The Effect Of Protein Timing On Muscle Growth

Almost every bodybuilder understands the vital role protein plays in building muscles. However, there are diverging views on the right time to ingest protein and related supplements.

For instance, some bodybuilders swear doing so pre-workout and post-workout is beneficial while others stagger protein intake throughout the day. With that in mind, here is some more information on protein timing and its effect of muscle growth:

The Science behind Protein Timing

protein timing

Protein timing is based on the premise that a person can optimize muscle growth and size by timing the ingestion of protein. According to the results of a study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, this dietary approach works.

Furthermore, researchers involved in this study found that the leucine content in a protein source has a huge impact on protein synthesis. In general, protein intake enhances muscle hypertrophy, recovery during training, strength, and optimal physical performance.

Another study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism found that the amount of protein consumed and more importantly, when it is consumed, has an appreciable impact on protein synthesis and muscle growth.

Surprisingly, researchers involved in this study found that excess protein intake does not necessarily translate to bigger muscles.

After waking up

bodybuilder drinking protein shake

In essence, your protein-timing schedule should start immediately after waking up. This is particularly important because your body will have been in fasting mode for the 6-9 hours you were asleep. As such, your first meal should contain more than carbohydrates. It should include protein as well.

Remember, protein is the ideal source of amino acids, which the body requires for proper muscle maintenance and rebuilding. Furthermore, protein provide the body with sustained energy throughout the day.

At this point, it is worth pointing out that although traditional protein sources such as eggs or chicken are good, they are not the ideal sources of easily digestible protein. They take too long to digest and are unlikely to halt the body’s tendency to turn to muscles for fuel.

To avoid degradation of the muscles you are working hard to build, the rule of thumb is to prepare and ingest a faster-acting protein such as whey. This will provide the body and muscles with the amino acids they desperately need in less than 20 minutes.

Make sure you drink a whey protein shake at least one hour before hitting the gym for a workout. Doing so primes your body with branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are necessary for protein synthesis. If you can, take a fruit while drinking your whey protein shake.


Just before you go to the gym or while in the gym waiting to start workouts, take another whey protein shake. Do so at least 15-30 minutes before beginning exercises. Avoid a common practice among bodybuilders of relying on carbohydrates alone as a source of pre-exercise muscle fuel.

The problem with carbohydrates is they are not as easily digested as whey protein. This means your muscles may not get the amino acids they need as fuel during workouts. Whey is the right source of amino acids in this case, especially since the body experiences a net loss of muscle protein during workouts because protein synthesis tends to remain unchanged or decrease slightly.

By ingesting a faster-acting protein, you will counter loss of muscle protein. To enhance amino acid availability further, take a carbohydrate supplement as well to stimulate insulin release pre-workout.

In fact, taking a carbohydrate-protein supplement combination pre-workout hampers myoglobin and creatine phosphokinase (CPK) release into the bloodstream during exercise.

In general, aim to ingest free-form amino acids such as BCAAs or EAAs. If you stick to this regimen, you will experience improvements in lean muscle mass growth, strength, and recovery. In addition, you will elevate amino acid levels by up to 300% one-hour after ingestion.

If you hit the gym 30 minutes after drinking your whey protein shake, amino acid levels will reach peak point 30 minutes later when you will be well warmed up and exercising. Beyond this point, amino acid levels drop to about 90% two hours after ingesting fast acting protein and finally level back to baseline four hours later.


post workoutEven if you do not fancy ingesting protein pre-workout, you should definitely take the same after exercising. Remember your will have torn and put muscle tissue under extreme stress while working out. As such, your body practically goes into recovery mode after your stop lifting weights or performing intense exercises.

To aid and enhance recovery, you need to take a fast acting protein anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes after training.

Once again, whey protein comes in handy to help your body replenish glycogen stores. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) recommends taking a whey protein product that contains at least three grams of leucine per serving.

Remember, leucine plays a vital role in the protein synthesis process. In addition, it is wise to combine whey supplement with a fast-acting carbohydrate such as glucose or maltodextrin, according to the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition.

Such a combination of supplement compounds work well for bodybuilders who perform weight-training exercises. Moreover, according to a study published by the US National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), drinking fat-free milk post-workout enhances lean body mass, decreases body fat, and improves muscle hypertrophy.

Between meals and workouts

Unlike pre- and post-workout, you do not need a fast-acting protein source between meals and workouts. Nevertheless, you need another category of protein called “slow-acting/slow-digesting protein.”

In simple words, this type of protein takes hours to digest. A good example is casein protein. Such a protein is beneficial in several ways. Firstly, slow digesting protein such as whey, milk, and casein make one feel fuller for longer.

This is good news if you want to bulk up and cut excess weight at the same time.

