Muscle development: how to optimize your workout with the right protein diet

  • For those who want to enjoy the benefits of physical activity, it is important first of all to know how to combine muscle building sessions with those with a more aerobic character.
  • Remember that the daily diet and the timing of intake of certain nutrients such as carbohydrates and protein can enhance the metabolic effects of training and for this reason, it is necessary to know which nutrients and their amounts to take during and after the training sessions and with what timing.
  • Finally, in the fitness field, betaine has also proved to be an advantageous substance to maximize the effects of training and reduce any disadvantages.
Elena Casiraghi - Enervit team; Specialist in Nutrition and Sport Integration; Contract lecturer at the University of Pavia
If training is the king, nutrition is the queen, said Jack Lalanne once. The right diet, when combined with training, allows you to optimize the stimuli you get from training and achieve results beyond that go beyond the training session alone. It is not enough to increase calorie intake or nutrients such as carbohydrates or protein.

You need to know the timing of your training, to consider the useful amount of nutrients and to understand how to blend them, if you want to optimize the stimuli activated through training.

In this editorial, we will talk about the effects of training on the body and describe those nutritional guidelines useful to maximize the effects of resistance and concurrent training, the latter being the combination of endurance and muscle building sessions.

The continuous exchange of proteins in the body

If we could measure the proteins contained in the body of a sedentary subject, we would see that they remain constant for months. For those who do not practice sport, in fact, muscle protein synthesis (anabolism) is in balance with protein degradation (catabolism).

If we evaluate, however, what happens during a single day, we would realize that in reality there are continuous variations. When an individual fasts for several hours, in fact, the demolition of proteins prevails; as a result, the body's protein assets (in particular muscle mass) are reduced. The situation is reversed - and the protein balance returns to parity - when proteins are also included in a meal.

This is why, for example, it is essential to include a portion of protein in breakfast after a long night's fast.

During a single training session, however, although both synthesis and degradation take place, the latter is higher; this is especially the case in endurance disciplines, such as running and triathlon, where a small percentage of muscle protein is used to produce energy.

Strength training, on the other hand, stimulates the synthesis of new muscle proteins during the two days following the gym session. Proteins synthesis is at its peak in the first 40 minutes following the session, stays high in the 3 hours following the exercise, is halved after 24 hours, but - although reduced to one third - is still active after 48 hours.

For this reason, at the end of a session in the gym, it is essential to take a sufficient quantity of proteins as soon as possible, so to meet the demand of the muscles. Not making the most during this time window means losing the effectiveness of this training session.

The protein diet sportsmen need

Dietary texts usually state that a sedentary adult needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. This means that a person weighing 60 kg of body weight will have to consume about 48 g of protein per day, or about 56 g of proteins per 80 kg bodyweight.

Such proteins intake satisfies a sedentary person, not an athlete.

In an athlete, various factors make possible that, for the same body weight, the need for protein is greater. Athletes, for example, have a lower fat mass and - having proportionally more muscles - a greater muscle mass.

Protein turnover, i.e. the physiological turnover of "bricks" synthesised and degraded, is greater when lean mass and the frequency of training sessions is larger. The athlete's need for protein, therefore, is even greater because of muscle activity.

Consequently, the intake of proteins is also higher. The need for protein, however, is not only higher when performing specific sessions at the gym, but there is also to consider that - especially in prolonged efforts as in the master class - protein is also a source of energy, although to a lesser extent in the better trained subjects.
Daily protein intake as needed per kilo of body weight. Source: Ziegenfuss T.N. and Landis J. Nutrition an Supplements. Humana Press, 2008; 251-266 mod.

Protein diet? Not all at once. Here's how to break it down

Please note, however, that it is important to divide your daily protein requirements according to your training schedule and in each meal and snack of the day.

If the goal is to make the most of protein synthesis derived from training in the gym, a common mistake is to consume a large amount of protein in a single meal. To obtain the maximum stimulus of protein synthesis, an adult must take about 90 g of protein in a day, distributing them in equal quantities of about 30 g in each of the main meals, or at least a quantity of not less than 0.3 g of protein/kg/weight.

However, even those who reach or exceed the 90g of daily protein intake usually follows an uneven subdivision, especially if, for work, they need to eat outside out of home. Often, in fact, the amount of protein is reduced at breakfast (even less than 10 g); greater, but still insufficient (for example, about 20 g) at lunch; much more abundant at dinner (even above 60 g).

However, in this way, protein synthesis is not stimulated at its best. A better balance and distribution of protein requirements in every meal and snack is essential.

The anabolic window and protein intake

It is also important to take protein immediately after the muscle building session, i.e. within 10-20 minutes (maximum 40). During this period, protein synthesis is greater. In fact, in the period following the workout, the muscle has good availability of amino acids with high biological value.

Protein synthesis is increased because training leads to an increase in hormones with anabolic effect (e.g. GH, "growth hormone") and because blood circulation in the muscles that have just worked is increased. This period immediately after training for strength and/or mass should be considered a real "magic moment", because there are all the conditions to ensure that protein synthesis is very high. However, it is essential that the muscles arrive in the correct quantities the "bricks" (amino acids) and that one of them, leucine, reaches the ideal concentrations (from 2 to 3 g).

More power with betaine

Betaine is a substance contained mainly in sugar beet and spinach. It has two significant benefits in the body, both on health and sports performance. Betaine, in fact, has a so-called cytoprotective mechanism of action. In practice, it defends the intracellular volume protecting it from the possible loss of creatine molecules.

For this reason, taking betaine proves to be beneficial in reducing dehydration in the case of prolonged training sessions and / or conducted in a hot and humid environment with poor ventilation (e.g. Group Cycle or Skillathletic sessions), and when combined with a muscle strength program of at least 15 days seems to promote muscle building. To enjoy the benefit of betaine on hydration, 1.25g of betaine is needed. Hydration seems to be greater when mixed with mineral salts.

To promote muscle, however, the amount is higher, i.e. equal to 2.5 g. In this second case, it would be optimal to mix betaine with the appropriate amount of protein and take advantage of the timing of intake. Attention, however. Despite scientific studies stating these quantities, remember that the daily dose of betaine allowed by the E.F.S.A. (European Food Safety Authority) is equal to 1.5 g.
Cholewa JM, Guimarães-Ferreira L, Zanchi NE. Effects of betaine on performance and body composition: a review of recent findings and potential mechanisms. Amino Acids. 2014.

Equipe Enervit. Strategie nutrizionali, integrazione e recupero. Pp. 33-40, Sport Nutrition Report, 2010

Equipe Enervit. Strategie nutrizionali: sazietà, dimagrimento e integrazione nello sport. Pp. 4-36. Sport nutrition report, 2011.

Kerksick CM, Arent S, Schoenfeld BJ, Stout JR, Campbell B, Wilborn CD, Taylor L, Kalman D, Smith-Ryan AE, Kreider RB, Willoughby . International society of sports nutrition position stand: nutrient timing. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017.

Naderi A, de Oliveira EP, Ziegenfuss TN, Willems MT.Timing, Optimal Dose and Intake Duration of Dietary Supplements with Evidence-Based Use in Sports Nutrition. J Exerc Nutrition Biochem. 2016.

Quesnele JJ, Laframboise MA, Wong JJ, Kim P, Wells GD. The effects of beta-alanine supplementation on performance: a systematic review of the literature. 24(1):14-27. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2014

/related post

How To Set Short Term Goals And Stay Motivated All Year

New year, new beginning: here's how to create small short-term goals to keep the good intentions we ...