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Should You Eat Protein Every 3 Hours?

If you want to gain muscle, listen up. A new study found that muscle growth might depend not only on how much protein you eat—but when you eat it.

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Timing is everything—especially when it comes to muscle growth. And while some exercise guidelines already suggest eating protein during or immediately after resistance training in order to build bulk,  a new study—published in Nutrition & Metabolism—wondered if your pattern of intake throughout the day matters too.

To get the lowdown on the best time to eat protein, researchers asked a group of men to do leg extensions, then follow one of three whey protein regimens: 10 grams every 1.5 hours; 20 grams every 3 hours; or 40 grams every 6 hours.

They found that the muscle building potential (also known as the net protein balance) of men who ate protein every 3 hours was moderately greater than the 6-hour group, and slightly better than the 1.5-hour group. And if this pattern of storing protein held up over the long run, it would eventually be “mirrored by gains in muscle mass,” said lead author Daniel Moore.

The study was only done for one day, so is it enough to justify changing your protein schedule? Possibly. The researchers pointed to other studies that showed less protein breakdown and more protein storage when people ate protein throughout the day. But the bottom line is to follow the current guidelines for protein intake, mixed with some common sense:

  • Eat enough protein during the day for your weight and activity levels.
  • Eat 20-25 grams protein during or immediately after your workout.
  • Spread the rest of the protein throughout the day to keep your body fueled at an even pace.

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