It's well established that ingestion of whey protein or essential amino acids before and after exercise increases muscle protein synthesis. A number of studies have also shown this can translate into greater muscle mass gains over the longer term. As such, most conscientious strength and endurance athletes consume pre- and post-workout formulas containing protein or amino acids.
But just how much protein should your pre- and post-workout drinks contain? Let's take a look at the research conducted so far and see what it shows...
Moore et al compared the effect of post-workout drinks containing 0, 5, 10, 20, or 40 grams of egg protein. Six healthy young men were given the drinks after a workout comprised of 4 sets each of leg press, leg extensions and leg curls with a weight heavy enough to elicit failure within 8–10 repetitions. Muscle protein synthesis in the four hours after the workout rose incrementally with increasing protein dose. While 20 grams of protein produced much higher protein synthesis than 10 grams, no further increase was noted with 40 grams. This study used egg protein, whereas most protein formulas nowadays use whey. However, as both are high quality complete animal-source proteins, I wouldn't expect a huge difference in the results obtained with whey as compared to egg protein.
Another point worth mentioning is that the body weight of the subjects in the study ranged from 78.5 - 93.5 kg. Those whose body weight deviates significantly from this range could conceivably achieve maximal muscle protein synthesis at a lower or higher dose. Chemically-assisted athletes may also display different results from those seen in the Moore study.
Cuthbertson et al gave healthy young and elderly men 500 ml of water containing 0, 2.5, 5, 10, and 20 grams of the Essential Amino Acids (arginine, histidine, isoleucine, methionine, leucine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine). Muscle protein synthesis increased with rising dosages, plateauing at 10 grams; no further increase in protein synthesis was seen with the 20-gram EAA dose. The response, by the way, was significantly less pronounced in elderly subjects. The weight of the subjects in this study ranged from 65-94 kg.
If you are using BCAA supplements instead of EAAs, then a dose of 5 grams would be tentatively indicated considering EAA formulas are around 50% BCAA. It should be mentioned that in this study the EAAs were administered in the morning after an overnight fast, not after a workout, but at this point in time it’s about the best comparative data we’ve got to work with.
Based on currently available data, tentative recommendations for pre- and post-workout protein and EAA intakes are 20 grams and 10 grams, respectively.
Anthony Colpo is an independent researcher, physical conditioning specialist, and author of the groundbreaking books The Fat Loss Bible and The Great Cholesterol Con. For more information, visit TheFatLossBible.net or TheGreatCholesterolCon.com
Moore DR, et al. Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Jan, 2009; 89 (1): 161-168.
Cuthbertson D, et al. Anabolic signaling deficits underlie amino acid resistance of wasting, aging muscle. FASEB Journal, Mar, 2005; 19 (3): 422-424.
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