Thursday, June 17, 2010

Protein post-exercise: how much?

I work amid a sea of computer engineers – they’re not your standard Mountain Dew drinking, sedentary bunch of kids creating the next social networking website in their garage. Some are. But many come bearing muscles, protein powder and a pocket full of sports nutrition questions.

The other day, Phil W. asked me if I thought he should, "...take in as much protein as possible after weight training. Is there a limit to look out for?" What should he do?

My first thought was: is he for real? Realizing he was, I forwarded him a study that showed how more than 30 grams did not further enhance the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.1 I also presented him a list of foods to calculate his protein needs post-exercise:

But then it dawned on me. Was this even accurate? I consulted my Essentials of Strength Training and Conditioning textbook, aka Goddess of Exercise Books, to rediscover that protein needs may be upwards of 1.5g/kg body weight in those who engage in heavy resistance exercise. So Phil, a 140# 5’11” male would require around 95g protein per day for his heavy strength training – at least.

The text went on to say that one factor determining the amount of protein needed might also be the type of resistance training program being used (e.g., single-exercise, low volume versus multi-exercise, high volume). This means that Phil’s total body resistance program would have more protein requirements, which makes sense because his body is using more muscle mass. So then, if Phil is eating three meals per day and no snacks in between (remember: computer engineer = six+ hours without food and drink, as though in a desert), is 30 grams really sufficient. Really?

My bottom-line is to tell people to ingest a meal chock-full of protein to help recovery. Maybe 30 grams is all one truly needs to ensure adequate muscle protein synthesis. My computer engineers are mathematicians. They want exact to the gram numbers here. Without doing a personal diet history on each and every one of them, what can we generally say is an adequate amount of protein post-exercise?

A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein sythesis in young and elderly subjects. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009.

-Marissa Beck, MS, RD is the Director of Wellness at NextJump and a NYC-based food writer. Visit her website at: