Taking a protein drink before exercising isn’t new advice and many people follow it, resulting in gains unimaginable by those who don’t take it. There is scientific research that shows that if you can increase your blood amino acid levels before exercising, your blood flow would boost their delivery to the desired muscle tissue – the one that is being trained at the moment.
This, in turn, increases the anabolic effect, but there is other research as well with a number of protein sources all around the workout time and they also had good results, not significantly differing from each other. Since those studies, there has been a lot of debate and confusion about pre-workout protein, what’s the best one to take and when in order to make your protein drink keep you in the anabolic phase longer.
This confusion prompted some scientists in the Australian Institute of Sport to experiment with protein and see whether a fast-digesting protein or a slow-digesting one would be better to consume prior to workout out. They took 12 resistance-trained lifters for a workout of single leg extensions with three different conditions. They performed the leg extensions on one leg one workout and the other leg in the following workout etc. Also, the lifters had one of three drinks to drink – either a placebo, a drink containing 5 grams of leucine and 30 grams of whey taken at the same time and 30 grams of whey with 5 grams of leucine, but this time, in 15 doses instead of in one big dose. This is called pulse feeding, and it’s supposed to trigger a digesting reaction similar to that of a slow-digesting protein. This experiment cleared up another mystery – since all the protein was the same, the questions about their compositions and differences in amino acids were eliminated. Also, the conditions were separated by a one to two week resting period without any workouts.
As you may imagine, the pulse feeding method worked best, getting the highest amino acid and insulin concentrations after a workout and this proved that the pulse feeding method works better than taking all the protein and leucine at once. Because of this effect, there was increased activity on the mTOR-p70S6K pathway which is crucial in anabolic signaling. This pathway was activated for up to an hour after exercising, which provided a lot of effect when compared to taking all the protein at once. The scientists researching this said that unlike eating protein after a heavy workout, where protein is quickly digested and creates a synthetic response of a superior muscle protein, you can also eat a protein that gives you fewer amino acids as long as the amount is adjusted to consume a lot of leucine. The boost of protein synthesis in the five hours of recovery wasn’t different between the two ways of consumption.
This means that you don’t have to get the protein that digests the quickest and take it before your workout. In fact, it might even mean that you should stretch out your leucine dosage and sip it through your routine. Either way, your gains will be great if you pay full attention to your workouts.
References: 1) k.d. tipton et al., am j physiol endocrinol metab., 281(2):e197–206, 2001. 2) l.m. burke et al., med sci sports exerc., may 22, 2012.