When we’re working with someone to help improve their strength for rehab or performance we want to make sure we have all the building blocks in place for them to get the most from their workouts. Recently we’ve highlight how important sleep and recovery are and today Nutritionist Fran Taylor joins us again to discuss how nutrition can help maximise strength gains. She recently wrote a great guest blog for us on diet considerations for vegan runners where adequate protein is also key. For more from Fran follow her on Twitter: @TheBrightonNut1 and on Instagram: TheBrightonNutritionist and check out her website

If you’re a well known face in the weights section of the gym or have just recently started doing some strength training exercises at home as advised by your physiotherapist, you hopefully know the importance of resistance based training for building muscle mass and strength. But do you place the same importance on what you eat? If you want to maximise your training you should – what you eat provides the fuel to support your training demands and the necessary building blocks to maximise muscle growth and repair. Protein’s role in building muscle is well known and new research has shown that eating more protein than the current recommendations can significantly enhance the effects of lifting weights.

A recent study, just published in the BJSM, conducted the largest meta-analysis of dietary protein supplementation on resistance training induced gains in muscle mass and strength to date. They analysed a total of 1,863 participants from 49 high quality studies; young and old, male and female, experienced and novices were all included. The type, timing and amount of protein varied throughout the studies but the simple question they asked was whether consuming more protein during resistance based exercise led to larger increases in muscle size and strength.

The answer was a resounding “Yes!” – eating more protein than the current recommendations significantly enhanced the effects of lifting weights and led to larger increases in muscle size and strength. The results were significant across age, gender and fitness – but results were more marked in young or resistance-trained individuals than in older or untrained individuals. So are all the bro’s at the gym chugging down protein shakes onto something, and should we be copying them?

Steady on, there’s a limit – whilst eating more than the recommended 0.75g of protein per kg of body weight (for example 56 grams of protein a day for a 75kg man) could help you build muscle as a complementary part of your training regime, having 3 shakes a day and a 10 egg omelette for breakfast won’t! The study showed that consuming above 1.6 grams of protein per kg of body weight a day did not result in more muscle benefits.

For a 75kg man that equates to 120g of protein a day. Research also suggests that spreading your protein across the day in 20-30g doses with each meal and snack will provide a steady supply of amino acids necessary for optimum muscle repair and growth. This can met by eating real food and with this comes all the other essential nutrients to give you energy and keep you healthy. Here are some good examples including plant based sources (based on figures from nutritics.com);

If you’re on the go and haven’t got the time to prep a good protein snack then a protein powder can be a useful way of helping you reach your quota. Think of it a useful addition to your diet not as a replacement of real food.

Key Points

  • If you are doing some resistance based exercise having enough protein in your diet will help you build more muscle and strength gains.
  • There is a limit. More than 1.6g per kg per day does not help you build more muscle.
  • There is some evidence that spacing your total protein amount throughout the day is more effective at building muscle.
  • You can get all your protein needs from a well balanced diet. Protein supplements are not needed but can be used in addition not as a replacement for real food.