SportMedBC RunWalk Nutrition Tips - When Should We Eat Protein?

Protein Part II: When Should We Eat Protein?

By Cristina Sutter, SportMedBC RunWalk Dietitian

The timing of our protein intake throughout the day is just as important as how much protein we eat. Although most of us actually do get enough protein in a day, studies by the US Department of Agriculture, and more recently by Nielsen in Canada, have consistently found that we tend to eat most of our protein at dinner and have very little at lunch and almost none at breakfast. In doing so, we miss out on the opportunity to build muscle throughout the day by carb loading our daytime meals with cereal, bread, rice and crackers. Unfortunately, our bodies cannot store or use more protein than what is in a modest 3oz serving of chicken at one time, so our Costco sized portions of meat at dinner tend to get stored as fat. 

Several studies agree that consuming 25-30g protein at every meal maximizes muscle building in both young and older adults. We can get this much protein in:

  • 2 eggs + 1 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt and whole grain cereal
  • Sprouted grain bread ham sandwich
  • 1 can tuna
  • 1 small chicken breast

When it comes to timing protein around resistance workouts, we get the greatest muscle recovery benefits from taking a small amount of protein with carbohydrate within 30 minutes after exercise. Want to continue to build muscle while you sleep? Some early research supports also eating a serving of protein immediately before sleep to stimulate overnight muscle building after exercise ( 1, 2, 3).

Protein has a key role in weight loss, as it keeps us full longer than any other nutrient. It raises our metabolic rate and helps preserve our muscle mass. Whether you are starting a new fitness program, trying to build strength, improve your mobility or trying to maintain a healthy weight, including a serving of high quality protein at each meal can contribute to these goals. The secret to getting the most benefits from your protein is to include a moderate portion of high quality protein at each meal. 

Cristina Sutter is a Private Practice Sport Dietitian at Optimal Performance Clinic in Vancouver. For more information, visit cristinasutter.ca.