Episode 141 - New research that's blown everything we knew about protein out of the water

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A proper understanding of protein intake is crucial for getting your best performance in endurance sports. For years we’ve had pretty clear guidelines for what works best but a recent study has come out with the potential to completely reshape what we thought we knew. That’s what we’re discussing in today’s episode of the TNA podcast. I’ll go into the study, the findings, and the practical applications for triathletes. 

Previously we believed that consuming more than 20 grams of protein in one sitting was redundant and that any excess would be wasted. Because of this nutrition guidelines were to spread protein intake evenly throughout the day which would optimise muscle protein synthesis. However, this new study challenges that foundational concept.

What is the new research?

The study was a randomised control trial, widely considered the gold standard in research due to its controlled and double-blind setup. To achieve precise tracking, researchers gave cows isotope amino acid infusions which became incorporated into the milk proteins produced by those cows. Athletes were given different amounts of this traceable milk protein, allowing researchers to trace how amino acids moved through their bodies post-consumption.

Remarkably, those who consumed 100 grams of protein had a 19% higher muscle protein synthesis rate over four hours and a 30% higher rate over 12 hours compared to the 25-gram group.  Only 15% of the excess protein was oxidised, while 85% was utilised effectively!



The anabolic response to protein ingestion during recovery from exercise has no upper limit in magnitude and duration in vivo in humans.

Jorn Trommelen, Glenn A.A. van Lieshout, Jean Nyakayiru, Andrew M. Holwerda, Joey S.J. Smeets, Floris K. Hendriks, Janneau M.X. van Kranenburg, Antoine H. Zorenc, Joan M. Senden, Joy P.B. Goessens, Annemie P. Gijsen, Luc J.C. van Loon,

The anabolic response to protein ingestion during recovery from exercise has no upper limit in magnitude and duration in vivo in humans,

Cell Reports Medicine,
Volume 4, Issue 12,
ISSN 2666-3791,


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Episode Transcription

Episode 141: New research that's blown everything we knew about protein out of the water

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

[00:00:00] Welcome back to another episode of the TNA podcast. It is good to be back. We've been on a little bit of a break, but I'm back with another episode today that I've just been itching to tell you about. And it is a new paper that was published in December, 2023, that, you know, being on a break hasn't been good because all this stuff has happened in the nutrition space that I haven't been able to tell you about.

[00:00:42] So you may have heard about it. You may not, if you're not a bit of a nutrition geek like me, but it potentially changes everything. We know about protein intake and the way that we think about the way that we consume protein. It basically blew up the nutrition internet over Christmas. And again, you may not be aware of that if you're not a nutrition geek.

[00:01:02] But it was really cool and a really cool study. And I want to talk you through it today. And. the details about what they did and how they did it, which blows my mind, but also the, practical implications of that, because I'm very much a practitioner. I love to dive into the research, but then I take from the research what I would do to change my practice or how I would help athletes.

[00:01:23] And then I kind of forget the details of the paper. So previously our nutrition guidelines around protein were, the best way to have protein would be to spread it evenly. right throughout the day, you know, distribute it evenly because that is going to maximally stimulate our muscle protein synthesis rates.

[00:01:42] Now we knew or thought we knew that there was this threshold that we could maximally do that and any excess above about 20 grams of protein was going to basically be a waste. So we want our muscle protein synthesis rates to be To increase that helps our muscles to recover [00:02:00] and helps us also to adapt from training.

[00:02:02] So we want that right? We don't want to dampen that we want to maximize that as much as possible, particularly as a triathlete where we are training like two, three, sometimes four times a day. And we are constantly recovering and repairing and we don't have the luxury of time. to sit back and do nothing for a couple of days while our body fully recovers.

[00:02:22] So we thought that there was this linear increase in muscle protein synthesis up to about 20 grams of protein and then once we hit that it kind of plateaued. There's like little slight increases of around 10 to 20 percent over the four hours. It would slightly go up but very much a plateau we like draw a graph.

