We all know protein is the single most important building block of muscle growth. But, amazingly, science is only now discovering exactly how much protein we should be getting and—just as important—when we should be getting it.
Learn these four essential strategies, the who-what-why-and-how of protein, and you'll ensure maximum muscle growth.
Step 1: What Types?
Mix it up: beef, pork, chicken, seafood, tofu, even hemp seed, which has more protein by weight than any other veggie source. Variety is not only more fun, it also feeds muscles with a good medley of micronutrients and aminos. If you’re the type who insists on bang for the buck, opt for foods that rank highest by protein-to-weight ratio: lean beef, tuna, chicken breasts, and whey.
Step 2: When?
Let’s say your weight puts your ideal protein intake at 140 grams per day. Research suggests there is likely a threshold for protein, and your muscles can use it only in small batches. You should divide your daily intake into four servings. In this scenario, that’s 35 grams per meal—breakfast, lunch, dinner—and a fourth snack right before bed. Also— and this is important—at least one of these meals should immediately follow a workout (see Step 4).
Step 3: How Much?
Disregard the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA), which suggests 0.36 grams of protein per day, per pound of body weight. At 160 pounds, for example, that’s 58 grams, or roughly one large chicken breast. That’s not enough. Increase it to at least 109 grams, or 0.68 grams per pound. If you’re in the gym daily and trying to bulk up, up to one gram per pound of body weight is OK.
Step 4: Anything Else?
Yes, at 90% protein, whey tops the supplements—and even whole foods like steak and salmon—in protein density and also digests faster. So pairing a whey smoothie with a workout is a no-brainer. Thirty to 90 minutes after exercise, get 35 to 40 grams of it. (Mix it into a smoothie with berries, banana, honey, and milk.) Timing’s essential: Post-workout, your body sucks up protein like a sponge and converts it to new muscle almost twice as fast as other times.