Portion of protein every three hours is best for muscle building


Bodybuilders and other athletes who do weight training a couple of times a week build up muscle best if they take a portion of protein every three hours during the day. Dividing the portions in this way works better than taking protein every hour and a half or every six hours. Researchers at Nestle write about it in Nutrition & Metabolism.

Nutritionists need no convincing: strength athletes make faster progress if they consume more protein. There’s less known however about the effect of different sorts of protein and the effects of the intervals at which the protein is ingested. Daniel Moore, a nutritionist at the Nestle Research Centre in Lausanne, Switzerland and at the University of Guelph in Canada, is interested in the latter subject.

Moore performed experiments with 24 young men, all of whom did strength training 4-6 times a week. He got them to train their legs on a leg extension machine in his laboratory early in the morning before breakfast. After warming up with 5 sets at 60-70 percent of their 1RM, the men then performed 4 sets of 10 reps at 80 percent of their 1RM.

In the 12 hours following the training the men were given 80 g whey isolate. The BOLUS group were given 2 portions of 40 g whey – so one portion every six hours.

Another group, the INT group, were given a 20-g portion of whey every three hours, so they had four portions spread over the 12-hour period.

Yet another group, the PULSE group, were given a 10-g portion of whey isolate every one and a half hours. So in the 12-hour period the PULSE group were given eight portions of protein.

The synthesis of proteins in the leg muscle was higher the more the subjects spread out their protein intake. The same was true though for the breakdown of muscle protein too. In the end it was the athletes who had ingested a portion of protein every three hours who built up a little more muscle protein than the athletes in the other groups.





The difference in net muscle increase between the three groups was subtle. The difference was not statistically significant, but then the study was also small. With a larger number of subjects there may well have been a significant difference. Moore believes that his results are therefore of interest to athletes.

“Whole-body protein balance tended to be greatest with moderate 20g feedings every 3h, which may have implications for individuals aiming to enhance whole-body anabolism including lean body mass accrual with training”, he writes. “Collectively, our data highlight that the acute pattern, and not only the total amount, of ingested protein should be considered when determining feeding strategies to alter whole-body protein metabolism.”

Moore’s test subjects were young. There are indications that people react better to infrequent ingestion of large amounts of protein as they get older. So it may well be that the over fifties or over sixties who do weight training react better to the BOLUS intervals rather than the INT intervals.

Daytime pattern of post-exercise protein intake affects whole-body protein turnover in resistance-trained males.

Moore DR, Areta J, Coffey VG, Stellingwerff T, Phillips SM, Burke LM, Cléroux M, Godin JP, Hawley JA.

Nestlé Research Centre, Nestec Ltd, Lausanne, Switzerland. moore.daniel.r@gmail.com.



The pattern of protein intake following exercise may impact whole-body protein turnover and net protein retention. We determined the effects of different protein feeding strategies on protein metabolism in resistance-trained young men.


Participants were randomly assigned to ingest either 80g of whey protein as 8x10g every 1.5h (PULSE; n=8), 4x20g every 3h (intermediate, INT; n=7), or 2x40g every 6h (BOLUS; n=8) after an acute bout of bilateral knee extension exercise (4×10 repetitions at 80% maximal strength). Whole-body protein turnover (Q), synthesis (S), breakdown (B), and net balance (NB) were measured throughout 12h of recovery by a bolus ingestion of [15N]glycine with urinary [15N]ammonia enrichment as the collected end-product.


PULSE Q rates were greater than BOLUS (~19%, P<0.05) with a trend towards being greater than INT (~9%, P=0.08). Rates of S were 32% and 19% greater and rates of B were 51% and 57% greater for PULSE as compared to INT and BOLUS, respectively (P<0.05), with no difference between INT and BOLUS. There were no statistical differences in NB between groups (P=0.23); however, magnitude-based inferential statistics revealed likely small (mean effect±90%CI; 0.59±0.87) and moderate (0.80±0.91) increases in NB for PULSE and INT compared to BOLUS and possible small increase (0.42±1.00) for INT vs. PULSE.


We conclude that the pattern of ingested protein, and not only the total daily amount, can impact whole-body protein metabolism. Individuals aiming to maximize NB would likely benefit from repeated ingestion of moderate amounts of protein (~20g) at regular intervals (~3h) throughout the day.

PMID: 23067428 [PubMed] PMCID: PMC3514209

Source: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23067428