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 get and—just as important—when we should get 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 140g per day. Research suggests there’s 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 35g 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, which suggests .36g of protein per day, per pound of bodyweight. At 160lbs, for example, that’s 58g, or roughly one large chicken breast. That’s not enough. Increase it to at least 109g, or .68g per pound. If you’re in the gym daily and trying to bulk up, up to 1g per pound of bodyweight.
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 35-40g 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.