Protein Pulse Feeding

October 31st, 2007 by Paul Johnson

Bodybuilders have always eaten protein over multiple meals throughout the day. They do this in order to get a steady supply of protein, so their muscles can grow and they don't become catabolic.  Protein pulse feeding is a recent theory, that slaps that notion in the face. The idea came from bodybuilders when research a few years ago, suggested that large infrequent doses of protein, was better for muscle growth.

Protein pulse feed studies:

A study published in (American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 69, No. 6, 1202-1208, June 1999) was done on 15 elderly women for 15 days. One group had protein spread over 4 meals, the other 80% at noon. The protein for both diets was 1.7 grams per kg of lean mass. Results showed protein synthesis and nitrogen retention better in the pulse group.

However this followup study by researchers (Journal of Nutrition. 2000;130:1700-1704) showed different results on younger women. The average mean age was 26 with 1.7 grams per kg of lean mass. They found no improvement in nitrogen retention or protein synthesis resulting from pulse feeding.

Another study by the researchers (Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 278: E902-E909, 2000;) showed young and older women were in a beneficial state for protein retention, one day after the study had stopped.

This same study group even did a study later on rats (The American Society for Nutritional Sciences J. Nutr. 132:1002-1008, 2002). The study was done on older rats, all starting with 10 days of adaption diet. Then half were switched to a pulse diet for 21 days. Results showed increase in protein synthesis and complimented the previous human studies.

Is protein pulse feed better for muscle growth?

The evidence from the studies all done by the same researchers, suggest protein pulse feeding is more beneficial for muscle growth, than spreading it out. However, these studies are done on untrained individuals and are done for a short time. They would be more convincing if they were for 2 months. If the studies were done for a few more weeks, the body might learn to respond to a radical change in protein consumption. I suspect that the reason why pulse feeding is beneficial initially in the first few weeks, is because the body is putting itself in "protein starvation mode". It doesn't know when the next dose of protein is coming, so it is not releasing it. I would think that over enough time (just a theory of mine), this benefit would wear off and probably even go in the opposite direction.

Another important point is these studies aren't done on bodybuilders (or even athletic people). I imagine that when you consider protein synthesis increases for 24-36 hours after a workout, that protein pulse feeding diet would probably not be effective diet under these conditions.
Hopefully there will be more studies on this issue in the future, so we can get a clearer answer. I think most bodybuilders would love to know they only had to consume protein in 2 or 3 meals instead of 5-7, but I highly doubt at this point this diet will work as good as a regular bulking diet.

For additional reading, here are some previous articles of ours:

-How much protein can we digest in one meal?
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  1. Supplements in Canada on November 1st, 2007

    Protein pulse feeding is an interesting approach. You would think, going back to what is thought about protein absorption, that when you are taking 80% of your daily protein in one shot that only a small percentage would be absorbed and the rest would be excreted as waste?

    Like you said, with protein pulse feeding tests would need to be done longer than one month to show much more conclusive results.

  2. bodybuilding muscle on November 12th, 2007

    Thank you for the information on the issue of making things like bodybuilding taking necessary pills and the system of how to low your belly If the studies were done for a few more weeks, the body might learn to respond to a radical change in protein consumption.