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Protein Needs: How to Prevent Muscle Loss During Inactivity

Even underworked muscles need protein – science proves it. Keeping protein intake high during times of inactivity could save your hard-earned muscle mass.

Protein Intake to Prevent Muscle Loss During Inactivity

You might think that if you’re training less, doing less cardio, or even inactive altogether, you don’t need as much protein in your diet as when you’re going full bore in the gym.

Totally wrong!

Granted, those who train and stay active have high protein demands. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore your protein intake if you get injured and can’t train, get tied up with other life obligations and start slacking on your workouts, or you’re training with less volume or intensity for some other reason (like, say, the coronavirus stay-at-home orders).

Multiple research studies show that protein intake is absolutely critical for inactive people to prevent muscle loss. I’ll break down those studies right here, and hopefully save you some hard-earned muscle mass.

Prevent Muscle Atrophy With High Protein

The first study I’m going to discuss comes from a 2013 issue of the academic journal Nutrition Reviews. The underlying premise of the article is that “muscle disuse” (a.k.a., inactivity or not training) leads to atrophy, or muscle loss. This is a well-known fact.

The study found that “maintaining protein intake during a period of disuse attenuates disuse atrophy.” This quote comes directly from the research paper. What it means is this: Keeping protein intake high prevents muscle loss when you’re not training or are training less frequently or less intense. This is important because the last thing you want is to lose muscle mass.

The study went on to say that supplementing with dietary protein (i.e., protein powder) or essential amino acids (like BCAAs) is a good strategy for preserving muscle mass during periods of inactivity (disuse).

This is all perfectly in line with what I’ve been saying for years: Whether you’re training hard or not, you should shoot for at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily, and even up to 1.5 grams per pound.

The most convenient way to achieve this is to get some of that intake through protein powder; with whole food alone, that’s a hell of a lot of chicken breasts and eggs! Plus, my Pro JYM protein powder contains a perfect blend of whey, casein, and egg proteins to maximize protein synthesis to build and maintain muscle mass.

For a more in-depth understanding of the importance of protein powder and how muscle synthesis works, read my 3 Ways to Grow the Most Muscle With Protein Powder article.

As for amino acids, both Pre JYM and Post JYM contain critical aminos like BCAAs, beta-alanine, and taurine.

Be More Anabolic With Protein and Leucine

Let’s look at another study, this one from 2014 and published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. The experiment looked at older adults, but the point is, they were inactive people.

The study found that dietary protein and amino acid supplementation – at least 30 grams of protein and 3 grams of the amino leucine per serving – promoted anabolism (muscle building) and muscle maintenance in sedentary individuals. Leucine supplementation was also highlighted in a 2016 article in the journal Nutrients that looked at preserving muscle mass during disuse.

Leucine, of course, is the most anabolic of the three branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs). And again, it’s in both Pre JYM and Post JYM.

The researchers also referenced in the paper that creatine and fish oil-derived omega 3 fatty acids can further help prevent muscle loss during periods of disuse/inactivity. Creatine is present in Pre JYM and Post JYM, and my Omega JYM fish oil provides adequate amounts of all the most critical omega 3 fats.

Greater Protein Synthesis in Injured Athletes Through Dietary Protein

The last study I’m going to talk about, published in a 2015 issue of the European Journal of Sport Science, looked injured athletes. So we’re not talking about the elderly anymore; these are young people who were highly active and highly trained, and then they got injured and couldn’t train as much as normal, if at all.

The study states that “dietary consumption is of critical importance for stimulating muscle protein synthesis rates throughout the day.” And this: “… evidence suggests that maintaining or increasing daily protein intake by focusing upon the amount, type, and timing of dietary protein ingestion throughout the day can restrict the loss of muscle mass and strength during recovery from injury.”

Yes, during recovery from injury. Or, when you’re not injured but you’re sitting on your ass more and training less!

Jim’s Take-Home Message

Bottom line: By keeping your protein intake high, you’ll lose less muscle during times of inactivity.

Get that protein from lean meats (lean steak, chicken breasts), eggs, dairy (like cottage cheese), and protein powder (Pro JYM). I also recommend taking BCAAs – either through Pre JYM, Post JYM, or a stand-alone BCAA product – in times when you’re not getting at least 30 grams of protein (3 grams of leucine) in a meal to make sure you’re spiking muscle protein synthesis.

For more information on taking BCAAs between meals, read my Best Ways to Use BCAAs article.

Don’t lose your muscle when you’re unable to get to the gym. Maintain your gains by keeping protein intake high at all times.

 

References

Galvan, Elfego & Arentson-Lantz, Emily & Lamon, Séverine & Paddon-Jones, Douglas. (2016). Protecting Skeletal Muscle with Protein and Amino Acid during Periods of Disuse. Nutrients. 8. 404. 10.3390/nu8070404.

Thalacker-Mercer, Anna & Drummond, Micah. (2014). The importance of dietary protein for muscle health in inactive, hospitalized older adults. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences. 1328. 10.1111/nyas.12509.

Wall, Benjamin T, James P. Morton & Luc J. C. van Loon (2015) Strategies to maintain skeletal muscle mass in the injured athlete: Nutritional considerations and exercise mimetics, European Journal of Sport Science, 15:1, 53-62, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2014.936326

Wall BT, van Loon LJ. Nutritional strategies to attenuate muscle disuse atrophy. Nutrition Reviews. 2013 Apr;71(4):195-208.

 





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