In my previous post, I focused on the nutrition aspects of exercise and carbohydrates. This post is all about protein and exercise. I have outlined some basic facts about protein intake in this post, it and I'm going to expand and clarify some points that cause confusion.
Eat More Protein if You Exercise
It's simple: those who are physically active will need more protein than those who are less active. Finding your ideal protein intake is easy - just use our keto calculator.
By selecting your activity level and body fat percentage, you will get a fairly accurate estimate of your protein needs (based on Dr Volek's & Phinney's recommendations). Keep in mind that this number is only an estimate - your protein requirements will vary based on your daily activity.
You shouldn't significantly overeat protein. Protein is not a particularly efficient fuel source - too much of it won't be beneficial. How much protein should you be eating? Aim for 0.6 to 1 grams per pound of lean body mass.
According to Volek & Phinney: "Aim for a protein intake between 0.6 to 1 grams per pound of lean body mass.... Significantly over-consuming protein can be problematic because some of of the extra amino acids can be converted to glucose in the body, raising insulin levels, and thus driving down ketones and suppressing fat burning."
But Won't More Protein Kick Me Out Of Ketosis...?
Although it's true that too much protein may disrupt ketosis, you don't need to worry about a few extra grams of protein. Eating slightly more protein will not kick you out of ketosis because not all excess protein converts into glucose via gluconeogenesis. I personally go over or under up to 15 grams so don't worry if you don't match your numbers precisely every day. In fact, your protein requirements are slightly different based on your daily activity: you'll need more protein on your "training" days compared to your "resting" days.
Some people don't eat enough protein because they are afraid that it will slow down their progress. As a result, they are hungry and overeat fat. Because calories do count, even on a ketogenic diet, they may end up stalling or even gaining weight. If you are trying to lose weight or build muscles, you have to eat enough protein.
Make sure you eat enough protein. Lack of protein leads to increased hunger and energy intake. Eating enough protein and not overeating fat is one of the rules you should follow if you want to lose weight on a ketogenic diet. Don't rely on high ketone levels - what matters most is your food intake.
Post-Workout Nutrition and Nutrient Timing
Contrary to common beliefs, nutrient timing is not as important as people think. It shouldn't be the main focus for those who just want to look and feel better. So unless you aim for significant muscle gain or you are an athlete, you won't need to worry about nutrient timing.
It's simple: if you want to lose body fat, you need to stay in calorie deficit (use your body fat for energy). If you want to gain muscles, you need to be in calorie surplus. You should be aiming for macronutrients that fit your individual needs (check our keto calculator for more details). More factors that play role in muscle gain are listed in this post: adequate protein intake, calorie surplus, proper training and resting.
Carbs and Ketogenic Nutrition
A common belief is that post-workout meals have to be high in carbs. The reason for this belief is that a meal high in carbohydrates will increase insulin which will increase amino acid uptake and promote muscle protein synthesis. However, loading your body with large amounts of post-workout carbs is not as effective as you may think. In fact, to get the maximal effect of protein synthesis, you only need a small amount of insulin.
This doesn't mean you should avoid carbs altogether. Depending on the type of exercise, you may benefit from small carb-ups. Just keep in mind that if you include extra carbs, time them wisely round your workouts or later in the day rather than having a high-carb breakfast meal.
Protein and Ketogenic Nutrition
The primary factor in muscle protein synthesis is your protein intake, specifically leucine. Leucine is an essential amino acid that triggers muscle protein synthesis. It has been shown that blood levels of leucine increase when in keto-adapted state (protein-sparing effect of ketogenic diets). You don't need to over-consume protein to benefit from muscle protein synthesis - just eat adequate amounts to fit your needs. What actually maximises muscle anabolism after resistance exercise is leucine and not the insulin response if you were to eat carbs.
Fat and Ketogenic Nutrition
The ketogenic diet is a high-fat diet. However, it is not recommended to eat high-fat meals immediately after a workout. A high-fat meal would slow digestion of post-workout protein intake - this is not desirable for weight loss or muscle gain. I will include more details about the optimal fat intake in an upcoming post.
Common Myths about Exercise Nutrition
There are several myths that are circulating over the internet and here are the most common ones...
Myth 1: Our body cannot absorb more than 30 grams of protein per sitting
You may have heard that your body cannot digest more than 30-40 grams of protein in one sitting - the rest would apparently be wasted. Don't worry, that's a myth. As you may know, intermittent fasting (IF) pairs perfectly with the ketogenic diet and if you do IF, you will likely be eating just one or two meals a day. Does this mean you are not absorbing enough protein? No. Even if you eat more protein in one sitting, it won't be wasted - your body (the small intestine) will store the amino acids and use them as needed.
Myth 2: You need to eat 40 grams of protein in every meal
Secondly, some people suggest that you need to eat 40 grams of protein in every meal to trigger muscle protein synthesis. This is wrong - what you need is to consume adequate protein throughout the day.
By following the 40 gram rule, you may easily be over-consuming protein, especially if you eat more than twice a day. I am quite active and my protein intake is between 80 and 100 grams based on whether I exercise on that particular day or not. As an example, if I was to have 3 meals a day, I would be over-eating protein by up to 40 grams. Finally, keep in mind that the ketogenic diet is not a high-protein diet.
Myth 3: Post-workout anabolic window of opportunity
The suggestion is that immediately after a workout (no later than 30-45 minutes), our body needs fast digesting carbs and protein. That's why it's not unusual to see people bringing their protein & carb shakes to gym so they can drink them just after exercise before the window closes.
However, it seems that this window is much bigger and nutrient timing in general isn’t that important for the vast majority of people who are trying to lose weight and get fit. Rather than sipping on protein shakes immediately after a workout, take it easy and have a proper meal at home.
Myth 4: You should never fast after a workout
Mark Sisson has admitted to fast after a workout once in a while - and so do I. The benefit is that just like intermittent fasting, and resistance training, post-workout fasting increases the level of human growth hormone (HGH). So if I don't feel hungry, I don't eat. Not feeling hungry is the main benefit of the ketogenic diet and low-carb diets in general. As Mark notes: "insulin suppresses HGH. Skipping the carb snack and the subsequent insulin upsurge goes a long way post-workout."
You can read even more about protein, carbs and exercise nutrition in these posts: Ketogenic Nutrition and Exercise: Protein and Ketogenic Nutrition and Exercise: Carbs
Have any more tips? Let me know in the comments!