Legendary fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne knew intuitively that his body needed protein to grow muscle, only he didn't have the luxury of modern protein drinks when he first started exercising.
Instead, for a brief six-week period, he tried drinking a quart of beef blood from the slaughterhouse every day. The practice ended abruptly when one day the blood clotted and clogged up his esophagus, causing a gory, blood-puking scene that predated similar ones in a thousand horror movies to come.
Luckily, today's lifters now have access to high-quality protein drinks and supplements that are decidedly less crude and "organic" than what LaLanne and his contemporaries were forced to rely on.
We sort of knew then and we definitely know now that the equation between additional protein and muscle mass is – if everything else is optimum – almost linear. But what's new and surprising is that research shows that simply adjusting when you have your protein drinks (or bars) can make a difference in how much fat you carry.
What They Did
Researchers from Purdue University, after compiling the results of 34 previously published trials of weight-trained subjects that routinely used protein supplements, found a startling trend:
If you want to add muscle mass, it doesn't matter when you take your protein supplements, but if you're interested in building muscle while losing fat, you should drink your protein supplement with your meal.
In other words, using your protein supplements with meals reduced fat mass, while using them in-between meals had no effect on fat mass.
Between-meal consumption was defined as taking a protein supplement very near a workout or during some other non-meal period. During-meal consumption was defined as having a protein supplement with a meal, immediately after a meal, or having a protein drink in lieu of a meal.
Check out the stats:
- Lean Mass: When protein supplements were taken with meals, 94% of subjects increased their lean body mass. When protein supplements were taken in-between meals, 90% of subjects increased their lean body mass. (Virtually no difference.)
- Fat Mass: When protein supplements were taken with meals, 87% of subjects reduced their fat mass. When protein supplements were taken in-between meals, 59% of subjects reduced fat mass. (There was an 18% greater occurrence of fat loss in those that had their protein supplements with meals.)
- Lean to Fat Mass Ratio: When protein supplements were taken with meals, 100% of subjects increased their lean to fat mass ratio. When protein supplements were taken in-between meals, 84% of subjects increased their lean to fat mass ratio. (Everybody who had their protein supps with their meals improved their lean to fat ratio, whereas only 84% of those that had their protein supplements in-between meals did so.)
According to the researchers, apparently writing in Yoda-speak, "Concurrently with resistance training, consuming protein supplements with meals, rather than between meals, may more effectively promote weight control and reduce fat mass without influencing improvements in lean mass."
What the Heck Caused That to Happen?
The researchers theorized that consuming protein supplements between meals might decrease "compensatory eating behaviors" and thereby increase energy intake and prevent the lifter from losing fat.
Conversely, consuming protein supplements with meals might compensate for the calorie load of the protein supplement by decreasing the foods or amounts of foods they eat at other times.
In short, they're saying it probably has to do with appetite and calorie intake in general rather than any possible biochemical influences.
How to Use This Info
Ingesting a high-quality protein drink like Metabolic Drive® Protein – assuming you're practicing resistance training and doing everything else right – is going to add mass, regardless of whether you have your protein supplement with meals or in-between meals.
However, if fat loss is a goal, then it might be worth experimenting with taking your protein supplements with your meals instead of in-between meals. Give this strategy two weeks before coming to any conclusions as to its efficacy.
Related: The Protein Preload
Related: Science Discovers How Much Protein You Need
- Hudson, Joshua L, et al. "Effects of protein supplements consumed with meals, versus between meals, on resistance training–induced body composition changes in adults: a systematic review," Nutrition Reviews, Volume 76, Issue 6, 1 June 2018, Pages 461–468.