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optimize protein drink consumption

Optimizing Protein Shake Consumption

Protein shakes can be a great tool to help improve your fitness performance by helping meet your macronutrient needs. Optimizing protein shake consumption is an important aspect of your training regimen. The online fitness industry has thoroughly covered the benefits of protein supplementation – We’ve even done it here.

However, maximizing the benefit requires you to know when are the best times to add the supplement to your diet. What we offer below is based on studies, and represents what the general population should follow.

How you consume a protein supplement depends on your goals. We will keep it simple here – are you trying to lose weight and preserve lean mass, or gain weight?

Protein Intake for Losing Weight

This section is not really about shakes – but rather protein consumption to lose weight. You can take shakes, but here we intend to help you understand the benefits of protein snacks in your efforts to burn fat.

Protein is a key macronutrient for fat loss. Its consumption increases metabolic activity, and reduces your appetite through the reduction of the hormone ghrelin. Thus, a steady intake of protein throughout the day will help your calorie management efforts – a key element to both losing and gaining weight.

A study published in 2014 examined whether a high-protein afternoon yogurt snack improves appetite control, satiety, and reduces subsequent food intake compared to other commonly-consumed, energy-dense, high-fat snacks. The findings demonstrate that when compared to high-fat snacks, eating less energy-dense, high-protein snacks like yogurt improves appetite control.

The summary is that consuming protein-rich snacks throughout the day, whether food or shakes, will help control your appetite and support your ability to eat less. Combined with effective calorie-burning resistance training, this method will directly support your efforts to burn fat.

Protein Shakes for Weight Gain

To build muscle, the science is simple – you need to consume more protein than your body uses during resistance training. But with that, we begin a tale of two proteins – whey and casein. Both support your efforts to build muscle tissue, but their make up varies:

Whey

One of two major milk proteins. It is the liquid remaining after the milk has been curdled and strained. There are three varieties of whey – protein powder, protein concentrate, and protein isolate. All provide high levels of essential and branched chain amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine).

Casein

Casein gives milk its white color and accounts for 70 – 80 percent of milk protein. The casein protein exists in a micelle – that has a hydrophobic inside and a hydrophilic outside. During digestion, casein is released as the micelle breaks down. The casein released from multiple micelles then aggregates and is digested via proteolysis. This is the process by which proteins break down into simpler, soluble compounds. Digestion is slow due to the aggregation of casein. This allows the protein to provide a sustained release of amino acids – sometimes lasting for hours.

There are other forms of protein, but as this is focusing on protein shakes – we’ll keep it to the most popular products as of this article’s publication.

When to shake, and when no to shake…

Optimizing protein shake consumption is not an exact science, although several studies demonstrate consistent data. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition in 2017:

“…The timing of energy intake and the ratio of certain ingested macronutrients may enhance recovery and tissue repair, augment muscle protein synthesis (MPS), and improve mood states following high-volume or intense exercise…”

Here are highlights from the assessment:

  • Consuming carbohydrate solely or in combination with protein during resistance exercise increases muscle glycogen stores, ameliorates muscle damage, and facilitates greater acute and chronic training adaptations
  • Ingestion of essential amino acids (EAA; approximately 10 g) either in free form or as part of a protein bolus of approximately 20-40 g has been shown to maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis (MPS)
  • Post-exercise ingestion (immediately to 2-h post) of high-quality protein sources stimulates robust increases in MPS
  • Ingesting a 20-40 g protein dose (0.25-0.40 g/kg body mass/dose) of a high-quality source every 3 to 4 hours appears to most favorably affect MPS rates when compared to other dietary patterns and is associated with improved body composition and performance outcomes
  • Consuming casein protein (~ 30-40 g) prior to sleep can acutely increase MPS and metabolic rate throughout the night without influencing lipolysis

A 2002 study also suggested that consuming a small meal of mixed macronutrient composition (or perhaps even a very small quantity of a few indispensable amino acids) immediately before or following strength exercise bouts can alter significantly net protein balance, resulting in greater gains in both muscle mass and strength than observed with training alone. This suggests there is a window right before and after training that optimizes your protein intake.

What this means is you should be consuming protein throughout the day. How much depends on the macronutrient requirement for your fitness objectives. Ideally, you should consume as much protein as possible from lean, non-processed food sources. You can use the above findings in the study to help you understand when to assist and maximize your protein intake with a shake.

Now, why are we not saying explicitly to take X at the following times? Simple – your training plan, combined with your metabolism and diet requirements will create an “optimal window” unique to you. But you want to be following four rules in general:

  1. Consume most of your protein from whole, unprocessed food sources
  2. Target a good source of protein 2-3 hours prior to your workout (snacks right before the workout should be more carb-focused)
  3. Consuming a good quality, high-protein shake within two hours of resistance training is likely within your “optimal” window
  4. Casein protein shakes will work best before sleep, as it takes longer to digest and your body’s recovery will benefit from the sustained amino acid release.

And finally, remember – protein shakes are a supplement. They should be taken to supplement your whole food consumption – not as a replacement. If you use them, be sure to select ones with quality ingredients, without fillers and other non-essential ingredients.

-Train Hard!

Bodyweight exercises when no gym

Body Weight WOD – Basic/Beginner

WODs (Workout of the Day) are a great tool to improve athletic performance. While normally associated with Crossfit, they should be considered a key factor in anyone’s program if you are trying to improve performance.

