Optimizing Your Muscle Growth and Fat Loss with Protein Pulse Feeding

By David Barr, MuscleTalk Contributor
May 2008

It's become increasingly clear that protein isn't just a nutrient that we passively consume and leave it at that. It's much better. In fact, there's a way in which we can actually make protein work for us. How great would it be to have our nutrition doing some of the work? You're about to find out, and it's going to change the way you look and feel.

Making It Work
The key to any nutritional program is figuring out how they are best used to work for us. The days of simply thinking of them as passive substances are over. Active nutrition is the principle that nutrients are indeed active, and therefore we can use them to help us reach our goals. Although this applies to any nutrient, it is perhaps the most prominent with protein. Let's take a look at how it can work for us.

The Post-Workout Myth
It may surprise you to know that you're already familiar with active nutrition and have likely even been using it. For protein, this specifically refers to post-workout nutrition. Just to ensure we're all on the same page, this specifically refers to using a fast protein shake after training in order to stimulate muscle growth, strength, performance, and recovery. In fact, this practice is one of the most beneficial applications of a supplement to come out in the last 20 years!

Although it's commonly felt that such a protein drink can only be used during the special post-workout period, this is completely false. In fact, we can use such a drink at almost any time to improve our performance and body composition! While it's true that the post-workout period is one of enhanced protein sensitivity, such that our bodies are slightly more sensitive to the effects or protein, it is in fact the protein that is doing all of the work!

Applying Active Nutrition
If we're all on the same page then the destruction of the above myth should be quite exciting to you. After all, if post-workout protein drinks are incredibly effective for helping us reach our universal goals, you can imagine the effect of having two or three such shakes a day!

The key to protein-based active nutrition is a property of some proteins which enables them to get into our bloodstream very quickly. They are known as fast proteins, and specifically refer to whey hydrolysates and pure amino acids. Although not quite as precise, whey isolate is also quite useful, and is overall a very user- friendly protein.

Protein Pulsing
We can use these fast proteins in a manner called Protein Pulse Feeding, which is not at all unlike our post-workout drink. With such feeding, we make use of the rapid rises in blood amino acid/'protein' levels to stimulate muscle growth and recovery. The best part is that we can use such feeding at nearly any time to maximize our results!

Quick Tip: Although muscle anabolism (growth/strength/recovery) is often strictly thought of as being useful for bulking, it is critically important for fat loss as well! That's because our muscle is the metabolic furnace that keeps our fat burning going all day (and night!). This furnace is often severely compromised during a calorie-reduced diet, but Protein Pulse Feeding can help mitigate the damage and keep the furnace stoked at full blast!

Applying Protein Pulse Feeding
There are a couple of minor conditions that must be clarified before we can add this powerful tool to our nutrition and supplementation arsenal.

  1. Choosing The Right Protein
    As previously mentioned, protein pulse feeding works optimally with a fast protein. That's because it's the rapid protein pulse that actually signals the muscle to grow and repair. An intermediate speed protein is acceptable for a single pulse, but is not a viable choice for multiple consecutive protein pulses.
  2. Meal Timing
    In contrast to common convention, meal timing in this case simply refers to the temporal distance between your protein pulse feeding and your last solid protein-containing meal. This is important because such a solid meal will slow down our fast protein and dampen both the magnitude and rapidity of the pulse.

    Additionally, the solid meal will ensure that the amino acids in our bloodstream are already high, thus making a protein shake-induced pulse less likely. For these reasons, waiting several hours after a solid food meal is a good time for protein pulsing.

Quick Tip: Clients report that this effect is particularly powerful for a morning protein shake, because it takes them from a state of muscle breakdown to one of muscle growth and repair.

Conclusion
By using our nutrients in a specific manner we are able to take full advantage of their special properties and make them work for us. This is known as active nutrition and is very effective for helping us optimize our goals. This is especially true of protein use, which, in the right situation, can be pulsed in order to dramatically improve our growth, strength, recovery and even fat loss. Protein Pulsing has been used successfully by dozens of clients and now that it's been refined; it's time for you to get optimized.

About The Author
David Barr is widely recognized as an industry innovator, most recently for his work on developing The Anabolic Index. As a strength coach and scientist, he brings a unique perspective to the areas of diet, supplementation, and training. His research experience includes work for NASA at the Johnson Space Center, as well as studying the effect of protein on muscle growth. He holds certifications with the NSCA as well as USA Track and Field.

Selected References
Borsheim E, Tipton KD, Wolf SE, Wolfe RR. Essential amino acids and muscle protein recovery from resistance exercise. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2002 Oct;283(4):E648-57

Calbet JA, MacLean DA. Plasma glucagon and insulin responses depend on the rate of appearance of amino acids after ingestion of different protein solutions in humans. J Nutr. 2002 Aug;132(8):2174-82.

Dangin M, Boirie Y, Garcia-Rodenas C, Gachon P, Fauquant J, Callier P, Ballevre O, Beaufrere B. The digestion rate of protein is an independent regulating factor of postprandial protein retention Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 280: E340-E348, 2001

Rasmussen BB, Tipton KD, Miller SL, Wolf SE, Wolfe RR. An oral essential amino acid-carbohydrate supplement enhances muscle protein anabolism after resistance exercise. J Appl Physiol. 2000 Feb;88(2):386-92.

Tipton KD, Borsheim E, Wolf SE, Sanford AP, Wolfe RR Acute response of net muscle protein balance reflects 24-h balance after exercise and amino acid ingestion. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab. 2003 Jan;284(1):E76-89.