Many people have a real FEAR of overeating protein in a single meal because they’ve been led to believe that the body can only use so much in a single sitting.
This is a “truth” that’s been floating around for FOREVER.
But is it actually true?
How much protein can the body absorb in one meal?
The usual recommendation is 25-30g or thereabouts. Any more and your body won’t use it for muscle building purposes and you’ve wasted your time (and money).
It’s a question that comes up now, so I’ll address it now.
How Much Protein Can The Body Absorb In 1 Sitting?
You DON’T need to worry about overconsuming protein in a single meal. Your body can and WILL use it.
Before I sat down to draft this article I had a big (and I mean BIG) steak. That bad boy will probably give me 60g of protein, if not a little more. And my body will use it all.
If the myth were to be believed, my body would only use a maximum of 30g of that protein, and another 30g would be totally wasted.
But since protein from a whole food source digests pretty slowly, I’ll still be getting the benefit from that steak many hours from now. An educated guess for the rate for absorption here would be 4-5g per hour for the steak. However, couple it with the fibrous veggies and cheese I had with it and we’re probably talking around just 3-4g of protein per hour.
A whey protein shake on an empty stomach will deliver your protein much faster at about 10g per hour.
Either way you slice it, the idea that you’ll turn catabolic if you don’t eat 30g of protein every 3 hrs is just not true. You will still be in an anabolic environment i.e. amino acids will still be being released and shuttled to your muscles.
However, you will still need energy in general to support the anabolic process, so I’m not advocating you eat all your daily food in one or 2 servings.
There are a number of factors that will affect the rate of absorption:
- Type of protein e.g. whey isolate or a steak?
- The last time you ate – are you having it on an empty stomach?
- What are you eating it with? On its own or with fat and carbs?
- The fiber content of the whole meal – more fiber equals slower absorption
But interestingly even the fastest method, whey alone in water on an empty stomach, still takes hours to be fully digested an utilized. So if you took 50g instead of 30g, yes you will still use it.
But you certainly shouldn’t be getting a lot of your protein from a liquid source. Get your protein from food with 1 or 2 shakes max throughout the day, 1 being immediately after your workout.
So what’s the take home message here? The research on this isn’t 100% crystal clear as there are a number of variables to be taken into account: Trainee age, training intensity, total amount of protein given per day, type of protein administered, and so on.
What is clear is that eating say 4 times per day is going to be at least as effective as 6. There’s nothing wrong with eating 6 smaller meals per day either; if that suits you, go for it. But if it’s burdensome, drop it and go to a 4-meal frequency.
If that has you eating 50g of protein per meal, you’re doing just fine . Don’t sweat it.
I’m not confident enough to recommend a lower frequency than that just yet. As more research is done on this, we’ll more likely have a clearer picture.
Eat Big Steaks & Enjoy!