Basic questions about protein

I’m not into exercising, which I guess is kind of obvious based on the title, but I did start working in a factory on several different hard jobs, carrying heavy stuff in hands, pulling heavy metal containers with a hand forklift on a hot summer sun and several other “activities”.

Since essentially I am going to the gym now, the gym being my workplace, I have two questions about protein:

  1. if I want protein to be used for building muscle and not to get used just as a fuel source like carbs or fuels, do I need to pass my daily calorie requirement number first and only then eat protein as my last meal of the day? For example 1900 calories as a requirement, or can I use protein for muscle building even if I don’t yet hit the 1900 calorie number, like for example to eat most of my protein in the morning and first half of the day. If second is the answer, do I need to reach the 1900 calorie number at all in that case?

  2. Since I work for 8 hours and don’t know in advance when I will do heavy stuff (I do easy stuff as well, but mixed, maybe I’ll not do anything heavy for the first few hours, maybe I’ll do heavy stuff the entire day,etc.) , should I eat protein before work, after it or before bed? At the moment I don’t have any schedules, but I mostly eat protein before bed, since that’s when I will rest, so it kind of makes sense that I’ll need nutrients to regenerate while sleeping, though my logic may be flawed, I don’t know…

I’ve yet to see any compelling evidence that eating X number of calories at different times of the day, or scheduling which macronutrients you eat at which time of day, makes any meaningful difference in how your body uses it. If you want to gain weight, including muscle, you need to eat more than you burn. But more importantly, you need to actually work those muscles consistently. More weight, fewer reps is the rule of thumb for adding bulk; it’s been my personal experience that I don’t see any growth without feeling a little sore after every workout for at least a few weeks. You probably don’t need to eat as much protein as you think you do.

Few people know more about protein in regards to athletic needs than Alan Aragon. Here’s a quick video from five years ago, but not outdated:

Probably not very relevant to you though as working hard isn't the same as training.

As far as timing, here’s an excellent review by Alan and Brad Schoenfeld:

That’s the old rule. Plenty of evidence over the last several years that all rep ranges produce similar results as far as hypertrophy is concerned (strength is another matter). Here’s some info with cites:

Mother Nature already took care of that. Carbs and fats are much better energy sources both in terms of energy density and of the body’s ability to store them (fat gets stored as body fat all over; carbs, as glucagon in the liver; proteins, nowhere*): proteins are only used as an energy source in significant amounts by the time you look like a scarecrow’s thinner brother.

  • “Being used as building blocks in muscle and other organs” is not the same as “storing”. There isn’t any place where the body puts away piles of aminoacids “for later use”, as there is with sugars and fats. This is why essential aminoacids, those that our bodies cannot make, need to always be part of our diet: our body cannot make them, but it also can’t put them away when we eat a lot of them and pull them back later.

Be more concerned about hydration than about protein at this time.

So…in other words it doesn’t matter if I eat most of my proteins in the morning, they will still get used for building muscle, as long as I reach the 1900 calory mark by the end of the day? I just need a straightforward answer

To build muscle, you need a slight caloric surplus, no more than 100-300 calories/day. More than that will be stored as fat. You need to determine your maintenance caloric intake.

Since you’re working hard all day, it would be better to take in some protein through the day. It will also be easier to meet your total needs rather than forcing it all in one meal.
You also will be burning glycogen and replenishing that is made more efficient if some protein is consumed with carbs.

My suggestion would be to do some specific online research about protein requirements to build muscle for someone your age, gender and activity level. Alternatively you could talk to a nutritionist or fitness trainer.

After that I’d strongly suggest using an app to track your carb, fat and protein intake. I use a free one called “MyNetDiary”, but there are many similar ones. On the app you enter your personal goals, activity level etc. The app then provides you with a caloric breakdown plus a “food guide” generic target of carbs, fats and protein consumption in order to gain, lose or maintain weight.

You can then personalize their suggested CF&P levels to your individual goals based on your research i.e.: increase the level of protein to however many grams/day you need.

Once you start using the app, you enter everything you eat & drink and it gives you an ongoing breakdown of how you’re doing with respect to your your targets. You’ll then will definitively know if you should eat more protein in a given day etc.

When you first start using the app, entering every food is a bit of a pain in the ass, but the app “remembers” your foods. As you use it more, data entry gets easier and faster.

Once you see the data breakdown it can be very illuminating. It helped me make massive changes to my diet. I was not getting nearly as much protein as I thought or required in a given day (when you eat a 10oz steak, you’re not getting 10oz of protein), and I was getting way more carbs than I thought (or needed).

Definitely not a need, especially in noobs. I’ve even seen advanced athletes build muscle without being in a surplus when training body parts they usually don’t focus on, for example, forearms.

One can even build muscle in a caloric deficit.

I’d be interested in a cite for that.

