Should you eat protein with every meal?

Q&A: Should protein be included in every meal?

Yeah, it’d be a good idea to include a good portion of protein with every meal.

The reason why is because protein doesn’t have a way of really storing in our body—except as muscle. (2006 article)

When you eat carbs, some get stored as glycogen, and fats get stored as body fat/adipose tissue.

But when you eat protein, it mainly either goes through a process of muscle protein synthesis (MPS) which adds the protein to your muscle, or your body burns it off.

Your body’s muscle is continually going through a process of building muscle through muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and breaking down muscle tissue through muscle protein breakdown (MPB).

Old or damaged protein in muscle will need to be broken down and replaced, and this process of muscle protein breakdown and rebuilding through muscle protein synthesis helps to keep the muscle optimally healthy.

So what happens when you don’t eat enough protein?

Well, when there isn’t enough new protein coming in through your diet to replace the muscle, the process of muscle protein breakdown will still happen.

Plus, your body will still need the amino acids found in protein for other things like in your skin, brain, heart, and more. (2006 article)

So the body will go through a process called autophagy, which means “self-devouring”, to recycle those proteins from muscle to the things in your body that are essential for living.

So if you aren’t eating enough protein, your body take the protein amino acids from your muscle and deliver it to the body’s essential needs to live. Losing that muscle mass will make you weaker and less resilient in the future.

In fact, this is a problem many people trying to lose weight run into because eating less food is correlated with eating less protein. So if you’re trying to get leaner and burn fat, it’s key to focus on getting enough protein.

But what about including protein in every meal?

Eating protein with every single meal is the best way to ensure you get enough protein since it’s hard to eat a lot of protein in one sitting because it’s very satiating—meaning it makes you feel full. To highlight this, imagine eating only one meal a day, there’d be no way that you could eat all whole day’s worth of protein in one meal (unless you’re a competitive eater or something.)

Plus, eating protein spaced out throughout the day will help your body use protein in the most efficient way through optimizing the process of muscle protein synthesis.

How can you optimize muscle protein synthesis?

Lifting weights and eating lots of protein makes it so that there’s more change in muscle protein synthesis rather than in muscle protein breakdown. It also seems like exercising tells the muscle that it’s not “full” yet, and it should take in more protein to repair and build. (study, 2016 review, 2018 article)

So to maximize your muscle, which is essential for health, strength, and getting bigger and stronger, you’ll want to make sure that you’re steadily providing your body with the protein amino acids it needs to do muscle protein synthesis.

Getting bigger and stronger is another reason why lifting weights is so healthy. You are increasing your storage of protein amino acids that are essential to live. That extra storage will help put you in a better position if you get sick and can’t eat as much, get into an accident, or as you age.

Eat protein with every meal every few hours

Research seems to show that eating meals with protein spaced out by 3-5 hours, is the best way to optimize muscle protein synthesis.

In a 2018 study by Dr Schoenfeld and Alan Aragon, they said that after reviewing the evidence, it seems like 0.4 g/kg/meal (0.18g/lb/meal) at a minimum would be best for maximally stimulating muscle protein synthesis and you could do it four times throughout the day.

For example, let’s say someone was 180 pounds (82kg); he’d shoot to eat at least 32g of protein per meal to trigger muscle protein synthesis. If he ate a meal every 3-5 hours, he’d trigger MPS four times throughout the day.

And in a 2014 study, researchers compared eating protein spaced out in every meal versus mainly getting protein at dinner.

The first group had 30g of protein for breakfast, 30g for lunch, and 30g for dinner. The second group ate 10g of protein for breakfast, 15g for lunch, and 65g for dinner.

The group that split up a good amount of protein with every meal had 25% better muscle protein synthesis! That’s a pretty amazing finding, especially given how hard it is to build muscle and how expensive protein is. Just making the switch to spread out our daily protein with every meal could be a huge help in terms of results.

The researchers thought that based on the evidence that having even more protein with every meal could be smart. They believed that having 40g of protein at breakfast, lunch, and dinner could do even better.

Summary:

  • Protein is essential to live, and getting enough will help you become and stay strong while making you healthier and more robust
  • Your muscle acts as a way of storing protein in your body.
    • So if you don’t eat enough protein your body will use your muscle to get the amino acids it needs, and you’ll become weaker and smaller
  • You can increase muscle protein synthesis by lifting weights, and eating enough protein
    • Muscle protein synthesis is the process of converting protein into your muscles
  • Try and eat protein with every meal, about every 3–5 hours, to optimize muscle protein synthesis
  • Aim to eat at least 0.4g/bodyweight kg (0.18/bodyweight pound) of protein at each meal
    • For an 180 pound (82kg) man, that’d be a minimum of 32g per meal

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