Post Workout Protein


Hi Brad,

When it comes to how much protein I should eat for muscle building I was wondering if you could tell me what the difference is between ‘whole body protein synthesis’ & ‘mean muscle protein synthesis’?

For instance, I am really interested in the benefits of drinking a protein shake during my workouts since the guy who I buy my protein from said this would help me build muscle.

However, I'm a little worried since I just read this following quote:

"During subsequent overnight recovery, whole-body protein synthesis was 19% greater in the protein group compared to the placebo group (P < 0.05).

However, mean muscle protein synthesis rates during 9 h of overnight recovery did not differ between groups and were 0.056 ± 0.004%/h in the protein group and 0.057 ± 0.004%/h in the placebo group (P = 0.89).

We conclude that, even in a fed state, protein and carbohydrate supplementation stimulates muscle protein synthesis during exercise.

Ingestion of protein with carbohydrate during and immediately after exercise improves whole-body protein synthesis but does not further augment muscle protein synthesis rates during 9 h of subsequent overnight recovery."

I find this REALLY confusing! Does this mean that the extra protein DIDN'T help these people build ANY extra muscle?


Thanks for the question and I understand your confusion - reading research can be extremely confusing, especially when you are only getting small quotes instead of the full study.

In that particular study what is being referenced is that fact that there are actually two different types of protein synthesis that you can measure in the human body.

"Whole body protein synthesis" is a measurement of the protein synthesis happening in your ENTIRE body. This includes things like your liver, heart, lungs, brain GI Track and your muscles. This measurement does not tell you WHICH part of your body the protein synthesis is happening in, just that it is happening.

"Muscle protein synthesis" is specifically measuring the amount of protein synthesis that is happening IN your skeletal muscle.

(As a side note, even Muscle Protein Synthesis can be further divded down into myofibrillar and sarcoplasmic protien synthesis.)

So from the example you posted above, it is obvious that the post workout protein shake increased whole body protein synthesis, but did not increase skeletal muscle protein synthesis, any differently from placebo, when measured over a long time period.

This seems like a highly unlikely finding considering the abundance of evidence showing that protein (specifically the Branched Chain Amino Acids) can indeed increase muscle protein synthesis and can help with the muscle building process (But as I discuss in How Much Protein, it does not do so in a never-ending dose dependent manner)

What is more likely occuring is that the 'spike' in muscle protein synthesis that occurs as a result of eating post-workout protein ends up being normalized when you measure for several hours instead of only for the 2-3 hours after a workout

The best analogy I can give you is this:

Have you ever had some hot headed driver try to speed his way through traffic? As soon as the light turns green he guns it off the line, getting 4 or 5 car lengths ahead of you, but ten minutes later when you're stopped at another stop light, you look beside you to see the same driver? Thats kind of what happens with post-workout protein.

No matter how fast you try to go, there are other controls (in this analogy they would be traffic lights, other traffic etc) that prevent the process of muscle protein synthesis from occuring at an massively increased rate.

You may be able to make some very quick gains in the MEASUREMENT of protein synthesis by taking protein after your workouts, but the end result is the slow sustained muscle growth that occurs with the combination of resistance training and adequate protein intake.

Bottom line - I still think post-workout protein helps with muscle growth, but I do not beleive that it's a magic bullet, nor do I think that 'post-workout' is some well-defined one or two hour window after your workout.

In fact, as I state in "How Much Protein" if you are training consistently 3 or more times per week, EVERY meal is a post-workout meal!

So while there does seem to be a benefit to following a high protein diet, no matter if your goal is gaining muscle or losing fat, the research remains inconclusive on post-workout protein. If the point of taking protein before, during, and after your workouts is to build muscle, then the research you quote seems to say that there would be no additional muscle building effect above that which would be found from a diet that is naturally high in protein.


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