Try switching out your cardio session once a week, for four weeks, with a different WOD each week – this will challenge your body, force your muscles to constantly adapt, and add creativity to your program.

v-up ab exercise on a bench

Basic WODs for Beginners

If you are looking for a quick WOD to get you going without the need for weights, try these two variations below:

3 rounds x 10 reps of the following bodyweight exercises (no rest between rounds):

  • Air Squats
  • Sit-Ups
  • Decline Push-Ups
  • Dips or Ring Rows (depending on what you can access)
  • Burpees

5 rounds x 5 reps, without rest between rounds:

  • Burpees
  • V-Ups
  • Mountain Climbers
  • High Knee Jumps
  • Bear Crawl (1 rep = right and left forward motion)

Try these, or variations to challenge your performance levels. Make sure you stay hydrated, and you can add some solid core exercises at the end of the WOD to push yourself.

-Train Hard!

Rate of perceived exertion done by woman at the gym

Rate of Perceived Exertion: Breaking Your Performance Plateau

If you are looking to get past a training plateau to improve performance, rate of perceived exertion (RPE) is a solid process to use in your routine development. Combined with Micro-HIIT efforts, and you can develop time-efficient programs to drive your performance to new levels.

RPE emerged in the 1970s and early 1980s as a subjective method to gauge exercise intensity. It helps focus on exertion to promote increased exercise performance, rather than simply working from a traditional percentage of 1RPM.

The RPE method will work for about 90 percent of people. There is a small population that is so sedentary, that any amount of physical activity will seem hard – and the opposite end of the spectrum of those so well-trained that it takes a lot of exercises to reach sufficient intensity levels.

For the majority, the program is easy to implement and is a method of monitoring the combined intensity and duration to create an optimal experience with proper levels of overload to improve athletic performance.

The RPE Scale

ScaleLevel of Effort (Aerobic)Level of Effort (Resistance)/Reps in Reserve (RIR)
10Feels almost impossible to keep going. Completely out of breath, unable to talk. Cannot maintain for more than a very short time.No more reps capable; maximum effort.
9Very difficult to maintain exercise intensity. Can barely breathe and speak only a few words.One rep left in the tank.
7-8Borderline uncomfortable. Short of breath, can speak a sentence.Tougher to lift; could push 2-3 more reps.
4-6Breathing heavily, can hold a short conversation. Still somewhat comfortable, but becoming noticeably more challenging.Normal warm-up set/beginning of routine; 8-10 reps without issue.
2-3Feels like you can maintain for hours. Easy to breathe and converse.Light warm-up weight level; no real exertion.
1Hardly any exertion.No exertion; can lift “endlessly”

The model can be used in a limited and indefinite capacity to push you through your training plateaus and improve your athletic performance. Notably, while the scale was designed initially for endurance training, it is readily incorporated into resistance based training, as we note below.

How to Apply

Sprinter improving performance

To Improve Cardio Performance

  1. Perform your basic cardio activity: running, treadmill, elliptical, bike, etc.
  2. Using the RPE scale, assess your performance rate of perceived exertion – the talk test is a good method to use.
  3. Using your RPE, adjust either the duration of your effort or its intensity so the majority of your workout rests between 4-6 on the RPE scale.
  4. To improve performance, focus on HIIT intervals that push your RPE to 7-8. The intervals should be of fixed time or distance. You need to be able to maintain 7-8 RPE for the duration or distance of the intervals – this is where you adjust the routine to maximize performance gains.
  5. As your routine progresses, you will notice the same intervals trigger lower RPE levels.
  6. When this occurs, you need to either increase the overall activity duration or the interval intensity to raise your interval RPE back to 7-8.
  7. Maintain this pattern of increasing your activity effort through RPE assessment for three weeks. For the fourth week, return to steady-state cardio to give your body time to recover in order to maximize your performance development. See our article on rest and recovery to understand its benefits.

Woman adding weight to improve fitness performance.

To Improve Resistance Training Performance

  1. Decide the rep range you want to use for the exercise. Compound lifts will typically use fewer reps than isolation motions – but it’s dependent upon your routine.
  2. Determine your RPE and RIR. Here, you will not want to go to failure as part of this methodology, as it prevents you from pushing your muscles into states of growth. We recommend an RPE of 7 to 8, with an RIR of 2-3.
  3. For the exercise, recall your last amount lifted: weight, reps, and RPE (Note: This is why we recommend you always keep a log of your routines).
  4. Use this online RPE Calculator to work out your weight levels for your sets; this tool will show you how much you should lift, based upon your target RPE and set count.
  5. Adjust this as needed, to factor in your resistance training. That is, use the calculator as many times as needed, to dial in your RPE for each session. The weight and sets of one session may not be the same for the next – but this is the benefit of RPE training, it ensures you are targeting proper exertion levels, not blindly following numbers on the sides of weight plates.
  6. When you can reach the top of the rep range for your RPE goal, move up in weight.
  7. Perform this routine for three weeks, before moving to a de-load routine on the fourth. This will help give your body proper rest and recovery in order to benefit from the performance rate of perceived exertion.

Your performance can improve using this method by either increasing RPE levels over the course of your training program; or through intensity, where the increase is on the load lifted. Flow High Performance offers a great, and easy to follow breakdown video here.

-Train Hard!

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