Body building

Maximize Protein Synthesis for Muscle Progress

Would you like to get to know the long-lost secret of muscle growth?


What does this equation mean?

Net Protein Balance (skeletal muscle mass, for our purposes here) = muscle protein synthesis – muscle protein degradation.

The net protein balance (NPB) is defined as muscle protein synthesis (MPS) minus muscle protein breakdown (MPB) or NPB = MPS – MPB. A significant increase in MPS (anabolism) of the skeleton and / or a decrease in MPB (catabolism) such that the NPB remains positive may lead to an increased increase in skeletal muscle mass.

Make it a positive value and you are on your way to immensity.

Rebuild muscle

You must eat properly to rebuild your muscle tissue after you have destroyed it in the gym. This is bodybuilding 101. Under normal conditions, skeletal muscle has a high turnover rate – in the range of 1-2% daily muscle proteins are synthesized and broken down.

Both exercise and nutrient uptake are potent activators of protein synthesis, although nutrient-related increases are short-lived.

Training has a bigger impact; The protein synthesis is raised in trained persons for 24 hours.

The problem is that training also activates muscle protein breakdown. Without the right nutrition at the right time, any potential muscle gain could be offset by increased protein synthesis through protein breakdown.

You can see how to do this in the following illustration. Without training stimulus, muscle protein synthesis and muscle protein breakdown cancel each other out.

However, add an intense workout with the right nutrient intake at the right time, and things will change. The protein synthesis is activated and the degradation is suppressed. The result is an accumulation of muscle protein over time, as shown in the following figure.

Protein Synthesis Primer: Everything revolves around mTOR

To understand protein synthesis, it is important to get to know mTor better. Research has shown that the primary response to muscle contraction during heavy exercise is the activation of protein synthesis. In turn, activation of protein synthesis is driven by a series of phosphorylation events coordinated by a protein termed mammalian target of rapamycin, or mTOR for short.

mTOR is probably the most important cell signaling complex for muscle growth. It is the master controller of protein synthesis in the cell and there is a direct relationship between muscle growth and mTOR activation. The more training mTOR activates, the more proteins are released by the protein synthesis machinery for muscle growth and repair.

mTOR is activated by three things:

Mechanical stress (due to high training load)
Growth factors (IGF, growth hormone, insulin, etc.)
Amino acids (especially leucine)

The "anabolic window"

So what can we do nutritionally to accomplish more than just replace the muscle you've just broken down in the gym with the same amount that you can rebuild?

They use the anabolic window. To be as big as possible, you must use the window for maximum effect. It's time to talk about what to eat when.

There are three ways to increase protein / amino acid availability to increase the acute increase in protein synthesis caused by training:

Pre-workout: About an hour before the start of the training.
Peri-Workout: During the training session.
After training: Less than two hours after training.

The $ 10,000 question is: what time (s) is best to get the maximum growth response from your workout?
Scientists have dealt with this and the results of several studies are shown in the following figure.

This table shows that post-exercise nutrition boosts the acute physical activity-induced increase in protein synthesis more than pre-exercise nutrition. This is good information, but this story contains much more.


During exercise, ATP is burned to stimulate muscle contractions that increase AMP levels. This activates a protein called AMP kinase (AMPK). AMPK reduces protein synthesis by inhibiting mTOR.

Imagine it this way – if mTOR is like the gas pedal for protein synthesis, then AMPK is the brake. It has been shown that a pre-workout diet does not improve the increase in protein synthesis after exercise better than sports alone. However, the intake of amino acids before training leads to a blunt AMPK-mediated inhibition of mTOR.

Take home point: do not forget the pre-workout diet. It prevents the protein synthesis machinery from being turned off during exercise.


Researchers have also compared the effects of post-workout nutrition on protein synthesis. The results of these studies are similar to pre-exercise studies, where protein intake during strength training led to an increase in protein synthesis, but far less than when the protein was administered after exercise.

While peri-workout amino acids have a subtle effect on protein synthesis, protein intake still results in an insulin response. This is important because insulin is a potent inhibitor of protein degradation.

