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Protein Timing

Just 167 calories after your workout—it doesn’t take much to ensure that you get the optimal anabolic response to exercise. We’re finding out more and more just how powerful the proper nutrients are when you take them in before, during and after exercise. Recently, scientists evaluated the response of various muscle and bone adaptation parameters after 24 weeks of strength training in healthy women when they took a nutrient supplement or a placebo immediately following each training session.1 Each woman was randomly and double-blindly assigned to a nutrient or a placebo group. The nutrient contained 10 grams of whey protein, 31 grams of carbohydrate, one gram of fat, 5.0 micrograms of vitamin D and 250 milligrams of calcium. The placebo consisted of six grams of carbohydrate and 12 milligrams of calcium.

The results were extraordinary. Those in the nutrient group improved concentric and isokinetic muscle strength by 9 percent, while the controls showed no change. Only the nutrient group improved lean body mass over the 24 weeks. Bone mineral density improved to a greater extent in the lumbar region of the subjects taking the nutrient too.

Then we have an intriguing study about nutrient supplementation during exercise. Male subjects participated in two experiments in which they took either carbohydrate or carbohydrate plus protein during a two-hour resistance-exercise session. They drank the supplement before and every 15 minutes during exercise. The researchers discovered that carb plus protein lowered whole-body-protein-breakdown rates 8 percent more than carbohydrate only and that protein oxidation and synthesis rates were augmented by 77 percent and 33 percent, respectively. Thus, the whole-body net protein balance was negative in the carb-only group, whereas a positive net balance was achieved with the carb-and-protein combination. Is there any doubt that nutrient timing works?2 Downing a sugar-only drink ain’t gonna do it. Sorry, Gatorade. You gotta add protein. Without protein, how can you expect to optimize muscle gains? 

I’d suggest that bodybuilders follow these general rules of nutrient timing: 

1) Drink a beverage that contains at least three to six grams of essential amino acids or 10 grams of protein before your workout.

2) During exercise, sip on a protein shake. 

3) Get some major calories immediately after you train. Try for 40 grams of protein (whey) mixed with your favorite carb source (bananas, strawberries, etc.) and some healthful fat like flaxseed oil. 

If you follow those tenets, the mass gains are as inevitable as hurricanes hitting the Florida coast.

For the latest science on nutrient timing, check out the International Society of Sports Nutrition’s Position Stand on Nutrient Timing:

—Jose Antonio, Ph.D.

Editor’s note: Jose Antonio, Ph.D., is the CEO of the International Society of Sports Nutrition ( In his spare time he watches the National Geographic channel, plays catch with his kids and paddles around Key Biscayne.


1 Holm, L., Olesen, J.L., Matsumoto, K., et al. (2008). Protein-containing-nutrient supplementation following strength training enhances the effect on muscle mass, strength and bone formation in postmenopausal women. J Appl Physiol. 105:274-281.

2 Beelen, M., Koopman, R., Gijsen, A.P., et al. (2008). Protein co-ingestion stimulates muscle protein synthesis during resistance-type exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 295:E70-E77.

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