More Muscle = More Protein? Not Necessarily

Scientists at the University of Stirling are challenging the long-held belief that the greater your muscle mass, the more protein you require post-exercise.


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In a study conducted by health and exercise scientists from Scotland’s University for Sporting Excellence, it was found that there was no difference between larger and smaller participants in muscle growth response to protein after a full body workout. In other words, big or small, protein for all.


Consuming 40 grams of protein post-exercise was more effective at stimulating muscle growth than 20 grams. This increase occurred irrespective of the size of the participants. So while bigger muscles may not necessarily require more protein, the study affirms that this macronutrient remains essential to muscle growth and recovery post-exercise.


Kevin Tipton, Professor of Sport, Health and Exercise Science in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Sport, explained the experiment: “There is a widely-held assumption that larger athletes need more protein, with nutrition recommendations often given in direct relation to body mass. In our study, participants completed a bout of whole-body resistance exercise, where earlier studies – on which protein recommendations are based – examined the response to leg-only exercise. This difference suggests the amount of muscle worked in a single session has a bigger impact on the amount of protein needed afterwards, than the amount of muscle in the body.”


How much protein should we eat after exercise? Credit: University of Stirling
How much protein should we eat after exercise? Credit: University of Stirling


In fact, experts say a whole host of factors need to be considered when recommending the amount of protein needed for muscle growth – not just the physical size of the individual. The type of workout and the age and sex of a person are all critical considerations.


“In order for nutritionists to recommend the correct amount of protein we first need to consider specific demands of the workout, regardless of athletes’ size. This throws commonly held recommendations into question and suggests the amount of protein our muscles need after exercise may be dependent on the type of workout performed. These results are limited to younger, trained men so we may see different results with other groups, such as older individuals or females digesting different amounts of protein,” Tipton concluded.



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More information: Lindsay S. Macnaughton et al. The response of muscle protein synthesis following whole‐body resistance exercise is greater following 40 g than 20 g of ingested whey protein, Physiological Reports (2016). DOI: 10.14814/phy2.12893