As an athlete, how much protein should I be getting and when should I get it?
It's senior year and you are hitting the weight room for off season training. You are looking to pack on some weight or gain a leaner body mass. Currently, you are 5’10” and weight in at 185 lb (84 kg). According to the daily recommended protein intake for an individual with a sedentary lifestyle (0.8 grams per kg of body weight) you would need about 72 grams of protein per day. You don’t fit that category.
You live a highly active lifestyle. Gaining a leaner body mass or maintaining your current weight is your goal. You will want to intake 1.0-1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight of protein: 84-126 grams of protein per day
If you want to pack on the muscle and make some significant gains for the upcoming season you want to have an intake of 1.5-2.2 grams per kilogram of body weight (126-185 grams).
Taking into account what you just read, do you think you can get your daily recommendations of protein in that one sitting? I mean sure, you can load on the protein in one sitting if you wanted to. Some people do that, but that sounds pretty drastic. That will take 5 scoops of protein powder or about 22 ounces of chicken for 125 grams of protein! Imagine guzzling down your blender ball bottle 2-3 times or inhaling 1.6 pounds of chicken. That sounds unappealing and awful. Keep it ideal and get your protein serving throughout the day!
When should I be getting my protein?
"Immediately after a workout"... "20 minutes to an hour after a workout"... "And no matter what, no longer than two hours after a workout"... Do these sound familiar? You might often hear these timeframes being thrown around at the gym or read them on the back of your 3 lb container of whey protein. I bet even some of your coaches, trainers, or strength and conditioning coaches are recommending the best time to get your protein in. Hell, some of you have probably heard to get protein DURING your workout. Well isn't timing essential to maximizing gains in the gym?
No, well Kind of… Let me explain.
Above all else, make sure you are getting your daily amount of protein for the entire day.
It won’t matter if you drink your protein shake immediately after you put that last dumbbell down. If you don’t consume the proper amount of protein throughout the day, forget about the "essential" post workout protein shake that contains those magical muscle building properties. The guy who you are competing against for the starting spot, who got his recommended protein intake for the day, will be ahead of you. That is, even if he drank that protein shake four hours after his workout.
But why is it like this?
Imagine the protein shake after a workout as “icing on the cake”. As I mentioned in my pyramid description for Organic Food, you need a strong base. That base is the layers of the actual cake. Alan Aragon, one of the world's top nutrition experts and evidence-based researchers, is quoted stating, "At best, specific timing is the icing on the cake. But, you have to have the cake down-pat, otherwise the icing means crap" (Source).
What if I get my proper intake of protein throughout the day? When should I intake protein?
If you are looking for the maximum gain for your workout, take it immediately. "What if I forget, will I miss out on crucial gains?" No, it will be minimal. It may
even be irrelevant in the long term, according to Aragon. Just remember, as long as you get your total protein for the day, you will do just fine. Taking it immediately should be worried about for professional athletes who are competing against other professional athletes for that slight edge in competition.
Protein is a macro-nutrient and needs to be treated as so; on a large scale. Micro-nutrients are much smaller and your body needs it on a much smaller scale. This is why getting the proper protein on a large scale throughout the day is more important than getting it on a small scale immediately after your workout.