[00:02:44] And any excess above that is just increasing our oxidation rates. So when it came to protein, the message was more does not always equal better. In fact, it doesn't, it's just a waste. And what we're seeing in the research, because it's cool, it's trendy, it's like the thing is to do intermittent fasting and time restricted eating.

[00:03:05] There's a lot more research in that space, particularly when Ramadan was over the Olympics a few years back now. there's way more research happening in that time restricted eating and what are the implications of that? And so with that style of eating, there's not that even protein distribution across the day, right?

[00:03:24] You've got, you know, four, maybe six hours to consume all of your calories, all of your protein, all of your nutrients. And so there wasn't that beautiful protein spread that we thought was really needed to maximize muscle protein synthesis. And so what they found though, is that there was no detrimental impact to lean body mass.

[00:03:43] People weren't losing lean tissue as a result of doing that long term. And we are seeing much more longer term studies in that space. So this new randomized control trial, which is the top tier in terms of research structure and hierarchy, [00:04:00] like that is the best quality is that it's randomized, it's controlled, as in there's a placebo and a control group, as well as the intervention. And ideally we want it doubly blind too. So this study, let me talk you through it. I'm going to kind of gloss over the really finer details in a way. Go and read that paper if you're, that way inclined, but it is very deep, just a warning. I'll link it in the show notes if you do want to dive into it.

[00:04:27] But what they did was they intrinsically labeled milk protein. Now. I'll talk you through that. I'll probably actually need the author to explain it in a better way than I can, but I'm going to really dumb it down so made sense to me, so hopefully it makes sense to you. But what they do is they give cows these traceable isotope amino acid infusions.

[00:04:48] So they're giving them basically a drip of traceable isotopes. So they're putting amino acids into this drip, giving them to the cows. And they've got like these little labels or these little tags on them that help them see where those amino acids go. Like so cool, right? And so cows. That make milk, make milk.

[00:05:08] And that milk that they produce is then labeled with these amino acid isotopes that are traceable to see, you know, where they're going. They use that milk in this study to give the athletes their milk protein, so that they could then trace where those amino acids were going in the human body.

[00:05:25] Like, blows my mind. The amount of money that they probably have. To be able to do that, to start at the cow, to make the milk protein, to give to the participants in the research. Like they obviously have a gigantic budget, which is pretty cool. Okay. So they tested giving athletes no protein, so zero grams, 25 grams or 100 grams of protein immediately after a whole body resistance exercise session.

[00:05:57] And then they measured their markers, so blood markers and [00:06:00] muscle biopsies for 12 hours afterwards. Side note, can you imagine sitting in a lab or hanging out in a lab for more than 12 hours and being punched in the muscle to get a muscle biopsy every few hours? All in the name of research, right? And what they found is that 100 grams of protein dose, the participants that had that after resistance exercise, had a whopping 19 percent higher muscle protein synthesis over the four hours, which is in line with previous research understanding, you know, around that amount.

[00:06:35] But over the 12 hour period, 30 percent higher muscle protein synthesis rates over 12 hours compared to the 25 grams of protein dose. So it's if the 25 gram protein dose runs out of steam, like it has its threshold, but 100 grams just keeps going. And previously, we thought that, you know, more just got wasted and was oxidized.

[00:06:59] After this research, we now know that that's probably not true.

[00:07:03] Like, yes, more protein does increase oxidation, but they quantified exactly how much, and the new research dove into that in detail and found that 15 percent is oxidized, but 85 percent is not, which is huge. So for many years, for as long as I've been a sports dietitian, the message has been regular hits of 20% to 30 grams of protein and now we're seeing this new research come out that's saying hang on a minute like more could be better 100 grams is ginormous but that is going to really stimulate muscle protein synthesis even more you know from a practical perspective You might read that and go, cool, I'm going to go have 100 grams of protein all the time now.

