After training, our body goes through a structured process in order to repair the muscular tissue. Everyone needs protein for proper recovery and physiological regeneration. However, it is important to understand the basic essential of how protein is used within the body as well, not just after training. This article will be discussing what quality protein is, protein deficiency, and recommendations for the active individual.
Proteins are utilized in the body for muscular development and cellular maintenance (Schiff, 2009). I find it absolutely amazing that there are an estimated 100,000 proteins in the body that provide a variety of functions (Schiff, 2009). Pretty much everything in the body holds a protein compound from muscle, skin, blood, nerves, ligaments, hair, nails, bones, and more! That is a lot of protein! So let's just say it now, your body needs protein to survive!
In a nutshell, protein holds the ability (depending on which one) to make or function in physiological processes throughout the body. Here are just a few functions: make new cells, enzymes, lubricant, antibodies, helps maintain fluid and pH balance, and more! A protein is beneficial for endurance and resistance training athletes but also for general daily living as well. This biomolecule is essential for body composition and contains a variety of amino acids that are used for cellular function.
High-Quality (complete) Protein: contains all 9 essential amino acids.
Low-Quality (incomplete) Protein: lacks or holds inadequate amounts of essential amino acids.
It is important to consider the "quality" of the protein when determining your food source. It is well documented that high-quality proteins are well digested and absorbed in the body (Schiff, 2009). As for low-quality proteins, they lack the adequate amount of essential amino acids. This can likely to reduce the ability to help with repair and maintenance of the soft tissue (Schiff, 2009). As for growing individuals (children and adolescents), protein is needed to continue the maturation process. If an individual does not consume enough protein, they may experience protein deficiency.
So... can you have too little protein? OH YEAH! This is called protein-energy malnutrition. A variety of undeveloped countries have a high prevalence of protein deficiency, which is super sad. An individual who may have a protein deficiency may experience severe weight loss, 60 to 80% of their recommended bodyweight based on age, skin lesions, impaired appetite, and more (Sizer & Whitney, 2011). It is important to consume protein and make sure you are getting enough so that your body continues to repair and maintain development of the tissues.
There are variety of ways to determine what is an appropriate amount of protein for an individual to consume. Factors that need to be considered are training frequency, current state of lean muscle mass, caloric intake, and goals to name a few. As this article will focus on fitness training and protein consumption, I will discuss the recommendations of protein before, during, and after training.
Protein Before Training
The protein consumed before training may decrease catabolic states and increase protein synthesis in the muscle tissue (Fink & Mikesky, 2015). It is important to allow enough time for protein to be absorbed into the bloodstream before training. It has been recommended that 1 to 4 hours before training is essential (Fink & Mikesky, 2015). As big meal is not recommended prior to training, I recommend each individual should trial their pre-training fueling to determine the appropriate quantity and time. If you are going into a competition or event, you shouldn't consume a high amount for the first time. Test it out a few times before making a final decision!
Protein During Training
It has been documented that when the body goes through a training session, the sympathetic nervous system will increase activity. As the sympathetic nervous system activity is increased, this exerts an inhibitory effect upon gastrointestinal muscles and provides an inhibitory influence over mucosal secretion (Browning & Travagli, 2014). This also regulates gastrointestinal blood flow via neurally mediated vasoconstriction (Browning & Travagli, 2014). It is not fully understood of what amount proteins can help improve performance during training. Studies have looked how BCAA's supplements can assist in performance during training but there is little evidence supporting the claims that BCAA are the way to go during training. Just remember, your digestive system is slightly "deactivated" during training but still warrants a form of movement during training. In other words, it does not "shut off".
Protein After Training
Now lets discuss the critical time to consume protein! After training! The consumption of nutrient- and protein-dense foods can stimulate muscle anabolism which is essential for post-training recovery (Vliet et al, 2017). The result of positive muscle protein balance following training evolves the formation of an anabolic state (Fink & Mikesky, 2015). If an individual does not consume enough protein following a training session, an individual will develop and maintain a negative nitrogen balance (Kerksick et al, 2018). This signals a catabolic state and can alter recovery by slowing it down (Kerksick et al, 2018). Although the exact amount is highly dependable on the factors listed above, as little as 6 grams of essential amino acids has been shown to increase protein synthesis (Fink & Mikesky, 2015). It is also important to understand that more is not always better. If your body does not need the protein, it transitions into a fat which will be stored. Therefore, it is critical to get the ideal amount of protein in the body to regulate body composition without any protein going to waste.
I hope you were able to learn a few things by reading this article. As this was a general understanding of protein, it is essential to realize how important protein is. Not only is protein important prior, during, and after training, it is fundamental to know that quality protein is key. Although there a variety of cases that too much protein is detrimental to health, it is still unexplored. Protein deficiency has been a known issue for decades along with malnutrition. Just remember, next time you are eating... did you select a quality protein which will help repair and maintain muscular development?
Browning, K. N., & Travagli, R. A. (2014). Central nervous system control of gastrointestinal motility and secretion and modulation of gastrointestinal functions. Compr Physiol, 4(4): 1339-1368.
Fink, H. H., & Mikesky, A. E. (2015). Practical applications in sports nutrition. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning.
Kerksick, C. M., Wilborn, C. D., Roberts, M. D., Smith-Ryan, A., Kleiner, S. M., ... Kreider, R. B. (2018). ISSN exercise & sport nutrition review update: research & recommendations. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 15(38), 1-57.
Schiff, W. J . (2009). Nutrition for healthy living. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Sizer, F. S, & Whitney, E. (2011). Nutrition: Concepts and controversies. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.
Vliet, V. S., Shy, E. L., Sawan, A. S., Beals, J. W., West, D. W, ... Burd, N. A. (2017). Consumption of whole eggs promotes greater stimulation of postexercise muscle proteinsynthesis than consumption of isonitrogenous amounts of egg whites in young men. Am J Clin Nutr, 106(6), 1401-1412.
Dane Bartz, MS, CSCS