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Dietary protein and building healthy muscles

A full serving of protein at each meal needed for maximum muscle health, says a new study, "Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults,"published recently online in the Journal of Nutrition, shows that the potential for muscle growth is less than optimal when protein consumption is skewed toward the evening meal instead of being evenly distributed throughout the day.

Dietary protein and building healthy muscles.
Photo by Handout

Most Americans eat a diet that consists of little to no protein for breakfast, a bit of protein at lunch and an overabundance of protein at dinner. As long as they get their recommended dietary allowance of about 60 grams, it's all good, right? But before you rush off to the supermarket and gulp those burgers, consider who funds these studies on protein and why meat, milk, and eggs were emphasized or mentioned due to general public familiarity with these foods rather than vegetarian protein sources such as quinoa, sea vegetables, broccoli, and amaranth or any vegetarian sources of protein such as tempeh or tofu in a long list of foods high in protein other than those that come from animals, according to recent research.

Not according to new research from a team of scientists led by muscle metabolism expert Doug Paddon-Jones of the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston (UTMB). This research shows that the typical cereal or carbohydrate-dominated breakfast, a sandwich or salad at lunch and overly large serving of meat/protein for dinner may not provide the best metabolic environment to promote healthy aging and maintenance of muscle size and strength. But what about all those vegan bodybuilders? How do they develop all those muscles? You may wish to check out, "How to Build Muscle Mass on a Plant-Based Diet | Breaking Muscle." Or see the article, "Vegans Muscle Their Way Into Bodybuilding."

Age-related conditions such as osteoporosis (bone weakening) and sarcopenia (muscle wasting) do not develop all of a sudden

Rather they are insidious processes precipitated by suboptimal lifestyle practices, such as diet and exercise, in early middle age, the study states. The study's results were obtained by measuring muscle protein synthesis rates in healthy adults who consumed two similar diets that differed in protein distribution throughout the day.

One of the diets contained 30 grams of protein at each meal, while the other contained 10 grams at breakfast, 15 grams at lunch and 65 grams at dinner. Lean beef was the primary nutrient-dense source of protein for each daily menu. Using blood samples and thigh muscle biopsies, the researchers then determined the subjects' muscle protein synthesis rates over a 24-hour period.

The UTMB researchers provided volunteers with a generous daily dose of 90 grams of protein — consistent with the average amount currently consumed by healthy adults in the United States

While very active individuals may benefit from a slightly higher protein intake, the team's previous research suggests that, for the majority of adults, additional protein will likely have a diminishing positive effect on muscle metabolism, while any less may fail to provide optimal muscle metabolism support.

When study volunteers consumed the evenly distributed protein meals, their 24-hour muscle protein synthesis was 25 percent greater than subjects who ate according to the skewed protein distribution pattern. This result was not altered by several days of habituation to either protein distribution pattern.

The results of the study, Paddon-Jones points out, seem to show that a more effective pattern of protein consumption is likely to differ dramatically from many Americans' daily eating habits.

"Usually, we eat very little protein at breakfast, a bit more at lunch and then consume a large amount at night. When was the last time you had just 4 ounces of anything during dinner at a restaurant?" Paddon-Jones said, according to the May 20, 2014 news release, A full serving of protein at each meal needed for maximum muscle health. "So we're not taking enough protein on board for efficient muscle building and repair during the day, and at night we're often taking in more than we can use. We run the risk of having this excess oxidized and ending up as glucose or fat."

A more efficient eating strategy for making muscle and controlling total caloric intake would be to shift some of the extra protein consumed at dinner to lunch and breakfast

"You don't have to eat massive amounts of protein to maximize muscle synthesis, you just have to be a little more thoughtful with how you apportion it," Paddon-Jones said, according to the news release. "For breakfast consider replacing some carbohydrate, particularly the simple sugars, with high-quality protein. Throw in an egg, a glass of milk, yogurt or add a handful of nuts to get closer to 30 grams of protein, do something similar to get to 30 for lunch, and then moderate the amount of protein for dinner. Do this, and over the course of the day you will likely spend much more time synthesizing muscle protein."

Now the issue is, what if you're a vegan or you are not able to tolerate milk or eggs? Not too many nutritionists are familiar enough with a wide variety of ethnic foods that have protein such as quinoa and amaranth or shakes and smoothies made of vegetables pureed such as broccoli and bok choy with spinach and kale, for example. The usual suggestion is meat, milk, and eggs, more familiar in standard American/European diets. What about black beans, chia seeds, legumes, and tofu or tempeh protein? Seems there needs to be more variety in foods that build bones and muscle other than the generic meat, milk, and eggs, without even mentioning whether those should be organic or not.

Other authors of the paper ("Dietary Protein Distribution Positively Influences 24-h Muscle Protein Synthesis in Healthy Adults") include Madonna M. Mamerow, Jonie A Mettler, Kirk L. English, Shanon L. Casperson, Emily Arentson-Lantz, Melinda Sheffield-Moore and Donald K. Layman.

Interestingly the study wasn't funded by vegan or organic produce corporations. The study was supported by funding from the The Beef Checkoff, the UTMB Institute for Translational Sciences, the National Institutes of Health National Center for Research Resources and the Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center NIH/National Institute on Aging.

Who knew? 'The Beef Checkoff' Program is a producer-funded marketing and research program designed to increase domestic and/or international demand for beef. This can be done through promotion, research and new product development, and a variety of other marketing tools. The Cattlemen's Beef Board and USDA oversee the collection and spending of checkoff funds.

As mandated by law, checkoff dollars must be invested in programs to increase consumer demand for beef and create opportunities to enhance producer profitability. The Beef Act defines six program categories: promotion, research, consumer information, industry information, foreign marketing and producer communications. It’s important to note here that the law does not allow beef checkoff dollars to be invested in production research that it not aimed at improving the end beef product, notes the Beef Checkoff website.

Hmm...fresh meat, man's gotta eat...

The fundamental goal of every checkoff program is to increase commodity demand, thereby increasing the potential long-term economic growth of all sectors of the industry. The overwhelming majority of beef and dairy producers say their beef checkoff has value for them in many ways, according to the Beef Producer Attitude Survey, Aspen Media & Market Research, January 2014, a random survey of 1,200 beef producers nationwide with a ±2.8% margin of error.

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