[00:07:46] 100 grams of protein is a lot. It's not 100 gram piece of meat. To get 100 grams of protein from, say, steak is a 320 gram steak. It's ginormous. Or [00:08:00] 350 grams chicken breast, also ginormous. I mean, some people can eat that, no worries, but I would presume that triathletes would struggle a little bit with that volume.

[00:08:12] It's four scoops of WPI protein powder. You know, most people have one. , if you're a vegan vegetarian athlete and you use something like firm tofu, it is 850 grams of firm tofu. So that's like two packets, like ginormous. It's 1. 2 kilos of Chobani yogurt. You know, the high protein Chobani, which is one and a half of those big tubs in a sitting.

[00:08:40] And if you want to do it with eggs to get a hundred grams of protein, 16 eggs. Okay, you with me? Like ginormous portion sizes. It's not something that we would do or sit down to do on a regular basis. I would suggest that you'd be probably pretty damn full. And I'm also not suggesting you do that because you're a human and you're not a snake.

[00:09:03] You have the ability to eat regularly, generally. Uh, you don't have to eat one ginormous thing and then that's it for a few days while you digest it and you can't move. So in terms of practice, um, I used to sit down and help athletes meal plan to maximize those muscle protein synthesis rates and ensure we had at least three, sometimes up to six meals a day, there were at least a 20 gram of protein hit.

[00:09:28] So this paper has definitely changed the way I think about protein and my practice, which I think is ginormous. Like this doesn't happen very often these days.

[00:09:38] And so on the back of my mind, that new research. means to me, I probably don't need to be so diligent and stress so much about the minutiae detail of that even distribution. I think as long as your overall protein intake hits your numbers for you, everyone's different.

[00:09:56] Your protein requirements are different. Can't just follow what [00:10:00] your partner does or your training buddy does. you need to know what your specific protein needs are. But as long as that's sufficient, and you are eating like regularly, you don't have to dial that in with protein so that they're very evenly.

[00:10:13] Okay. And I don't think that we are ready to throw out that protein distribution altogether yet. I'm not suggesting you just eat all your protein at once, like eat it right at dinner. That is what, how a lot of people eat. They don't eat enough protein breakfast, definitely recovery, definitely lunch often, and then have a heap at dinner.

[00:10:32] I still don't think that that's the right way to eat. But I think the detail of all that can be relaxed a little bit, which is pretty cool. , now I don't think it's difficult to still eat protein in a distributed type of way and I would still think that you would do that, particularly if you are training a couple of days, because make sure you are ticking off your recovery boxes after your sessions, right?

[00:10:55] And that, that, Is a certain amount of protein, depending on who you are and what your needs are. So we're still going to have some distribution with protein. If you're training in the morning and you're training in the evening and you're doing recovery at both ends, if you have no idea what your protein and recovery targets are, that's something that I teach athletes in my triathlon nutrition kickstart course.

[00:11:15] You can go and do that at any time at dietitianapproved. com forward slash kick to start. And I will show you the fundamentals of understanding what your recovery nutrition targets are, among other things. We talk about fueling, we talk about pre-training, we talk about supplements. We talk about a few things to get you kick started on your nutrition journey as a triathlete.

[00:11:36] And then if you wanted to dive into that in way more detail, then that's something we talk about. Right throughout the triathlon nutrition Academy program doors are opening soon If you do want to come and join us, make sure you have your name on our waitlist through dietitianapproved.com/academy.

[00:11:52] So there you go a new paper doesn't happen very often that completely blows up the nutrition landscape What do you think about [00:12:00] it? Have you read it? Have you heard of it? Are you going to eat like a snake now, do you like to evenly spread your protein? Come and let me know in the Dietitian Approved Crew Facebook group.

[00:12:11] Head to Facebook.com/DietitianApprovedCrew. Is this research going to change the way you eat? that you eat and your diet in any way, come and let me know. All right. In a new segment, I'm going to wrap up our podcast episodes with a listener question. This one comes from Rob Stent all the way across the ditch in New Zealand.

