Protein Recommendations Before and During Exercise
The potential benefit of consuming protein before and during exercise depends in part on the exercise type. In 2001, a study by Tipton et al. found that ingestion of 6 g of EAAs and 35 g of sucrose ingested prior to exercise increased muscle protein synthesis postexercise more than when the mixture was consumed immediately after exercise (Tipton et al. 2001). Since that time, research has generally, though not unequivocally, supported the benefit of consuming some EAAs before resistance training to increase muscle protein synthesis. The same has not been found for endurance exercise. There does not seem to be a performance benefit when protein is consumed during endurance exercise, given that carbohydrate intake is sufficient, thought there is some research indicating that protein intake during ultraendurance exercise (>3 hours) may attenuate muscle protein breakdown, as well as improve skeletal muscle reconditioning (van Loon 2014). Thus consuming small-to-moderate amounts of protein during ultraendurance events may have a beneficial effect.
To summarize, strength athletes may find benefit to add some protein before or during their workout, though the consensus is that postexercise consumption of protein has the most beneficial effect. Ultraendurance athletes may also benefit from consuming some protein during their exercise though adequate carbohydrate intake is of utmost importance.
Protein Recommendations After Exercise
The hormonal environment postexercise is considered anabolic in that it promotes muscle protein synthesis, and this requires adequate substrate availability. The effect of carbohydrate and protein on insulin secretion has already been discussed in relation to this enhanced hormonal environment. However, adequate protein intake postexercise also plays a crucial role in repairing or rebuilding muscle proteins that have been damaged from exercise, as well as stimulating muscle mass accrual.
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The optimal amount of protein postexercise has been studied extensively and it appears that 20 to 25 g of high-quality protein maximizes muscle protein synthesis; there is no additional benefit of protein intakes greater than this amount (Phillips 2012). High-quality protein is characterized here by its EAA profile. Approximately 10 g of EAA maximizes muscle protein synthesis, which translates to about 20 to 25 g of high intact protein sources. This includes eggs, dairy, or lean meats. Soy is also a good source of EAAs, though its content of leucine, a major stimulator of muscle protein synthesis, is less than that of animal protein sources. The anabolic environment is highest immediately after exercise, though this window extends for up to 2 hours postexercise. Ideally, protein consumption occurs as soon as possible upon completion of exercise regardless of whether these nutrients are consumed from food sources or from beverages as long as total consumption is adequate.
One challenge faced by many athletes is that after exercising they report their appetite is blunted and this can impede sufficient intake of nutrients. The hormonal milieu resulting from exercise is partially to blame for this effect. Decreased appetite seems to peak immediately postexercise, and yet this is a time when consumption of protein can optimize protein synthesis. Taking advantage of this anabolic window is often desired. One solution found to be helpful is to consume beverages containing the necessary nutrients. Drinking liquids when hunger is blunted can be less offensive than trying to eat solid foods. This strategy has resulted in the popularity of recovery beverages. Protein shakes, for example, are quite prevalent, especially among, but not limited to, strength athletes. These drinks can be appropriate if there is adequate carbohydrate, there is not an excessive amount of protein, and the right types of protein are included. Protein supplements are discussed in more detail in Chapter 7.
One study attempted to ascertain the optimal recovery beverage to meet the needs of athletes after an exhaustive workout. The researchers’ conclusion was that consuming chocolate milk was indeed an optimal recovery strategy (Spaccarotella and Andzel 2011). Milk has potassium and sodium, which assist in electrolyte replacement. Milk contains whey, a fast-acting protein that attenuates muscle protein breakdown, and casein, a slow-acting protein that promotes muscle protein synthesis. Milk also has a desirable profile of branched-chain amino acids, leucine, isoleucine, and valine, which are known to slow muscle breakdown and stimulate muscle protein synthesis, particularly leucine. The addition of chocolate contributes greater carbohydrate to glycogen synthesis. Of course, chocolate milk is not the only option, but it is a convenient, effective, and inexpensive strategy for many athletes. Chocolate soymilk can be an option for individuals with lactose intolerance, though the amino acid and protein profile of soymilk is not quite as desirable as that of dairy milk.
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