When combined with dietary fiber, they dampen hunger pangs as well as enhance satiety and fullness. Since there are many whey protein and casein products in the market, it may be difficult to determine the absorption rate of each product. To avoid confusion, use the following as a fastest-to-slowest acting protein guide:

• Hydrolyzed caseinHydrolyzed whey
• Hydrolyzed whey
• Whey isolate
• Whey concentrate
• Other protein sources
• Casein

Hydrolyzed casein and whey are considered the fastest-acting products because they contain di and tri-peptides that the body absorbs much faster than even free-form amino acids. Additionally, they induce faster and greater insulin response. Besides casein, eggs are another great source of protein between meals/training.

For the weight-conscious, it is advisable to limit carbohydrate intake after training. By doing so, you do not have to worry about carbohydrates being converted into fat. However, this may not be a problem if you undertake intense workouts. Your body will metabolize a large percentage of carbs as you exercise.

The amount and frequency of protein consumption between meals/workouts varies depending on factors like weight training goals. Nevertheless, a study published in the journal Nutrition and Metabolism provides a good guide on this subject.

Researchers observing participants found that those who consumed 80 grams of a protein supplement in doses of 10 grams staggered throughout the day registered the best protein synthesis results. Larger or smaller doses will not lead to improvements in muscle growth, protein synthesis, or strength.

Before going to bed

Before going to bed, feed your body with protein that will satisfy its nutritional and energy needs at night. Unsurprisingly, slow-digesting protein fits this definition well. The best choice in this case is casein protein because it is digested slowly releasing amino acids over a span of several hours.

To understand why this phase is essential to muscle growth and recovery, it is worth investigating what happens to food digestion and absorption at night.

After eating the last meal of the day, the body’s digestion process kick in and works hard to synthesize additional nutrients. This allows the body to replenish glycogen stores, especially in the liver and muscles. During this two-hour or so phase, the body does not actively engage in energy expenditure. Instead, it focuses on energy storage.

After this, the body enters into a post-meal absorption phase. This means it starts actively using the available nutrients and energy. During this long post-absorption period at night, the body at some point may access amino acids stored in the muscles for re-distribution via the bloodstream. As a result, muscle tissue breakdown occurs. By the time you wake up, protein breakdown will have exceeded protein synthesis.

It is worth noting that this process does not exclusively occur at night. This means that it can take place anytime the body enters into a prolonged post-absorption state such as when fasting to accomplish specific health or religious goals. With this in mind, casein protein, which usually takes about 7-8 hours to digest and breakdown, is the ideal protein choice.

Casein is also highly recommended because of its anti-catabolic properties (it prevents muscle breakdown).

sea food

If you love seafood, include fish in your last meal of the day. Fish oils such as omega-3 slow down the body’s digestion rate preventing breakdown of amino acids stored in muscle fibers.

Some people are likely to frown at this suggestion because of excess weight issues. This is because of the popular myth that eating just before going to bed will lead to addition of extra pounds of body weight.

This myth is not only erroneous but wrong in every sense as well. In fact, a study published in the British Medical Journal found that there is no direct correlation to late night-eating patterns and excess weight gain. The only way you would gain weight in such a scenario is if you were making poor dietary choices or overeating. Protein intake at this point will only aid muscle repair and growth.

Aim to consume about 1.4-1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of bodyweight.

Types of Amino acids


Before wrapping up this post, it is necessary to cover the types of amino acids you will likely come across in the market in the form of supplements.

In general, the most common amino acids are L-Glutamine, HMB and leucic acid, as well as BCAAs (Leucine, isoleucine, and valine). Although they are all great and essential to bodybuilders, you do not need all of them at once.

If your diet includes plenty of BCAA sources, do not worry about missing the good stuff by shunning supplements.

However, you should consider supplements that contain taurine and l-carnitine amino acids because they are rare in traditional protein sources like meat and milk.

The same is true for HMB, whose anti-catabolism properties are up to 20 times more potent compared to leucine.

Overall, the amino acid supplements sold commercially are extractions of traditional protein sources. As such, consider claims of superiority as nothing more than marketing attempts aimed at squeezing money from the pockets of consumers.


Protein timing is a popular dietary strategy that bodybuilders use to optimize protein synthesis and muscle growth. This strategy revolves around consuming protein pre- and post workout as well as throughout the day.

Scientific studies have shown that doing so improves muscle hypertrophy and nutrient uptake/breakdown processes. If you would like to adopt a similar strategy, you have to start protein timing immediately after waking up to provide your body with the amino acids it requires. Doing so also prevents breakdown of the same compounds stored in the muscles. This is in addition to taking a fast-acting protein about 30 minutes prior to going to the gym or beginning a workout session.

After exercising, ingest another dose of a fast-digesting protein such as whey protein shake to maximize protein synthesis. You can combine such protein with fast-acting carbohydrate to maximize amino acid availability and insulin response.

In between meals and workouts, the norm is to consume slow-digesting protein such as casein to provide muscles with a steady supply of amino acids over extended periods. Regardless of your daily protein intake, consider purchasing and using supplements that contain l-carnitine and taurine amino acids. They are beneficial because their anti-catabolism properties are more powerful than leucine.

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  1. Really interesting, definitely going to share this!

  2. Tom

    Nice article, thanks!

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