ClimbSci is an evidence-based webcast covering scientific topics related to climbing and climbers, notably nutrition, training, recovery, and performance. Hosted by Brian Rigby (Climbing Nutrition), and Tom Herbert (usefulcoach).

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Episode 01 - Protein


For our very first ClimbSci episode, we discuss all-things protein.

An overview of the nutrient, the science-based intake and requirements for climbers, optimising meals, the pros and cons of meal timing, and also answer whether or not supplementing with BCAAs (branched-chain amino acids) are actually helpful at all. We discuss if there are any specific protein requirements for special circumstances such as age and extended rest periods, and finally close out the episode by reviewing piece of climbing-related research—the effect of the fear of falling on catecholamines, a class of hormone including epinephrine (adrenalin).

Since the is our first show, it did end up being longer than planned—even though we had more still to say. For your sake, future such broad topics will be split into more specific manageable episodes, or chopped into separate parts.

If you have any questions or comments regarding the show, want us to investigate something specifically, or know any guests we should interview; please leave them in the YouTube comments, or head over to Brian’s page facebook/climbingnutrition and leave them on the wall.

Contents / Navigation

These timecodes are clickable when viewing on Youtube. For the sake of time, not all epsisodes are timecoded.

  • 0:00:52 Who are Brian Rigby and Tom Herbert
  • 0:03:23 Purpose and goals of the ClimbSc Cast
  • 0:06:00 Overview of Episode 1: Protein
  • 0:06:44 What is protein?
  • 0:11:40 Intake guidelines for general population versus athletes
  • 0:14:40 Amino acid deficiency, is the average diet sufficient?
  • 0:18:00 Protein as a signalling molecule
  • 0:20:10 Importance of the amino acid leucine, dose response
  • 0:22:04 How much protein do you need per meal?
  • 0:23:40 Muscle protein synthesis (MPS) and the leucine switch
  • 0:27:09 Optimising (MPS) by spreading protein across the day
  • 0:29:06 Is there are a “muscle full” effect?
  • 0:31:35 Practical summary of dividing protein between meals
  • 0:35:00 Problem with multiple low protein snacks
  • 0:37:02 Tracking and optimising protein per meal
  • 0:38:55 Could protein immediately before bed be useful?
  • 0:43:15 Importance of positive protein balance
  • 0:45:32 Addressing the worry of gaining muscle mass
  • 0:50:12 Do protein requirements increase if we get bigger?
  • 0:54:30 More protein or more energy (carbohydrate or fat)?
  • 0:58:18 Do we use all the protein we consume?
  • 1:00:01 The importance of energy (kcal) balance
  • 1:05:24 Don’t consume protein at the expense of carbohydrate
  • 1:08:00 Fixing lower quality protein meals (plant-based)
  • 1:11:37 Consume protein not BCAAs
  • 1:18:10 Is there an “anabolic window” after training?
  • 1:19:22 Is there a benefit of eating protein before training?
  • 1:21:01 Is too much protein harmful?
  • 1:24:00 Do your parents need more protein then you do?
  • 1:26:08 Protein and pH (acid / alkaline balance)
  • 1:30:22 Listener Q&A: Protein requirement for adolescents
  • 1:30:42 Listener Q&A: Protein requirement for rest days
  • 1:33:30 Consistency, food first, but supplements are useful
  • 1:36:30 Research Review: “Hormones and falling fear”
  • 1:42:38 Show closing remarks


All studies below were specifically cited in this episode. In general, if a study was not cited in the episode, we do not cite it here—even if we base a claim on it or similar studies. Expertise is a culmination of the time spent studying a topic, and it is not always practical to fully cite the research that has informed our professional opinion. If you have a question regarding the source of a specific claim we make, please contact us.

  • 0:51:57 Areta, J. L., Burke, L. M., Ross, M. L., Camera, D. M., West, D. W. D., Broad, E. M., … Coffey, V. G. (2013). Timing and distribution of protein ingestion during prolonged recovery from resistance exercise alters myofibrillar protein synthesis. The Journal of Physiology, 591(Pt 9), 2319–31.
  • 0:56:01 Macnaughton, L. S., Wardle, S. L., Witard, O. C., McGlory, C., Hamilton, D. L., Jeromson, S., … Tipton, K. D. (2016). The response of muscle protein synthesis following whole-body resistance exercise is greater following 40 g than 20 g of ingested whey protein. Physiological Reports, 4(15), 1102–1106.
  • 1:18:36 Schoenfeld, B. J., Aragon, A. A., & Krieger, J. W. (2013). The effect of protein timing on muscle strength and hypertrophy: a meta-analysis. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 10(1), 53.
  • 1:13:12 Baláš, J., Giles, D., Chrastinová, L., Kárníková, K., Kodejška, J., Hlaváčková, A., … Draper, N. (2016). The effect of potential fall distance on hormonal response in rock climbing. Journal of Sports Sciences, 414(July), 1–6.
  • 1:21:05 Antonio, J., Ellerbroek, A., Silver, T., Vargas, L., & Peacock, C. (2016). The effects of a high protein diet on indices of health and body composition – a crossover trial in resistance-trained men. Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 1–7.
  • 1:28:00 Bonjour, J.P. (2013). Nutritional disturbance in acid-base balance and osteoporosis: a hypothesis that disregards the essential homeostatic role of the kidney. The British Journal of Nutrition, 110(7), 1168–77.

