Before you think about timing your protein to a tee, you’ll need to make sure you’re getting enough of the macronutrient in the first place.
Most active people will want to consume around 1.4 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight2. If you weigh 165 pounds, that’s around 105 to 150 grams of protein per day.
By hitting this threshold, you’re ensuring that your body has enough protein to build muscle, support metabolism and insulin sensitivity, and more.
“The most important part, it seems based on the research, is total protein intake in a day,” says Shawn Arent Ph.D., a professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina. “You can time the crap out of your protein, but if you’re not eating enough per day, it’s a drop in the bucket.”
Ideally, you’ll be able to meet your protein needs by eating whole-food protein sources. However, protein powders can be a convenient way to fill gaps in the diet and get a meaningful amount of protein without needing to fire up your stove.
Rather than trying to cram 100+ grams of protein into one meal (that’s a lot of eggs and whey), you’ll want to spread your protein intake throughout the day—starting with breakfast.
The first meal of the day is important because when you’re sleeping, your body is in a catabolic state in which muscle tissue is broken down for its constituent amino acids. And you’ll stay in this state until you replenish your body with the amino acids it needs to enter an anabolic state and rebuild muscle again—a process called muscle protein synthesis (MPS).
“The first meal after you’re coming out of an overnight fast is absolutely critical,” Don Layman, Ph.D., a leading protein and amino acid researcher and professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, previously told mindbodygreen. “Until you have a meal that triggers MPS, you’ll stay catabolic.”
And what sets off MPS and gets us into an anabolic state? You guessed it: Protein. Layman’s research has found that consuming an adequate serving of protein (at least 20-30 grams) starting at your first meal of the day3 will support muscle protein synthesis more effectively than eating the majority of your protein at dinner. It will also set you up to fulfill that all-important daily protein quota.
As long as you’re consuming enough protein a day4, and spreading it across a few meals, the exact hours of your protein intake don’t matter as much. However, there are some ways to optimize your timing slightly depending on your specific goals.