Protein Synthesis: How to Stimulate More of It

by Chris Shugart

A Head-Scratching Egg Study

The more muscle protein synthesis you trigger, the better. Here's what to eat after training to stimulate the most.

I don't trust all PhDs and researchers. For example, a group of them once declared that eating meat was unhealthy. How did they come to that conclusion? Well, they studied people who ate lots of fast-food burgers. Since those people had health problems, the researchers decided that the beef in the hamburgers was to blame.

You don't need an advanced degree to poke holes in that claim. The subjects were also eating lots of bread and fries and washing them down with soft drinks.

When it comes to building muscle, I prefer my PhDs and researchers to be meatheads: men and women who know their way around the gym and have personally experimented with all kinds of diets and supplements. They have perspective; they have skin in the game.

The study below is interesting because the researchers' conclusion and the meathead conclusion differ a bit. See if you can figure it out.

The Egg Study

Protein synthesis is basically the biological process of building muscle. Researchers in this study wanted to see what triggers more protein synthesis after leg day: egg whites or whole eggs.

They rounded up 10 weight-lifting dudes and put them through a workout of leg presses and extensions. They collected blood and muscle biopsy samples to assess whole-body leucine kinetics, intramuscular signaling, and myofibrillar protein synthesis.

Half the lifters consumed whole eggs after their workout and half got egg whites. The protein content was matched: both groups consumed 18 grams.

The result? Both groups benefited from the post-workout protein, but the group eating whole eggs experienced significantly more protein synthesis than the egg-white-only eaters, even though protein content was the same.

The researchers think this was caused by the other anabolic goodies in egg yolks: microRNAs, various vitamins and minerals, phosphatidic acid, palmitic acid, and DHA.

Now, what do the meatheads say?

A Different Interpretation

The researchers aren't wrong about whole eggs. Yolks are awesome. But what else was different about the two groups in the study? Have you figured it out?

The whole-egg eaters consumed about 150 more post-workout calories than the yolk-less group. A whole egg contains roughly 70 calories ā€“ 17 calories in the white and 53 in the yolk.

Was it the magic of whole eggs and dietary fats that caused more muscle protein synthesis, or was it the extra calories?

Dr. Bill Campbell, a meathead PhD, thinks it was likely the calories. In his analysis, he reminds us that protein synthesis contains two phases: initiation and elongation. The first phase relies on leucine to kick off the process. The second phase needs calories to keep the protein synthesis coming, and the whole-egg eaters consumed more calories.

So, What Do I Eat After Training?

In a nutshell, plenty of protein and some extra calories from carbs or fats. It doesn't seem to matter, as long as protein is adequate.

What's adequate? Well, the lifters in the study above only consumed 18 grams, which is pretty minimal. Still, some protein synthesis occurred, even in the lower-calorie group. Other studies show that 20 grams is good, but 40 grams results in a 20% greater stimulation of muscle protein synthesis.

However, 20 grams is only "good" if you're not stimulating many muscles in a workout. The more muscles getting hit hard (like with a full-body workout or a high-volume upper/lower split), the more protein you need after training. Details here.

The whole-egg-eaters had about 210 calories after training. If we compile several related studies, we could say that eating at least that many calories containing 40 grams of protein is ideal for hardcore lifters with hypertrophy goals.

An easy solution? Consume a two-scoop protein shake, ideally containing micellar casein which helps facilitate an extra boost of muscle protein synthesis. Using MD Protein (Buy at Amazon), that'll give you 220 calories and 44 grams of micellar-infused protein.

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As for eggs, eat them whole any time of day. We want those bonus anabolic benefits, but there's nothing special about eating them post-workout.

Reference

  1. Vliet, et al. "Consumption of whole eggs promotes greater stimulation of postexercise muscle protein synthesis than consumption of isonitrogenous amounts of egg whites in young men." Am J Clin Nutr. 2017 Dec;106(6):1401-1412. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.117.159855. Epub 2017 Oct 4.
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