[00:12:34] and he asked as a 67 year old male triathlete, what are the key nutritional strategies or necessities That as an older athlete, I need to build not only into my training and racing plans, but also just for long term good health for the future so that you can continue in the sport.

[00:12:50] Great question, Rob. We probably need to do an entire podcast episode on the Masters athlete. Quick little disclaimer before we get into it, though. This is generalized advice. This is not individualized. I can't give you specifics because I don't know all the things about you. And so This needs to be taken as generalised advice, not, individualised until I know your medical history, your medications, your training volume, your diet, all those types of things, but some big hitters that you need to focus on and understand and be across as a Masters athlete.

[00:13:22] The first thing that comes to mind is protein., Always protein. We get protein resistance as we get older. And we have this uphill battle where we are trying to not lose muscle mass as we age. So recovery nutrition becomes really important, but also making sure You are meeting your protein requirements on the daily basis.

[00:13:43] Now, how you get that may not matter so much now still wouldn't suggest eating it all in one go. It's going to be hard and making sure you do do a really good job of your recovery. Your recovery targets do shift as you get older as well. So when you were younger, whatever you did before [00:14:00] is unlikely to continue working as we mature as a triathlete.

[00:14:05] The other thing to think about might be your overall energy intake, which again does kind of shift as we get older. Again, it depends on what your training volume is, what your medical history is, all those types of things. But we have this slight decrease in our resting metabolic rate as we get older because our lean muscle tissue does go down.

[00:14:25] Not in everyone, but we are pushing shit uphill to try and maintain our muscle tissue as we get older. You need to be doing resistance training, you need to be maximising your protein intake, you need to be getting enough energy. All those things to maintain it, but just be mindful that you may have some shifts in your overall energy budget.

[00:14:43] And so you need to focus on getting what you need, but really nutrient rich foods for the energy budget that you have.

[00:14:51] You may find that you don't need as many calories as when you were younger, depending on what your training volume is. but for those calories that you do have in a day, making sure you are ticking all of your nutrient boxes. So on that, a couple of key important nutrients, particularly as we get older, but particularly for endurance athletes would be calcium and vitamin D, because as we get older, we increase our risk of osteoporosis or porous bones.

[00:15:17] And as you approach 70 as a male, your requirements for calcium do kick up another level. So just be mindful of that in the next couple of years. not quite there yet, but your calcium needs do go up from 70 ish.

[00:15:33] The other thing to go hand in hand with calcium is vitamin D. We need that as a key nutrient for our bone growth and mineralization. our immune response, muscle function, loads of different functions in the body. But as we get older, we have up to a 50 percent decrease in our skin's capacity to convert vitamin D in that whole production cycle.

[00:15:55] So understanding what your vitamin D status is, but also [00:16:00] can you maintain that through the winter in New Zealand? Or is there things that you need to be doing in the summer to maximize your storage, Something to check with your doctor rather than doing anything random. Like again, this is very generalised advice.

[00:16:13] I don't know anything about you just yet, but go and get that checked and make sure your vitamin D status is optimal because we do need that for strong bones. So you need to make sure you're getting enough calcium and making sure you've got Vitamin D status optimized as well as protein, like big key nutrients as we get older.

[00:16:29] There are some potential supplements that I would consider with you, Rob. but again, I don't know anything about you to give you specifics, but there are some things as we get older that we can harness the power of to make the whole process of getting older, becoming more mature, a little bit easier as well.

[00:16:48] So if you do need help dialing all of those things in. As you're getting older, or for anyone listening that's getting older, then come and join us in the Triathlon Nutrition Academy, because doors open soon, and that is the type of detail that we dive into. When I know about you, and I have your medical history, I know what you're up to training wise.

[00:17:06] I know your goals, we can check bloods and all those sorts of things dietitianapproved.com/academy. Make sure you have your name on our waitlist. If you are interested in joining us, all right, legend. Thank you for listening. Thanks for wrapping me around your ear holes today and thank you for sticking around to the end.

[00:17:23] I will talk to you soon. 


Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected]. You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition!

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