by Jeff S. Volek, Ph.D., R.D.
Boost muscle building by 25% if you balance your protein intake at each meal
A lot of effort has been placed on comparing different protein sources and amounts, but new research has identified another important variable to consider – distribution of protein across meals. Most people consume their largest meal at dinner containing approximately 3 times more calories than breakfast. Researchers recently questioned whether such an unequal (skewed) distribution of protein is optimal or whether a more balanced approach with equal protein at breakfast, lunch and dinner would be preferred.
Healthy men and women were fed two identical diets each for one week. The diets contained enough calories to maintain body weight and included approximately 90 grams of protein (1.2 grams per kilogram body weight). The only difference was that during one week, protein was distributed evenly at breakfast (30g), lunch (30g) and dinner (30g), whereas the other week it contained less protein at breakfast (10g) and lunch (15g) and more at dinner (65g).
On days 1 and 7 of each diet, muscle protein synthesis was measured after breakfast and over a 24-hour period. The muscle protein synthesis response to breakfast when protein was distributed evenly (30g) was 30% higher than when protein was skewed (10g). When muscle protein synthesis was measured over the entire day, it remained significantly higher (about 25%) when protein was distributed evenly versus skewed. In other words, the large amount of protein consumed at dinner during the skewed trial did not make up for the reduced response to breakfast. These results suggest that a more favorable response in muscle protein synthesis can be achieved when total protein intake is balanced across three meals as opposed to consuming the majority at one meal. Reference: Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, Casperson SL, Arentson-Lantz E, Sheffield-Moore M, Layman DK, Paddon-Jones D. Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults. J Nutr. 2014 Jan 29. [Epub ahead of print]