Q&A (Uncovered in Episode)

We try to answer as many questions as possible either during an episode’s discussion or afterwards in the dedicated Q&A time; however, time dictates that we usually cannot completely address all our listeners’ questions! If you asked a question and do not think it was answered, we may answer it below each episode, instead.

In one of your articles you list good vs. bad proteins (particularly hemp). In rough numbers, how much good protein should you make sure you eat per gram of bad protein per day if you are eating to gain muscle. In short, if I like to use hemp hearts to add protein to meals (cereal, oatmeal, spaghetti sauce), do I have to worry about compensating it with enough good protein to maximize my training gains? — Brian

In general, “bad proteins”—proteins that are by definition either a poor source of essential amino acids or poorly digested–cannot truly substitute for good proteins as a protein of medium-quality might. Hemp, for example, is a very poor source of leucine (only 0.65 g per 20 g of protein), so it would take too much food to really be considered worthwhile as a protein. This isn’t to say hemp and other “bad proteins” aren’t good foods or shouldn’t be included in the diet, of course, but merely to suggest that if adequate protein is your goal, it’s better to include sources that are of at least medium-quality. (You can read more about quality here.)

It’s tempting to turn to a few convenient high-protein foods to meet my protein intake goals. What’s the risk of eating a less diverse, but simpler and more convenient diet—say for example, eating 3-4 eggs every day? Conversely, is there a benefit to getting your protein from a wide variety of sources, given that you’re already accounting for protein quality? — Anson

In general, I would classify protein as one of the least important places to worry about diversity. It’s much more important to aim for diversity in fruits and vegetables (though even this is not as important as simply eating enough) as these foods contain a much more diverse array of potentially healthy chemicals (i.e., “phytonutrients”), whereas most high-protein foods do not. Thus, if the rest of your diet is diverse (and nutritionally complete), there’s not a lot of risk to eating the same protein foods routinely.

As far as we know, are all proteins we eat completely digested to amino acid monomers before they are utilized by our bodies? Is there any evidence that eating a specific type of protein is better than eating the equivalent amounts of its constituent amino acids? How does this relate to “release rate” and maintaining anabolism throughout the day? — Anson

Yes, as far as we know all proteins are fully digested to single amino acids before being used by our body. Proteins are almost fully broken apart into their constituent amino acids by enzymes in the stomach and small intestine. A few di- and tripeptides are absorbed intact into the enterocytes (intestinal wall cells), but these cells have their own peptidases—enzymes that break peptides into amino acids. Even if a peptide were to make it into our body, though, we would not be able to use it as protein encoding is done via amino acids and not peptides.

As far as I’m aware, there’s no evidence that there’s any difference between eating a complete protein vs. its constituent amino acids—but this is because I’m unaware of any experiment that has tested it (some use smaller amounts of EAAs). More than likely, there would be no major difference in the two at least insofar as the total absorption remained the same. One potential issue is that whole proteins often clump (for lack of better word) while denaturing—think of milk becoming cheese, or runny egg whites becoming solid—thus slowing digestion and allowing more time for absorption. Single amino acids cannot do this as they lack structure, and so the time to absorb would potentially be much shorter. Of course, they may also be absorbed faster as they are already available, and so this could be a null issue.

Regardless of release rate, all high-quality proteins that have been tested have similar effects of muscle protein synthesis. Some cause a larger, shorter spike while others are smaller and longer, but the “area under the curve”—the total net protein synthesis induced—remains the same. Whether this makes much of a difference to the average (or even the elite) person is a matter of debate (some of which we discuss in the episode), but if it does matter, it’s not as important as getting enough protein or even timing your protein.

Further Reading

How Much Protein Does a Climber Need?

The Best Sources of Protein

You Still Don’t Need More Than 20 Grams of Protein per Meal


Brian Rigby

Brian Rigby is a climber, sports nutritionist, and writer; he’s not so bad at handstands, either. He is the author behind Climbing Nutrition, a blog that aims to improve climbers’ understanding of how nutrition affects performance and help them climb better. Brian lives in Boulder, Colorado with his wife and two dogs, has a master of science in applied clinical nutrition, and is a certified (CISSN) sports nutritionist through the International Society for Sports Nutrition.

Climbing Nutrition / fb:climbingnutrition

Tom Herbert

Tom Herbert (aka “usefulcoach”) when not working full-time as a GNU/Linux System Administrator, works as a freelance strength and conditioning coach, and performance and change nutritionist certified (CISSN) through the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Based in London UK, Tom works with a number of Team GB climbers, enjoys bouldering, pole dancing (doing not watching), long walks, longer sentences, and is a serial user of the Oxford comma.

usefulcoach / fb:usefulcoach / @usefulcoach