In a Danish study of 13 elderly men who were given resistance-training, muscle mass and strength increased significantly when a protein meal was taken immediately after exercising, as opposed to when it was taken two hours after exercising.
Since muscle mass tends to diminish with age, leading to osteoporosis, weakness and fatigue, Birgitte Esmarck and researchers at the Sports Medicine Research Unit of Bispebjerg Hospital in Copenhagen were interested in discovering the importance of the timing of protein intake after a period of resistance training in an elderly population.
It was already known from previous studies that ingesting a protein and carbohydrate drink within two hours after exercising optimised recovery by helping to restore depleted post-workout glycogen levels and aid in protein synthesis, which is a key factor in building muscle.
It was previously believed that if a protein meal was taken within two hours of finishing your workout, muscle recovery was maximised. However, the results of the Danish study reflect the importance of protein intake as soon as possible after exercising.
Esmarck and her fellow researchers studied 13 untrained elderly men over a 12-week periodised resistance-training programme. The men were measured for body composition, strength and protein intake and were assigned to one of two groups. One group took a protein drink 5 minutes after completing each workout, and the other group took the protein drink two hours after completing the same workout.
Those who had taken the protein drink (10 g protein, 7 g carbohydrate, 3 g fat) within five minutes of completing their workout increased their total lean body mass by 1.8 percent, whereas those who took the drink two hours after completing their training actually showed a decrease in lean body mass by 1.5 percent. In addition, quadriceps muscle area increased by 7 percent in the group taking the protein within five minutes, as opposed to the other group who showed no increase in quadriceps size. Finally, the group who supplemented immediately also experienced greater strength gains than the other group, who in some of the tests recorded no strength increases at all.
The results of this study are important in that they show how crucial it is for those engaged in strength training to consume even a little protein as soon after exercising as possible, as only 10 grams of protein were necessary to enhance total muscle mass as well as hypertrophy of single muscle fibres.
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