New Study Challenges Conventional Wisdom on Protein Consumption

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You’ve probably heard the conventional wisdom: above a certain threshold (usually classified as about 25 grams of protein at a time), the body cannot synthesize more protein. Thus, protein must be isolated to optimize muscle protein synthesis. Combine that synthesis cap with some recommendations for relatively high daily amounts of protein, especially for aging athletes, and protein intake can seem like a chore. Brush my teeth, walk the dog, and eat protein at predictable intervals.

A new study published on December 19 in Cell Reports Medicine led by Jorn Trommelen challenges conventional wisdom, and it can disrupt how we think about protein consumption. The authors summarize the current state of research:

“Dose-response studies have reported that ingesting 2025 g of protein is sufficient to maximize postexercise rates of muscle protein synthesis in healthy young adults. No further increase on rates of muscle protein synthesis when more protein is consumed Higher protein intake does not increase anabolic signaling and excess amino acids are suggested to be oxidized. Because of this, it is currently advised to distribute protein intake evenly throughout the day, with each main meal providing no more than 2025 g of protein.

The authors raise doubts about the limits of protein synthesis when considering other species. While this makes sense based on common dietary intake patterns in humans, they said, it seems at odds with the feeding habits of many species in nature that consume large amounts of food infrequently. They cite snakes, which can consume more than 25% of their body mass in one meal, leading to prolonged digestion and protein synthesis for 10 days. And only 5% of that protein is directed to amino acid oxidation. I personally think that every study should be required to mention snakes.

Their hypothesis centers on the limitations of previous studies, which, in their eyes, simply require a longer time horizon or higher doses. According to the researchers, previous studies were limited to 45 grams of protein and 6 hours in duration. Perhaps 45 grams is not enough to get to the bottom of the protein synthesis question. As we know from snakes, protein synthesis can theoretically remain high for a significantly longer period after consumption. From now on, I just want to consume massive amounts of snake science.

RELATED: Signs You May Want to Increase Your Protein

New Methods of Protein Study

To test the hypothesis, researchers had participants complete resistance training consisting of five minutes of easy cycling, followed by four sets of 10 reps of the following exercises:

  • leg press machine,
  • leg extension,
  • the lat pulldown,
  • and the pressing of the chest.

This is a demanding routine, with the first set at 65% of their one rep max, followed by subsequent sets at 80% of 1 rep max until volitional fatigue. Participants received strong verbal encouragement to push through the fatigue barrier. You haven’t lived until you’ve imagined a post-doc yelling YOU ARE A BEAUTIFUL AND STRONG UNICORN to a study participant doing leg presses.

36 beautiful unicorn subjects (all male, hence the horn) received three different protein conditions:

  • placebo
  • 25 grams of milk protein
  • 100 grams of milk protein

The milk protein comes from a lactating Holstein cow, which is labeled with an isotope marker for tracking. That milk is processed into protein concentrate, all combined with IV amino acid tracers. I could not love this study more than I do now.

The researchers collected 13 blood samples over the next 12 hours, including four muscle biopsies. If a researcher were to pick me up often, they would first have to buy me a drink, ideally containing milk protein from an isotope-infused, lactating Holstein cow.

RELATED: 6 Signs Your Protein Intake Is Too Low

Scientific studies show that athletes can synthesize more protein

What Science Says

Here’s the catch: the researchers found that “the anabolic response to protein ingestion has no apparent upper limit in magnitude and duration. in vivo to man.” The 100-gram protein condition resulted in greater amino acid availability and muscle protein synthesis, approximately 30% higher over 12 hours than the 25-gram test. Methodological key is a 12-hour sampling window that allows researchers to see long-term responses. While anabolic responses increased in the first 4 hours (approximately 20%), the most significant elevation was in hours 4-12 (approximately 40%). As the authors say:

These data support our hypothesis that even large amounts of dietary protein are effectively used to support postprandial tissue anabolism but require a longer time for complete protein digestion and amino acid absorption to be available for incorporation into tissues.

I am deeply offended whenever anyone treats data as a plural word. We get it; you have a Ph.D., and I don’t.

The next search centered on amino acid oxidation. Work on protein metabolism assumes that the two fates of amino acids are: (1) they are incorporated into tissues (protein synthesis) or (2) they are catabolized (amino acid oxidation, which may be a sign of excess protein). (Also can be amino acids temporarily increase the tissue-free amino acid pool, which the authors discuss in other calculations.) There is no disproportionate increase in amino acid oxidation at higher protein levels.

Amino acid oxidation rates are negligible when expressed relative to increased rates of whole-body protein synthesis, although the raw numbers are higher with increased protein intake. In this study, amino acid oxidation does not appear to be the storage closet of excess protein, where the body can forget about it like an old pair of Hokas.

The authors conclude the paper with some ambitious statements. Dietary guidelines in both health and disease generally recommend an equal distribution of daily protein requirements among the main foods to support muscle anabolism, they said. These recommendations are based entirely on the belief that the muscle protein synthetic response to ingestion of a protein bolus has a ceiling and is short-lived. The findings support greater flexibility in feeding patterns to enhance muscle anabolism.

RELATED: The Science of Carbohydrate and Protein Supplementation for Minimizing Muscle Damage

Implications for Protein Studies

I can’t get over how cool this study is. Click on the study and see the numbers. You know how you can have spaghetti and know it’s made with love by a chef who really thinks a lot about pasta? That’s how I feel about those figures.

Let’s wrap this up with one last quote that may indicate the importance of the findings for our daily lives. In particular, the authors say, we show that the ingestion of a large amount of protein is followed by a prolonged anabolic response, which will prevent the need to eat another protein-rich meal in close temporal proximity. .

Do you find yourself low on protein? Extrapolating from this study, maybe you can do what I sometimes suggest to athletes (but only say publicly now): every once in a while, double that scoop of protein and get on with your life. don’t worry about the timing of the protein.

RELATED: What Kind of Protein Should Runners Eat?

Or maybe not. There are still a ton of unanswered questions, and this study will face a lot of critical scrutiny from experts, particularly in relation to previous research. I am far from a nutrition expert and may need some important context, facts, implications, or criticisms. Above all, breakthroughs like this need to be replicated, and we’re not there yet. Plus, there are many unanswered questions.

How does milk protein intake affect the findings? How about putting 100 grams against more spaced protein doses, like 33-33-33 or 25-25-25-25? What are the compensatory mechanisms in acute doses of protein over chronic ones? Are the findings different for different ages? What about activity levels? Is it relevant for runners or more so for weightlifters? How does this translate to recovery and adaptation? Does gender matter? Athletic or nutrition history?

Perhaps just beginning a new frontier of research. For now, I just want to draw your attention to a really cool study that challenges conventional wisdom. I can’t wait to see what’s next.

David Roche partners with runners of all abilities through his coaching service, Some Work, All Play. Along with Megan Roche, MD, she hosts the Some Work, All Play podcast on running (and other things), and they answer training questions in a bonus podcast and science newsletter in their Patreon page starting at $5 a month.


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