There are so many different camps of extremes when it comes to protein in the fitness industry. Some people say you that you’ll be fine eating one meal per day. Others say if you’re not eating every 2 hours you will lose muscle…all of these extremes are a bit absurd.
If your goals are basic without looking to optimize results, you can do 20% of the work and get 80% of the results. This consists of hitting daily protein (0.8-1.2g per pound of body weight or per pound of lean mass if over weight). Whether that may be in 1 meal or in 7 meals, hitting this intake is a major priority.
Next we have quality. If you consume a lot of animal products you’re better off as these contain high amounts of essential amino acids. However if vegan, or getting protein from plant-based sources, you may need to put more emphasis on food variety to receive the right amount of amino acids.
Now let’s talk about distribution, or how you split up your protein intake throughout the day. Can you progress or maintain your physique with an extreme like only having one or two protein feedings a day? Yes. Is it optimal? No.
If following a more drastic approach like this it seems that focusing on slower-digesting, whole-food protein would be more beneficial. Otherwise, consuming a whey supplement wouldn’t provide a slow bolus as it’s much faster digesting.
If your goal is muscle preservation or retention it’s easier to get away with fewer protein feedings. However, if you’re trying to do that extra 20% to optimize progression, especially if your goal is to BUILD muscle or get lean while maintaining as much muscle as possible…protein distribution is important.
This isn’t to say you can’t fast or follow intermittent fasting, but if your goal is physique-based I wouldn’t take extreme measures (like eating one meal a day). Whether you intermittent fast or not, I would still recommend getting 3-5 quality feedings every day. If it’s going to be a while before your next feeding, I wouldn’t have a Whey supplement solely. Rather, you’re better off with a whole-food source, a blend of casein/whey, or just casein. This is because the slower digestion results in a longer rise in muscle protein synthesis (MPS) rather than a sharp spike and drop (as with whey only).
How Much Is Enough?
A simple rule of thumb is to get about 0.2-0.25g of high-quality protein per pound of body weight (or lean mass if overweight) per meal 4-5 times per day. This will help ensure that you are maximizing your muscle protein synthesis throughout the day. And by high quality, I generally mean an animal-based source as it is very rich in all of the essential amino acids.
So let’s say you’re going to bed and you won’t be eating for the next 10-16 hours. You would greatly benefit from a larger bolus from sources like meat, whole-food dairy, eggs, casein, etc. These will digest slower and provide the body with elevated MPS for a longer period of time.
Now not to over complicate things but to help with optimization;
1. Split protein intake to at least a few feedings per day.
2. Don’t get the majority of your intake from whey, especially in one meal (though whey is still a quality source).
3. Have larger protein feedings before longer periods of not eating.