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Moderate amounts of protein, rather than a lot, might be best for muscle

October 27, 2009 |  3:14 pm

Protein is essential for building muscle, but how much protein is needed is often disputed. Many bodybuilders, for example, tout large amounts to develop serious musculature.

Krq316nc But a new study says smaller may be better. Researchers tested 34 men and women--17 young and 17 elderly. They divided them into four groups, giving some younger and older participants 12 ounces of beef, and the other younger and older participants 4 ounces of beef. After eating, all had blood samples and thigh muscle biopsies taken.

In all groups there seemed to be little difference in protein muscle synthesis. Eating 12 ounces increased it by 46% in both the young and elderly groups, while 4 ounces sparked a 50% increase.

The researchers pointed out some limitations: Most people eat a variety of foods during a meal, not just protein, and some studies suggest older people may not synthesize protein as well when they combine it with carbohydrates, as compared with younger people. The authors also speculate that protein synthesis might be greater if protein were eaten near the time of physical activity.

The study's senior author suggested in a news release that people might want to redistribute their protein intake throughout the day: "You don't have to eat massive amounts of protein to maximize muscle synthesis, you just have to be a little more clever with how you apportion it," said Dr. Douglas Paddon-Jones, associate professor in the department of physical therapy at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. "For breakfast consider including additional high-quality proteins. Throw in an egg, a glass of milk, yogurt or add a handful of nuts to get to 30 grams of protein, do something similar to get to 30 for lunch, and then eat a smaller amount of protein for dinner. Do this, and over the course of the day you likely spend much more time synthesizing muscle protein."

The study was partly funded by the National Cattlemen's Beef Assn. Checkoff Program and appears in the September issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Assn.

-Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Armend Nimani / AFP/Getty Images

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