It is also a good case to include carbs per workout. It has been shown not only that peri-workout carbohydrates inhibit protein degradation, but also the AMPK-mediated inhibition of mTOR.

Take Home Point: Peri-workout carbohydrates not only inhibit protein breakdown, but also help keep the protein synthesis machinery on during exercise.

After training

The post-workout meal is the most important to enhance post-workout protein synthesis. Muscle cells are prepared for protein synthesis in the hours after training, but only if the right diet is available.

To build more muscle, we need protein. It has been shown that the type and timing of post-workout protein intake control the increase in protein synthesis immediately after exercise.

Importantly, the short-term activation of protein synthesis ultimately seems to determine how well we respond to training over the long term. This means that not only intensive training sessions are required to maximize protein synthesis, but that the right nutrition must be present at the right time for this to happen.

The window is open only for a short time, and long-term muscle gains may be compromised if protein intake is delayed until two hours after training. Hit this window just right and you'll damn much more grow – miss it and you may not grow at all!

It has been studied in detail what kind of diet is needed to maximally activate protein synthesis. It is important to know that only the essential amino acids (EAAs) activate protein synthesis. In particular, leucine is most important for switching on the protein synthesis machinery.

The literature also suggests that post-workout carbohydrates are not needed to activate protein synthesis, but there are other reasons for including carbohydrates, which we'll discuss later.

How much protein?

It would be great if we could just breathe 1000 grams of protein or amino acids before, after or after the workout and then grow as much as we want. Unfortunately, this would at best be converted to triglyceride and converted into body fat.

Proteins act synergistically with strength training to stimulate protein synthesis. However, since there is an upper limit to the amount of exercise that we can productively recover from, there also seems to be an upper limit to the amount of protein we can eat to maximize protein synthesis.

This topic has been studied several times, but the amount of protein or amino acids used in research may not be directly applicable to real-world scenarios. Scientists have rarely used a training stimulus that even comes close to what most men in the gym do, which makes it difficult to extrapolate and give specific recommendations on how much protein is needed.

For example, one study found that the whey protein-induced increase in protein synthesis after resistance peaked at 20 grams of protein, with larger amounts not increasing the reaction further. Similar dose-response studies were performed to determine the maximum need for leucine.

It is important to know that the intensive training that most lifters complete probably activates protein synthesis to a greater degree than what researchers use in the lab. Therefore, it is possible that most people need more than 20 grams to get maximum response.

What is the optimal amount and when? We can give rough recommendations, but it is important to experiment to find the right formula for you.

The case for carbohydrates

It has been conclusively shown in the literature that insulin signals are not required to activate the training-induced protein synthesis. Only leucine is needed, suggesting that carbohydrates are not important.

This was initially surprising because insulin is a potent activator of protein synthesis. Insulin activates mTOR via PI3K / akt signals, which are parallel to the amino acid signaling pathways and mechanical stress involved in the activation of mTOR.

While insulin signaling may not be needed to accelerate protein synthesis during the post-workout hours, there is more to it. Insulin is also a potent inhibitor of muscle protein degradation.

Studies have shown that both local hyperinsulinemia and carbohydrate intake inhibit protein degradation and have little or no effect on protein synthesis. Looking more closely after the workout, it was found that glucose consumption after exercise, while not activating protein synthesis, also had a potent inhibitory effect on protein degradation.

That does not mean that we should restrict carbohydrates in protein synthesis. They increase insulin levels, which can still be important. The muscles are prepared for enhanced protein synthesis over 24 hours after exercise, but the acute onset of protein synthesis that occurs as a result of training or ingesting amino acids lasts only a few hours.

Mechanical stress from exercise, amino acid uptake, and insulin / growth factors activates mTOR through different but complementary pathways, suggesting that we may be able to achieve a synergistic effect if multiple mTOR activation pathways are activated simultaneously.

It is known that the mechanical stress of training and leucine / EAAs synergistically enhance protein synthesis. Similarly, by turning on mTOR, insulin can contribute to the overall jump in protein synthesis via the PI3K / act pathway.

