2016 has been a great year for the development of nutrition in the world of bodybuilding and improving body composition. Below I’ll outline what we’ve learnt from the science and how you can implement the changes into your diet in order to really make the most out of your training this year.
First off I think its worth mentioning that training is still undoubtedly the most important thing if you want to put on muscle. So, assuming you’ve got your programme nailed down then we’ll get straight into the nutrition.
If you’re still doing ‘bro splits’ (Back/biceps, chest/triceps, legs/shoulders) then you probably haven’t got your programme nailed down and you need to go back to the studies and get your nose out of ‘Muscle and Fitness’ or ‘Men’s Health’.
This paper published in December 2016 by Stuart M Phillips brought the evidence together into one smart review, the key points being:
- A number of lines of evidence show that ingestion of supplemental protein during a program of resistance training can augment the hypertrophic and strength responses.
Ok, so you already knew that supplemental protein was important for muscle gain, don’t worry it gets better.
- It has been shown that only the indispensable amino acids (IAA) are required for the stimulation of muscle protein synthesis (MPS). Of the IAA a position of prominence belongs to leucine as an amino acid that acts as a signalling molecule to stimulate MPS, as well as being a building block for protein.
Although the research around leucine being the most important amino acid for the stimulation of MPS has been around for a few years now, it’s still not really mainstream and most gym bro’s still believe that insulin is the key factor to trigger MPS.
- The result…is that leucinemia (and subsequently intracellular leucine concentration) following protein ingestion is a more likely determinant of muscle protein accretion than total protein alone.
In other words, spreading out your high protein meals from leucine rich sources throughout the day instead of a huge protein feeding at the end of the day or after training seems to be the best way to go since you increase MPS at more regular intervals throughout the day.
- In relation to the leucine trigger thesis, it appears that the elderly have a greater leucine threshold and thus require greater levels of protein/leucine to stimulate MPS both at rest and following resistance exercise.
For the older person, whether training or not, it is important to increase your protein intake from leucine rich sources to maintain or increase muscle mass. As you get older nutrition can become more and more important.
So the big question is how much leucine do you need to consume?
There appears to be a leucine threshold, which is the level at which leucine has an effect on MPS. Although I cannot find any clear figures in the studies, between 2.5 and 4.4g of leucine appears to have the desired effect. Those figures come from reading Layne Norton’s work, if you don’t know who he is, first of all shame on you and second of all go and find out. His dissertation for his PhD was titled: ‘Leucine is a critical factor determining protein quantity and quality of a complete meal to initiate muscle protein synthesis’. So he knows a thing or two about leucine and MPS.
Since the purpose of Stuart M Phillips review was to examine the effects of protein quality in supplementation on changes in muscle mass and strength as well as body composition it would be useful to mention those findings.
As we’ve established above leucine is the most important factor in increasing MPS. I think it can therefore be assumed that ensuring your selected protein source has a good leucine content and the quantity consumed is above the leucine threshold would be favourable for increases in muscle mass.
Leucine content in common foods:
You can also find a huge list of foods and their leucine content right here
The next big question. How much protein do we need per serving?
A study done last year (in trained males) tested the previously accepted idea that 20-25g whey protein post workout was optimal to trigger maximal stimulation of MPS. The researchers found the following results:
Our data indicate that ingestion of 40 g whey protein following whole‐body resistance exercise stimulates a greater MPS response than 20 g in young resistance‐trained men.
What about protein timing?
Most ‘bro’s’ believe that in order to increase MPS they need to be getting in their protein shake as soon as possible after training. To quote one bodybuilder I follow:
‘You should be shaking your shake at the same time as you are shaking your **** in the shower after training’.
I can’t remember exactly what he said but it was along those lines and he was actually being sarcastic because he knows much better, but it still stuck in my head.
A recent paper published this month by the holy trinity of Brad Schoenfeld, Alan Aragon and James Krieger et al. tested the anabolic window theory where the assumption is that consuming protein immediately after exercise is the key to getting massive.
The authors proposed that the interval for consumption may be as wide as 5-6 hours after exercise depending on the timing of the pre-workout meal; the closer a meal is consumed prior to exercise, the larger the post-workout window of opportunity.
The anabolic window appears to be more of a barn door.
So stop worrying that you’ve forgotten your protein shake, chill out and have it when you get home, or later if you want.
Following the research last year and early this year here are my guidelines for maximising your muscular gains:
- Look to eat leucine rich, high protein meals multiple times per day in order to stimulate MPS throughout the day.
- Hit the leucine threshold with each meal. Between 2.5 and 4.4g.
- Stop stressing yourself out about missing the ‘anabolic window’ it’s larger than you think. Saying that, however, the earlier you start with your recovery from exercise with good nutrition the better, if you can get your protein shake/meal in soon after training you should still do so, especially if you are training multiple times per day.
- Consume larger protein meals; 40g appears to have a greater effect than 20-25g when looking to gain muscle mass.