A Role for Branched-Chain Amino Acids in Reducing Central Fatigue. The Journal of Nutrition. 2006.