Protein – How Much Can I Absorb?

By on June 26, 2017

I heard you can only absorb 30 grams of protein at once, is this right?

What you’ll takeaway –

  • Looking to consume approximately 30g of protein in a meal will sufficiently stimulate MPS and provide 2-3g of leucine
  • If you could only absorb 30g at once then our ancestors would have had a very hard time surviving.
  • But what we need to be asking ourselves first is, how much protein can our BODY absorb or MUSCLES absorb?
  • From recent research our muscles can only absorb in the range of 20-30g in a single meal and this seems to be adequately and maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis.

Origin

I am not entirely sure where this myth came from but I use to belief it back at University. Maybe it is because from the research 15g of essential amino acids are required to sufficiently stimulate muscle protein synthesis. This equates to roughly 25-30g. (1,2). Looking to consume approximately 30g of protein in a meal will sufficiently stimulate MPS and provide 2-3g of leucine.  A meal made up of protein, carbs and fats, increases MPS approximately for 3 hours before dropping back down. (1)

But what we need to be asking ourselves first is, how much protein can our BODY absorb or MUSCLES absorb? If we are speaking of our whole body then our bodies can absorb a lot more than 30g at once. Over the past year and a bit I have not been sticking to a certain number of meals a day or frequency at which I have eaten. I have just focused on eating sufficient calories and macronutrients each day, to co-inside with my schedule. Sometimes this has resulted in me eating very large meals with a huge amount of protein.  So if we really believed that only 30g protein can be handled by the body in a single meal, then I would have run into a protein deficiency by now and strength and size would not have improved.

If we could only absorb 30g of protein at once then our ancestors would have had a very hard time surviving. The human body is more efficient and effective than we give it credit for. The body will take all the time it needs to effectively digest and absorb what you eat. Someone eating a large amount of protein at once will have a longer digestion period in order to effectively absorb and utilise it.

Protein Research

Arnal et al. found no difference in fat-free mass or nitrogen retention amongst females when consuming 79% of the day’s protein needs  in one meal, versus the same amount spread across four meals. (3) Then, when they applied the same protocol to the elderly population, the single dose treatment actually caused better muscle protein retention than the multiple-dose treatment. (4) Intermittent fasting (IF) research, a diet that cycle between a period of fasting and non-fasting;

Soeters et al. compared 2 weeks of IF involving 20-hour fasting cycles with a conventional diet.  Despite the IF group’s consumption of 101g of protein in a 4-hour window, there was no difference in preservation of lean mass and muscle protein between groups. (5) 

How much can our muscles absorb?

From recent research our muscles can only absorb in the range, an estimated, 20-30g in a single meal and this seems to be adequately and maximally stimulate muscle protein synthesis. (7,8) You can eat more, but it’s not going to help your muscle.

So based on the available evidence, and anecdotal data, it’s stupid to assume that the body can only absorb a certain amount of protein per meal, but there might be a limit of your muscles.

Is there a limit?

Probably, but at the moment we do not know the exact amount our muscles or our body can absorb, but our body is probably equal to the amount that that individual requires in an entire day.

How should I eat then?

Unless calories are dropping very low, protein will remain constant throughout your dieting/gaining phase and should stay in the range of 1-1.5g/lb of lean body weight. (6) And hitting this target each day, is most important first and foremost before worrying about meal frequency and protein spread throughout the day.


References -
  1. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=14583440&ordinalpos=3&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed?Db=pubmed&Cmd=ShowDetailView&TermToSearch=10198297&ordinalpos=10&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10867039
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10357740
  5. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/90/5/1244
  6. http://www.jissn.com/content/11/1/20
  7. http://www.jissn.com/content/11/1/19
  8. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23459753

 

 

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