Pounding protein to pack on muscle: myth?

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As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

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The latest Jockology column is now available — it takes on the myth that you need to pound huge protein shakes after your workouts if you want to pack on muscle. This is a classic case of researchers saying one thing, while top athletes tend to do something completely different. Are the athletes just stuck with outdated traditions, or are the researchers failing to operate in the “real world?”

It’s a pretty safe bet that the guy at the gym who is built like a tree trunk and bench-presses the entire rack also has an enormous barrel of protein powder tucked into his gym bag. This, you might think, is a pretty good endorsement of the “you’ve got to eat muscle to build muscle” school of thought.

But correlation is not the same as causation.

Read the rest of the column — and then feel free to tell me I’m an idiot. After all, I’m not the most muscular guy the world…

Eating after exercise, and elite-only hydration

THANK YOU FOR VISITING SWEATSCIENCE.COM!

As of September 2017, new Sweat Science columns are being published at www.outsideonline.com/sweatscience. Check out my bestselling new book on the science of endurance, ENDURE: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, published in February 2018 with a foreword by Malcolm Gladwell.

- Alex Hutchinson (@sweatscience)

***

Check out this study on exercise and weight loss that appeared last month in the journal PLoS One. Sedentary, post-menopausal women exercised for either 72, 136 or 194 minutes per week. All groups lost weight, but the 194-minute group lost significantly less than expected — less than the 136-minute group, in fact. The researchers attribute this to “compensating” factors: in other words, the subjects ate more than their exercise merited.

I wrote about this problem, and some of research addressing it, in this Jockology column. It brings to mind an interesting conversation I had last summer with Lawrence Spriet, a top researcher at the University of Guelph, about the difficulties of providing advice that’s applicable both to hardcore athletes and to the general population. In that case, we were talking about companies like Gatorade, who have to formulate their products to meet the hydration needs of elite athletes working at unbelievable intensities for several hours a day — but who also know that overweight preteens are going to be chugging bottles after going for a brisk walk.

One way Gatorade addresses this is by marketing different levels of product for different needs — they have G2 with fewer calories for less rigorous exercise, for instance. But what I didn’t realize is that the real strong stuff isn’t even available to the public. For college and professional teams, they offer GatorLytes, which are sachets of electrolyte mix that look like the salt or sugar packs you get at a diner, specially formulated so that you can add them to regular Gatorade without messing up the flavour. Unfortunately, you can’t really take that approach with most exercise and nutrition advice: “What, you’re not a professional athlete? In that case, we can’t tell you about this fantastic new exercise.” So we have to be as careful as possible to ensure that the studies we read are really applicable to us, and not just to a tiny subset of the population.