When it comes to nutrition and body transformation, Nate Miyaki knows what he’s talking about. Not only has he helped to transform tons of clients, he’s also helped to transform his own physique, winning the Musclemania America & World Natural Bodybuilding Championships in the bantam weight class. Now, Nate uses his knowledge to help others by informing them about proper nutrition and how to tailor their eating habits to form a healthy lifestyle. It’s ultimately led him to publish the Intermittent Feast, a revolutionary approach to losing weight and looking awesome. With all of the misinformation out there regarding protein intake, especially surrounding workout times, we asked him his thoughts on post-workout nutrition.

Does it really matter whether you consume protein 45 minutes or less after working out?

Well, I think it does matter if you eat immediately post-workout, but not necessarily for the reasons that most people think.

Anabolic activity takes time after a workout. Glycogen restoration can take 24 hours or longer. Muscle protein synthesis can be elevated for 36 hours or longer.  So the idea that you only have a 3-hour “anabolic window” is kind of misleading. Building muscle is not just about what you do immediately post-workout, it is about what you do with your overall diet (consuming enough protein and calories daily).

But muscle breakdown/catabolic activity can happen fast post-workout.  In a glycogen depleted state, amino acids can be converted to glucose to re-stabilize blood sugar and provide fuel for the brain and CNS. The primary goal post-workout, then, should be to provide your body with an immediate fuel source to prevent the body from breaking down its own muscle tissue for energy.  Including some carbs post-workout is critical.

I think a more appropriate term is the 3-hour “anti-catabolic” window.  And following anaerobic activity, carbs are highly anti-catabolic.

I know it’s hard to nail down a specific number, but what would you suggest for the average Joe in terms of protein intake?

The unbiased research I’ve seen averages out to about 1.5-2.0g/kg/day for those that strength train consistently.  Convert that to pounds and you get just under that 1g/lb/day we’ve become accustomed to, which is about right.

More does not always mean better, despite what juiced up bodybuilders would have you believe.  I guess that’s only partially true.  Steroids increase protein synthesis, so those using performance- enhancing drugs can indeed use more protein.  But for the average dude going about it naturally, there is only so much protein the body can use for tissue construction.

In high amounts, especially combined with low carb diets, a process called de-animation occurs where the body strips amino acids of their nitrogen molecule and converts them to glucose.  This is a metabolically (and literally) costly way to obtain glucose. You’re better off just upping the carbs a little bit to “spare” protein.

Now high protein diets don’t cause kidney disease, but at some point, despite what many proclaim about unlimited protein diets, there can be drawbacks and dangers.  At very high amounts (5+g/kg), you can exceed the liver’s capacity to convert excess nitrogen to urea and excrete it through the urine. This causes blood ammonia levels to rise, which can lead to GI distress, nausea, diarrhea, and general fatigue.

As far as post-workout nutrition, do you prefer your athletes opt for whole foods or an easily digestible shake?

Dude, I’m a whole-foods guy.  But again, I think it is more important to be anti-catabolic and have fast-digesting carbs post workout (not necessarily insulin-spiking).  So I usually recommend some whole fruit post-workout by itself, which is fast digesting and provides your body with some immediate glucose, preventing the need for amino acids as a reserve fuel.

Then I wait 30-45 minutes and recommend a whole food meal including some protein.

See, with fast protein you get spikes in blood levels of amino acids but you also get spikes in amino acid oxidation rates.  In a carb-depleted state, with rapidly digesting protein, I would imagine a large percentage of it would just be converted to glucose for fuel.  Remember, although your goal is to build muscle, your body’s #1 priority is always to provide fuel for the brain and CNS.

Here’s some quotes from a protein review I looked at:

Rapidly absorbed amino acids despite stimulating greater protein synthesis, also stimulate greater amino acid oxidation, and hence results in a lower net protein gain, than slowly absorbed protein.

This “slow” and “fast” protein concept provides some clearer evidence that although human physiology may allow for rapid and increased absorption rate of amino acids, as in the case of WP (whey protein 8 to 10g/h), this fast absorption is not strongly correlated with a “maximal protein balance,” as incorrectly interpreted by fitness enthusiasts, athletes, and bodybuilders.

Nitrogen assimilation following ingestion of protein-containing foods is superior to that following ingestion of free amino acids.

So to sum up, I believe in getting some fast-acting carbs (whole fruit) immediately post-workout to prevent catabolic activity, and then emphasizing adequate amounts of whole food proteins over the next 36 hours or so to induce an anabolic environment.

As far as calories go for guys looking to gain some additional weight, is there any science or reasoning behind eating 4-5 smaller meals a day or is it just a matter of total calories in?

I think that by far the most important step for ANY body composition goal is targeted #’s.  If you hit optimum protein levels to support protein synthesis/muscle growth, and take in enough calories and energy nutrients to be in a surplus and support the energy demands of training, I don’t think meal frequency and food distribution makes a difference.  Choose whatever structure allows you to best stick to your diet and hit your numbers.

Anecdotally, Serge Nubret used to eat 1 meal a day, Vince Gironda used to eat 2 meals a day, and I don’t think either of them had any problems with muscular development.

I think there is enough research studies out there that support the stance that as long as you control for calories and macronutrients, meal frequency and food distribution is irrelevant when it comes to body composition change.  Here’s a few on glycogen restoration following intense training:

“Frequent feedings of a high carbohydrate diet did not enhance muscle glycogen synthesis when compared to equal amounts of carbohydrates in two meals.”

“The results of this study suggest that there is no difference in postexercise glycogen storage over 24 h when a high-carbohydrate diet is fed as small frequent snacks or as large meals.”

Now I know Layne Norton talks about the need for a certain number of protein feedings to OPTIMIZE protein synthesis.  That may make a slight difference for competitive bodybuilders, but when balancing that with sustainability of a diet plan for most busy professionals, I don’t think it is make or break.  It would be interesting to speak with him on this topic, as that is his area of expertise.

But to me, statistical significance in a lab is a lot different than real world significance in the mirror.  Will eating 2 meals vs. 4 as he recommends turn the average Joe into Ronnie Coleman?  I doubt it.  But how practical is just focusing on eating as solid lunch and dinner?  Very.

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