Protein timing and quantity for building muscle
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Protein timing and quantity for building muscle

Protein intake is essential for muscle synthesis and repair. The digestion process breaks down protein into amino acids, which are the building blocks of muscle and many other components of our body. We have explored protein quality in a previous article. Today we will focus on protein timing and quantity for building muscle.

How much protein in total?

The total protein requirement depends on many, many things. I won’t go into any detail in this article and just say the range is typically anywhere between 0.8 and 2 grams (g) of protein per kilogram (kg) of body weight.

How much protein per meal?

The optimal dose of protein for muscle repair seems to be about 0.25-0.30g of protein per kg of body weight per meal. This translates to 20-25g for most athletes. Larger doses do not provide further benefit and may cause excess oxidative stress and production of urea in the body.

How often?

Given that optimal protein dose we spoke later is relatively small compared to the daily requirement for most athletes, it would make sense that multiple frequent meals would be required. In fact, researchers have determined that 20g doses every 3 hours worked better for muscle protein synthesis than either lower doses taken more frequently or higher doses taken less frequently for the same amount of total protein.

The “magic” window

Old school bodybuilders think you have about 30 minutes after your workout to chug down a protein shake (or egg smoothie ala Rocky), otherwise you have missed your window of opportunity to get swole. However, researchers have found that the body is in a favourable anabolic (i.e. muscle building) state for up to 24-48 hours after exercise.

This is especially true for untrained individuals. Unfortunately, for trained athletes the portal of optimal muscle synthesis shortens to about 4 hours post-exercise. This means you still have time to go home and eat a meal after training.

What kind or protein?

In general, animal-based proteins and soy protein are the most bioavailable. Moreover, some proteins are digested quicker than others. Finally, leucine seems to be the king amino acid when it comes to stimulate post-exercise protein synthesis. Refer to my article on protein quality for more information.

Protein + exercise

Protein availability alone is not sufficient for muscle synthesis. In order to build muscle, you have to first break it. Exercise acts as a stimulus for muscle synthesis because it damages muscle tissues, which triggers the process of muscle repair.

It seems that the protein dose we mentioned earlier is independent on the type of exercise (i.e. resistance vs endurance).

What happens during sleep?

Two things that happen while we sleep are: we don’t eat and enter a catabolic state (i.e. we break down muscle). For these reasons, it might be smart to increase protein intake before bedtime to about twice as much than the rest of the meals (i.e. about 0.5g/kg body weight).

Sample meals

Below are several sample meals that contain around 20-30g protein. Note that different brands and portion sizes will make the numbers vary slightly, but this should give you a rough idea. Also, note that you should aim for higher doses (about 34% more) for foods that do not contain highly bioavailable protein (again, refer to my article on protein quality). The grams in parentheses is the amount of protein based on nutrition databases.

  • Eggs on toast (22.28g)
    • 2 large eggs, boiled (11.66g)
    • 2 slices Helga’s Continental Bakehouse Soy & Linseed (10.63g)
  • Cheese sandwich (20.78g)
    • 2 sandwich size slices cheddar cheese (9.97g)
    • 2 slices Helga’s Continental Bakehouse Soy & Linseed (10.63g)
    • 2 regular slices tomato (0.18g)
  • Yoghurt and peanut butter (21.28g)
    • 1 individual tub (160g) Danone Yopro Yoghurt Vanilla (15.20g)
    • 1 tbsp crunchy peanut butter, no added sugar or salt (6.08g)
  • Tuna and toast (23.16g)
    • 1 small can tuna in brine, drained (17.85g)
    • 1 slice Helga’s Continental Bakehouse Soy & Linseed (5.31g)
  • Toast with cottage cheese and tomato (20.32g)
    • 2 slices Helga’s Continental Bakehouse Soy & Linseed (10.63g)
    • 3 tbsp cottage cheese (9.33g)
    • 4 medium slices tomato (0.36g)
  • Avocado toast with poached egg and latte (22.13g)
    • 1 regular takeaway latte (8.62g)
    • 2 regular slices Sonoma Artisan Soudough Bakers Spelt Sourdough (5.81g)
    • 1/2 medium avocado (1.27g)
    • 1 large poached egg (6.43g)
  • Vegan avocado toast (20.07g)
    • 1 small takeaway soy latte (9.49g)
    • 2 regular slices Sonoma Artisan Soudough Bakers Spelt Sourdough (5.81g)
    • 1/2 medium avocado (1.27g)
    • 1 tbsp pumpkin seeds (3.50g)
  • Protein shake (28.05g)
    • 1 serve True Protein Whey Protein Isolate Natural (27.2g)
    • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries (0.16g)
    • 1/2 medium banana (0.69g)
    • water
  • Vegan protein shake (26.05g)
    • 1 serve True Protein Vegan Protein Blend (25.2g)
    • 1/4 cup frozen blueberries (0.16g)
    • 1/2 medium banana (0.69g)
    • water
  • Lentils + rice (20.56g)
    • 1 cup cooked lentils (18.50g)
    • 1/3 cup cooked brown rice (2.06g)
  • Chickpeas + quinoa + tahini (20.8g)
    • 1 cup canned chickpeas (10.87g)
    • 1 cup cooked quinoa (6.47g)
    • 1 tbsp tahini (3.46g)

Mail meals containing meat, fish or poultry will provide higher protein content. Below are some examples of protein content per 100g serve.

  • 100g grilled chicken breast (26.25g)
  • 100g baked chicken thigh (20.19g)
  • 100g grilled rump steak (23.90g)
  • 100g grilled lamb chop (28.10g)
  • 100g grilled pork loin chop (31.90g)
  • 100g cooked beef mince (30.00g)
  • 100g grilled salmon fillet (28.30g)


Most of the information from this article comes from Chapter 4 of the bible of sports nutrition, cited below:

Burke, Louise. Clinical Sports Nutrition, 5th Edition. McGraw-Hill Australia, 09/2015. VitalBook file.

Grams of protein were obtained in Xyris FoodWorks 10, with data from multiple sources, including AUSNUT, and data from manufacturers.

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