Unless you are into some serious powerlifting, you likely don’t need to be so concerned about the optimum way to manage protein. Do you eat protein throughout the day with your regular meals? Typically, proteins are part of your normal diet anyway. I would guess that would suffice for the protein you would need at this level.

The work activities you describe at aren’t really going to build all that much muscle. They use your muscles, but it’s not likely that your muscles are exterted in such a way that your body is triggered to build them up very much. You will notice some improvement in your muscles and body shape, but it’s not so much that you need to worry about eating enough protein. If you have a typical diet, you should likely be getting plenty of protein anyway.

However, if you start going to the gym and doing multi-hour weightlifting workouts where you’re trembling from the effort, then it’s a good idea to add supplemental protein. At that level, you’re stressing the muscles in such a way that they’ll need protein to rebuild and build up.

Not bodybuilding?

There are numerous studies showing various benefits of increasing protein.

It doesn’t take that level of resistance exercise for increased protein to be a benefit.

You should only worry about burning protein during the day if that is all you are eating. Otherwise the fat and carbs you eat will be what is burned and not the protein.

Conventional wisdom is that you should eat protein within 1 hour of working out for maximum effect. This has not been studied in any great detail and may just be bro science.

Good to know, thanks. I’m actually unsure now that I reread the OP whether he’s actually trying to add bulk or just build/maintain enough strength to do the job. If the latter, your cite still validates the more weight/fewer reps idea:

Anyway, I’d be very cautious about internet research or advice from others. For every factoid we actually know about nutrition and exercise, there are a million widely-accepted urban myths, as you’re already seeing.

Regulation of Muscle Glycogen Repletion, Muscle Protein Synthesis and Repair Following Exercise

The Role of Post-Exercise Nutrient Administration on Muscle Protein Synthesis and Glycogen Synthesis (Halfway down the page- Intervention of protein section)

Sure, you specifically said “More weight, fewer reps is the rule of thumb for adding bulk.” That’s what I was responding to and specifically added “strength is another matter.”

That’s the case for a lot of the things asked of in GQ. What the bulk of the research shows us is generally the best answer. It’s easy to cherry pick data and arrive at one’s biased conclusion.

Thanks, I’ll take a closer look when I get a chance. I believe at least one of those studies was mentioned in another nutrient timing paper by Aragon and Schoenfeld.

FTR, they found the research to show that most athletes (those not engaging in endurance sports where the duration between glycogen-depleting events is limited to less than approximately 8 hours) don’t need to concern themselves with maximizing the rate of muscle glycogen synthesis:

When discussing protein for muscle building, the activity mentioned in the OP should be taken into consideration. He’s at work, where occasionally he has to lift something heavy. This is not working out in a gym with a fully-loaded bar. He’s not doing sets. He’s pulling a rolling forklift from one place to another. While I totally agree it takes some exertion and will make him tired, I’m less likely to think it’s going to be stressful enough to stimulate significant muscle growth that protein needs to be monitored or taken on a certain schedule. I would be very surprised if any modern factory following OSHA-requirements would have workers doing activities which mimicked a weightlifting workout. There would be too high a risk for injury.

So in this specific case, I would think extra protein would be a waste. I don’t get the sense that a factory worker would need more protein than they get in their normal diet. It may actually end up contributing to undesirable weight gain. Your body isn’t going to automatically convert extra protein into muscle. If it doesn’t need to make more muscle, the protein would be converted and stored as fat.

Depending on what one’s diet currently is, extra protein may be converted to muscle. And protein being converted to fat is highly unlikely.

I’m not from America, but from East Europe, so no OSHA, at least nothing strict. The main thing I waste my energy on every day is pulling/pushing several 100kg metal containers (to recycle material inside them) for around 3 kilometers (around 2 miles) of combined length (there and back, that’s not counting times when I am going empty to get the next container), with a part of the route being uphill, where I must push hard to get it over that. Then another half mile with another 100kg container to take out garbage materials. Add to that the hot sun and +30 degrees celsius (90F) and I’d like to see if you wouldn’t consider that a workout. Try it, get a hand forklift and push 100 kilos for 2 miles in 90 degrees and say how it felt, just make sure at least 20% of it is uphill. My BMI is just 19 and I never did any real exercising in my life before this job, so feel free to add more weight to make things proportional.

That’s just what I do in the first 2 hours every day, then there are a bunch of different jobs that come later on, like working multiple hours on a large hand operated cutting machine, where you must pull the cutting handle hard or else you won’t cut through the material. This is not as tough as containers, but after that there’s still about 4 similarly physically requiring things we do each day, counting the fact that there’s no unscheduled need for even more material, counting that a machine didn’t broke down, that the person in charge didn’t order us to do something additional,etc.

I doubt that OSHA gets involved with manual labor limits. I found the following: