How Much Protein Can The Body Absorb In One Meal? If You Want The Evidence-Based Answer, You Need To Read This Article
How much protein can the body absorb in one meal?
20g? 30g? Or is it unlimited?
And if there is a limit, how should you adjust your nutrition to account for it?
You're reading this article because these are the questions that have been plaguing your mind for some time.
The buff, seemingly wise man in the gym passed on his years of knowledge, and told you all about this magical protein absorption limit. And it all sounded logical.
Now you're wondering if you should change your diet and limit the amount of protein you have each meal. After all, you don't want to waste your money on double scoops of protein powder after each workout, if you'll only end up shitting it out the back door moments later.
So, is the guy at the gym a buff Nutritional Gandalf, or merely the nutrition equivalent of the worst child's party magician imaginable?
In this article, you'll discover the science behind the bro-science. And the facts on how much protein the body can absorb. Plus, you'll get the information on how to practically apply the science to your diet for maximum results.
If you like the sound of that, it's time to read on.
And if you want to listen t the audio version of the article, click the play button below.
How Much Protein Can The Body Absorb? Let's Look At This Logically
When it comes to bro-science, there's usually only one myth to bust. But, in this case, there's two!
On one side of the debate you'll be told 'more protein = more gains'. So if you want to build muscle, then keep cramming the protein shakes and truck-loads of chicken down your neck.
But on the flip side, you'll be told there's a maximum absorption limit of 20-30g per meal. Which means a 'little and often' approach to protein intake would be best. Anything more and you're just wasting your time.
At this juncture, let's take a step back and think logically.
The Definition Of Absorption
The dictionary definition of absorption is this...
"To take in or soak up (energy or a liquid or other substance) by chemical or physical action."
With this in mind, for the premise of an absorption limit to be true, any protein (and by definition, calories) above 30g would not be taken in by the body. In simple terms, all the calories above 30g would be free, because your body simply wouldn't be able to absorb them.
Think about it this way.
If you eat 60g of protein in one meal, that protein would equate to 240 calories. And by bro-science logic, 120 calories of the protein element of the meal would be a complete freebie. No need to track it, because it doesn't count. Free protein because your body can't absorb it.
Does this maximum protein limit still seem logical? Thought not...
The Multiple Functions Of Protein
Often, one-dimensional thinking leads to these types of myth gaining traction and become gym folklore.
But it's important to realise that proteins have multiple functions in the body. Those gains are just one process proteins are responsible for;
- Enzyme function
- Hormone function
- Immune function
- Acid base balance
- Fluid balance
These are a handful of other functions in the body that rely on protein. And don't forget, Amino Acids (proteins) constitute a large part of hair, skin, teeth, and bone, as well as muscle. Which is why it's essential to consume protein to be healthy.
Protein intake above 0.8g/kg will ensure you avoid certain diseases. Although, this is generally considered too low for optimal health and those living a more active lifestyle.
All protein is digested and absorbed by the body. And protein is used for many different functions, not just making you a gym badass.
Forget About How Much Protein The Body Can Absorb... Think Like This Instead
So if there's no limit to how much protein the body can absorb, does that mean you should be consuming as much protein as possible?
The simple answer is, NO.
You see, while there's no mystical upper absorption limit, there's also no logical reason to eat 25 times your bodyweight in steak and protein shakes.
The protein farts would be unbearable, for one thing.
Instead, think more about the amount of protein required to stimulate maximal Muscle Protein Synthesis (MPS). This slightly posh sentence could be translated to... Eat as the minimum amount of protein per meal needed to build muscle.
And for most people, this will be in the 20-30g range. Hence, you can see where the bro-science came from.
So, if building muscle is the goal, you don't need to chug down more and more protein at every meal to get the most out of your training. Spreading your target protein intake across 4-6 servings during the day, would be ideal.
And if you want to be optimal and precise with your nutrition, here's a protein feeding strategy you can follow.
Of course, you can still go over the 30g of protein needed to stimulate MPS. In fact, at most times during the day, you will go over. And that's cool. You can still enjoy a big steak, or a giant tofu salad, so don't fret.
But remember, it all gets absorbed and the calories still count.
Maximising Muscle Protein Synthesis and minimising Muscle Protein Breakdown (MPB) is the goal with protein intake. 20-30g per serving is typically the minimum required for most people. Higher intakes per meal are fine and are often optimal to prevent MPB.
The Bottom Line On How Much Protein The Body Can Absorb
There's no known limit as to how much protein the body can absorb. The notion of a 20-30g per meal limit is not backed up within any literature, and should not influence your dietary decisions.
In 1997, a study showed an Amino Acid absorption rate of 8-10g per hour. This is thought to be where the myth originate. Likely as a result of supplement companies looking for ways to promote their products, which contained 20-30g of protein.
However, this absorption rate does not indicate an upper limit.
To cut through the confusion, here's 5 things to remember about how much protein the body can absorb;
- There is NO KNOWN maximum absorption limit per meal.
- 20-30g is typically enough to achieve maximal MPS, but you can have more.
- Larger servings of protein at certain times of day, ie pre-bed can help reduce MPB and are therefore advantageous for building muscle.
- Any protein surplus to requirements will result in increased protein oxidation.
- ALL protein calories still count.
Follow those simple rules. Don't overcomplicate your nutrition. And you'll see the gains... That is assuming you train hard too.
Here's How To Calculate How Many Calories You Need To Achieve Your Fitness Goals (And A Free Training Programme)
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But for now, all I’ll say is… Keep living the Lean Life and I’ll see you soon.