Keys to Building Muscle are Intake, Timing and Distribution of Protein

SONY DSCMany individuals work hard in the gym, lifting the appropriate amount of weight to progressively overload their muscles, get plenty of sleep and may even do well with the big piece of the puzzle, nutrition. But they still have trouble building lean muscle mass. It is important to realize that you’re first in a constant battle to preserve the amount of muscle you currently have. Preventing sarcopenia can be a serious challenge for the majority of people especially after age 40. You might be getting in 2-3 strength training sessions each week, eating adequate protein with a balanced diet and taking in an additional 500 calories a day needed to build new muscle. But all the hard work your’e currently doing in terms of strength training and diet may only be enough to maintain your lean muscle level; not build additional muscle. If you’re still having trouble adding a few pounds of lean muscle, look at the amount of protein you’re consuming as well as when and how the protein is distributed throughout your day.

Research has demonstrated that it is important to take in adequate protein every three hours on your strength training days. A 2013 study by Areta and colleagues, published in the Journal of Physiology, showed that subjects who consumed 20 grams of whey protein every 3-hours over a 12-hour period, following a single-bout of strength training, showed superior results for stimulating muscle protein synthesis. Their total protein intake during the study was 80 grams (like the other two groups of subjects) but the key differences were the timing and distribution pattern of the whey protein. The findings of this novel study were:

“the results from the current study provide new information demonstrating that the timing and distribution of protein ingestion is a key factor in maximally stimulating rates of MPS (myofibril protein synthesis) throughout an entire day.”

“this study emphasizes that the timing of protein intake is a separate variable and a crucial factor in the development of optimal nutritional strategies to maintain and/or enhance peak muscle mass in humans.”


Areta JL, Burke LM, Ross ML et al. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. Journal of Physiology 591(9):2319–2331



  • michael wood says:

    Excellent points – from what I saw the paper did not hit on that (evening use). But I’m also sure upping your protein intake in a similar distribution patter to meet your needs would also be advantageous. Have also seen a great deal of research that points to taking whey prior to bedtime as a positive move.

  • Phil Nash says:

    Interesting – especially after the post-workout protein window was recently de-emphasised.

    What’s not clear, though, is how we can take advantage of this information if we do our strength training in the evening (as I do – it’s my only opportunity – I still leave a clear 3 hours before bedtime, though)? Does the 12-hour window exclude time spent sleeping, or is the opportunity lost?

    I usually have a slow-release protein shake before bed, so perhaps that has a similar effect?

    I’m not expecting you to have an absolute answer, btw. That’s the trouble with these studies – they’re usually very narrowly defined – leaving questions like this outside the scope of what they cover. But you might be able to take an educated guess 🙂

    (personally I’m still primarily catabolic at the moment, but expect to bottom out on my weight loss in the next 2-3 months and shift to a more anabolic mode).

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