When it comes down to it, losing weight is pretty simple — if you burn fewer calories than you consume, you’re going to see the number on the scales go down. However, gaining muscle and losing body fat (which is what most of us actually need to do in order to achieve that toned, strong look) is a rather different kettle of fish. From the macronutrients that make up your diet to your stress levels and hormones, there are a lot of factors that come into play when changing your body composition. And because life can be unfair, the closer you get to your goal, the more you have to make small, specific tweaks to see results.
If you found yourself nodding enthusiastically at that last sentence, you may want to consider giving protein pacing a go. Put simply, it involves staggering your protein intake throughout the day in order to properly fuel your body. It’s been common knowledge for quite some time that getting enough protein is essential for gaining muscle and losing fat. However, the growing popularity of protein pacing in the fitness world comes off the back of a new study that reveals that when you eat protein is just as important as how much you eat.
In the study from Skidmore College in New York, researchers monitored 50 physically fit men and women and split them into two groups. Both groups followed the RISE fitness regime, consisting of resistance exercise, interval sprints, stretching, and endurance exercise. However, only one group adopted protein pacing into their routine. The results revealed that although both groups were following an intensive exercise regime, the protein pacing group saw more dramatic results in fitness gains, reduced belly fat and improved lean body mass.
Protein is also really important for weight loss as increased muscle increases metabolism, and protein in each meal increases satiation. So a good protein intake is imperative for strength, weight management, body function and looks.
“Consuming protein this way stimulates protein synthesis in the cells, which is just a fancy way of saying the production of healthy, lean muscle mass,” one of the study’s lead scientists, Paul Arciero, explains. “It also stimulates your metabolism to operate at a higher burning rate, and signals to the brain that you’re satiated.”
There’s also the fact that your body can actually only absorb a limited amount of protein at each meal. So, you need to spread your protein intake out to maximise the amount you absorb.
You shouldn’t consume more than 20-30 grams of protein per meal, as this is the maximum your body can absorb from each meal. Any more is a waste, as it is excreted as waste. The daily protein RDI is 0.75g/kg of body weight for women 19-70 (unless you are sick, exercising a lot, pregnant or lactating). If you are an endurance athlete this can increase to 1.2g/kg of body weight per day.
You should try and spread this intake over the course of a day to maximise the absorption. The biggest problem I see is that Australians tend to load their protein intake into their dinner, but have no protein at breakfast or lunch. Someone following this eating pattern would be well below their daily RDIs in protein, thinking a large protein-rich dinner is meeting their needs.
So, instead we need to spread 20g of protein into each meal of breakfast, lunch and dinner (and post workout snacks). Then, there is the timing of protein after a workout. Consuming this protein within 1 hour after exercise is recommended for maximum muscle rebuilding due to the heightened uptake of amino acids by the muscles during this window. The recommended intake is 0.25g per kg of body weight of protein. Consuming some carbs along with protein also improves amino acid uptake, so try and add some carbs with any post-workout protein intake. Likewise, 0.25g per kg of body weight of protein within this 60-minute window after endurance exercise is recommended to aid muscle recovery.
-Emma Cronin, Sporteluxe’s resident nutritionist
Can’t stomach the thought of eating boiled eggs or drinking a protein shake for your post-workout snack? Check out these nine other convenient high protein snacks. And to work out how much protein you need according to your age, weight and activity level, read this.