Although some studies specifically dealing with resistance-induced protein synthesis have shown that adding carbohydrates to amino acids has no additive effect on protein synthesis when aminos are consumed abundantly, you need to take a close look at the experiment model research on the real world.

Recent studies that investigate a more general model for protein synthesis show that insulin + amino acids can have a synergistically positive effect on protein synthesis and together cause the greatest mTOR activation!

Assuming all this work, it is safe to say that while insulin does not seem to enhance the physical synthesis of protein, it may keep the throttle open to the protein synthesis machinery after a workout.

Of course, if insulin is able to prolong or enhance the onset of protein synthesis training, it would be a great advantage to include carbohydrates in your post-workout plan.


Studies and literature are the backbone of the scientific method, but it's all worthless if you do not have the practical means to apply that information.

In this sense, you will learn here how to put this into practice.

Pre-workout (30-60 minutes)

Protein source: 30-50 g of a medium to fast-acting protein source. Whole foods are okay, but you can limit whole protein to 60 minutes rather than 30 minutes. Examples of fast acting protein sources include mixtures of whey and casein isolates / hydrolysates and concentrates.
Carb Source: Optional, but if you want to train hard, you should include carbohydrates. 25-75 g of low to medium GI carbohydrates. Example is a cup of oatmeal with a cup of blueberries.

Example 1 pre-workout meal: Lean animal protein, 30 g carbohydrates (oats) and 1 to 2 tablespoons almond or peanut butter mixed with oats.
Example 2 Meal Before Training: Whey protein isolate with approximately 45 grams of carbohydrates from 1/2 cup of oatmeal mixed with 1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce.

Peri-Workout: (during training)

Protein source: 10-20 g BCAAs or 20-30 g isolates / hydrolyzates from casein or whey or a mixture.
Carburetor Source: Optional. 35-50 g of high glycemic carbs, sipped throughout the workout.

The insulin response of carbohydrates can synergistically enhance protein synthesis in the presence of amino acids. Insulin is also a potent inhibitor of protein degradation.

For participants who train before competition or are less insulin-sensitive, it is an advantage to promote fat burning if insulin is kept low. Therefore, some people may want to do without carbohydrates here. For offseason lifters or real hard gainers, the insulin response can be very helpful.

Example 1: Peri-Workout Meal: Add 30-50 g of casein hydrolysates such as MAG-10® and, when the season is over, add 40 g of potato starch.
Example 2: Peri-Workout Meal: 20 g BCAAs and, if out of season, 40-50 g carbohydrates from dextrose / glucose polymers.

After training (up to 60 minutes after training)

Protein source: 30-50 g fast-acting protein: whey isolates / hydrolyzates or casein hydrolyzate.
Carb Source: Optional, but highly recommended, unless you are in a drastic fat loss mode.

Again, this is very dependent on the person, their goals and the training phase.

Use 25-75 g of medium to low GI carbohydrates. Low-season lifters or hard-gainers may want 50-100 g of a mixture of medium to high GI carbohydrates.

Real hard-gainers can really benefit from the protein-degrading effects of insulin. High insulin levels of high GI carbohydrate insulin and prolonged increases in mid-GI carbohydrates may cause the protein synthesis reactor to remain open longer.

Occasionally, if you are pre-competitive or for less insulin-sensitive individuals, skip the carbohydrates completely during this meal, but do not make it the rule.

Example 1 meal after exercise: 50 g whey isolate 15 minutes after training; In low season stir in 1-2 cups of raw milk. An hour later eat fish and Ezekiel toast with jam.
Example 2 meal after exercise: 50 g whey isolate; Out of season also 1 cup of oatmeal with 1 cup of blueberries. An hour later you are eating the next regular meal.

Wrap up

Nutrients have a strong influence on the protein synthesis machinery, and if properly adjusted, you can increase or decrease your training progress. While there is no ideal, it is a unified solution for everyone, depending on individual insulin sensitivity, metabolism, body type and goals. However, we have developed a nutritional strategy for the peri-workout that is based on the latest scientific findings and can be easily adapted to the needs of each lifter. Use it as a template to maximize protein synthesis and grow like never before.

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