Are You Getting All You Need From Protein?

To building muscle, it’s not enough to just consume lots of protein. You’ve got to make sure that protein contains the most important muscle-building amino acid of all. Here are four great ways to get it.

Protein plays a big role in building muscle mass. But what’s often lost among all the protein powder and beef is the fact that leucine, an amino acid found in many protein sources, plays a significant role in that muscle growth. The more leucine you have in your blood following a resistance training workout, the more muscle protein synthesis (muscle-building) that can take place.

I’m not suggesting you supplement with leucine only; the other amino acids are important, too. But I am strongly encouraging you to choose leucine-rich sources to get the most muscle-building bang for your buck.

Turn On Your Anabolic Switch

Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and of the 20 amino acids used by the human body, nine are considered essential (EAA). This means the only way to get them is through the foods we eat or the supplements we take.

protein

Of all the EAAs, leucine stands out because of its role in triggering muscle protein synthesis. Essentially, leucine acts like an anabolic switch: Once your body has access to enough of it, your cellular machinery is turned on and can start building and repairing your muscle fibers.

Of course, you need to do an adequate amount of resistance training for this to happen. But by combining your training with a good source of leucine-rich protein, you can maximize this muscle-building response.

How Much Leucine Is Enough?

Your body needs an estimated 3 grams of leucine to optimize the muscle-building response. The exact amount you need depends in part on your age, weight, and gender.[2] But, in general, most people need 25-35 grams of high-quality protein per meal to hit 3 grams of leucine. So, where do you get it?

1. Whey Protein

3 grams leucine per 25 grams protein

whey-protein

Whey protein contains more leucine per serving than any other protein source. Adding a scoop of whey protein powder to your post-workout shake is an easy way to give your body the leucine it needs.

2. Beef, Bottom Round Cut

1.8 grams leucine per 4-ounce serving

This lean cut of beef is also budget-friendly. Slowly simmer it in liquid, or use a marinade to help tenderize this tasty but tough meat.

3. Ricotta Cheese

1.5 grams per 1/2 cup

ricotta-cheese

Ricotta is made using the liquid whey left over from other cheese production. With all that whey, it’s automatically full of muscle-friendly leucine. But don’t wait for lasagna to get your ricotta fix! Use ricotta in smoothies, pancake batter, and dips. Mix it with chopped smoked fish and seasonings for an inspiring sandwich filling or cracker topping. Let your imagination run wild!

4. Soy Nuts

902 milligrams leucine per ounce

These crunchy dehydrated soybeans are one of the best plant-based sources of this muscle-making amino acid. Grab a handful for a snack, or toss them onto yogurt (also a source of leucine).

Ask The Nutrition Tactician: Should I Eat Before Bed?

A late-night snack can help you build muscle while you sleep. Just make sure it’s the right kind of snack.

It’s 6:30 in the evening and you’ve just finished a wonderful dinner with the family. In all likelihood, this may be the last time you eat until tomorrow. Okay, you might hit the cookie jar before bed, but you might not be thinking about nutrition. You just want a little snack.

But when you’re trying to build muscle or lose fat, cookies aren’t going to cut it. If you snack like that and then skip breakfast before starting your day, you’re making your body go 10—maybe as many as 14-15—hours without protein. Not a good idea. Here’s why.

Muscle Building 101

Your body builds new proteins and breaks down old ones 24 hours a day, a process known as protein turnover. The balance of these two processes over time is what determines whether you gain or lose muscle. If you want to build muscle, you need to build new protein. And guess what you need in order to do that? Yep, you need protein.

Having enough protein in your system enables muscle protein synthesis (MPS). MPS is when your body builds muscle (known as the “anabolic” state). Without enough protein, your body experiences muscle protein breakdown (MPB, also known as a “catabolic” state) when your body tears muscle down.

mps

A protein-rich meal and the proper bedtime snack can help keep your body in that muscle-building state. Missed meals, poor protein choices, and a midnight cookie may be keeping your body in a catabolic muscle-loss state.

Muscle Building During Sleep

People used to think that as they slept, their body converted everything they ate right before bed into fat. Not true. A Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise study found that if we eat protein-rich foods following a workout and before bed, they don’t become fat. They are used to increase rates of muscle protein synthesis.

When to Eat

But do you actually need a bedtime dose of protein? Remember, your body is constantly building up and breaking down muscle. The key to doing more building up than breaking down is to give your body a steady supply of protein. For the average person, that means eating a protein-rich meal or snack every 3-4 hours.

Of course, I don’t recommend setting your alarm to wake you up every 3 hours at night; good sleep is important to good health. But by grabbing a protein-rich snack right before bed, you give your body the fuel it needs to tilt the balance toward muscle creation.

Having said that, don’t use this as an excuse to dump extra calories into your day. Your late-night snack should help you reach, not exceed, your daily macro goals. And instead of choosing cookies (or, heaven forbid, junk food), choose snacks big on protein, low in carbs, and low on fats.

What to Eat

If, by chance, bedtime approaches, and you still haven’t met your carb or fat macros for the day, feel free to include them here. But protein is the priority. Protein sources such as casein or dairy products (which are mostly casein) are excellent options. Their slow-digesting nature keeps protein flowing into your system to extend muscle building and reduce muscle breakdown while you sleep.

If dairy doesn’t sit well with you, it might make sense to add healthy fats (avocado, oils, nut butters) to your bedtime meal, since these fats slow down digestion, too. If you’re like me and enjoy a sweet treat before bed (besides cookies, I mean), check out one of our many high-protein dessert recipes to get the job done!