How much vegan protein per meal for optimal muscle growth?

How much vegan protein per meal for optimal muscle growth? 

(Written by Angela Oosterling, BSc Sports Dietitian , NSCA-CPT Strength Coach, ISAK Anthropometrist.)

General protein recommendation range per meal 

There is a suggested minimum amount of protein (around your training) necessary for optimal muscle protein synthesis (MPS). The amount is mostly dependent on the quality of the protein and of course your total protein recommendation per day. It seems that in particular the leucine content is important. The amount of protein per meal has been recommended to be between 20-50g protein. 

Protein range recommendation when eating a plant-based meal (vegetarian/vegan) 

We need to adapt to the fact that plant-based protein has a lower anabolic response than for example specific animal-based proteins. So, it is suggested to eat the upper range of the recommendation per meal to make sure you get at least 2-3g leucine per meal to stimulate muscle protein synthesis. Leucine is an amino acid that seems to play a key role in muscle protein synthesis. Leucine tends to be lower in plant-based foods (1,2), thus you should aim to increase your protein intake per meal to optimize the amino acid profile intake. It seems that when at least leucine is matched to similar rates of that of animal based protein it will lead to similar rates of muscle gain. (1,2)

Are we "wasting" protein by eating more than 50g protein per meal?

We are not "wasting" or not "not absorbing" our protein intake if we eat more than 50g per meal, but it seems you're only getting an anabolic response from the first 30-50g protein. 
For example, if you eat 80g in one meal, you'll get an anabolic response up until +/- 50g protein, in other words, those 50g is an anabolic threshold, after that, the amount of protein will not do much for anabolism in the muscle. You're not "wasting" it, but you're also not getting "extra gains" by eating more protein per meal. 

 

How to eat your (plant) protein for optimal muscle protein synthesis?

  1. Find out how much protein you should be eating per day. The total protein intake a day is leading. A great suggested guideline is +/- 2,2g per kg body weight, but a more personalized approach is recommended since your total protein recommendation depends on body weight, body composition, age, total kcal-intake, quality of your protein, practical applicability and goal. For the sake of this example, let's use 2,2g protein per kg body weight. 
    So, if you weigh 75kg it's 2,2x75= 165g of protein per day. Or you can choose to take a percentage of your total amount of calories, for example 30-35%. So, if you're eating 2200 kcal and you want 30% of those calories to be protein: 0,3x2200=660/4 (1g protein=4kcal)=165g protein
  2. Divide your protein intake over the amount of meals you want to eat. So, if for example you want to eat 4 meals a day: 165g protein/4= 41,25g protein per meal
    You can also choose to use 0,4-0,55g protein per kg body weigh per meal (suggested to use the upper range when eating plant-based). For example, if you weigh 75kg: 0,55x75=41,25g protein per meal 
  3. Plan a recommended 40-50g of (plant) protein before you go to sleep. Having protein before bed can provide an opportunity to stimulate muscle growth during the night.
  4. Plan a recommended 30-50g (plant) protein around your workout (optimal within 2 hours after your workout). This way you can make sure to get at least 2-3g leucine in, which is important for muscle protein synthesis. 

Example meal with +/- 40g vegan protein

Total kcal with toppings: 500 kcal and 41g vegan protein of which more than 3g leucine

Toppings:

  • 10g peanut butter (melted)
  • 5g syrup
  • 5g caramelized nuts (nougatine)
  • optional: 1 banana (this would add +100-120 kcal depending on the size)

See recipe here

 

 

Conclusion

If you want to build muscle mass, in addition to a strategic planning around the protein intake, the amount of kilocalories (kcal) is also important. Sufficient kcal has a muscle protein sparing effect.
In addition, not much will happen without a continuous stimulus from strength training, so ensure a strategic structure of training with a progressive overload.

Always strive for a varied and balanced diet and a healthy lifestyle. Food supplements are not a substitute.

 

 

 

1 - Vilet, S. et al. The Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Plant - versus Animal - Based Protein Consumption,  The Journal of Nutrition. Volume 145, Issue 9 2015, 1981–1991

2. Norton LE, Wilson GJ, Layman DK, Moulton CJ, Garlick PJ. Leucine content of dietary proteins is a determinant of postprandial skeletal muscle protein synthesis in adult rats. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2012 Jul 20;9(1):67. doi: 10.1186/1743-7075-9-67. 

Angela Oosterling, BSc Sports Dietitian , NSCA-CPT Strength Coach, ISAK Anthropometrist