There is a philosophy in bodybuilding circles which says that the body can use just a small amount of protein per meal, while the excess gets flushed out of the body – unused. So what’s the truth? How much protein can your body really absorb?
Many trainees believe that eating 5 to 7 small (20 gram to 30 gram of protein) meals is the only way to eat if you want to build muscle, keep the body in anabolic state throughout the day and increase metabolism.
So How Much Protein Can Your Body Absorb at Once ?
Let’s imagine two athletes, both weighting about 180 pounds. They both take 180 grams of protein a day, but the first person eats 6 meals of 30g of protein a day and the second one takes all the protein in one big meal. If the above philosophy is true, than the second athlete would fall in a protein deficiency because he can only digest 30 grams of protein of the given 180 grams. If this is the way a human body works, we would be wiped out by now.
Doesn’t this tell you that the human body is way smarter than many people think and what’s the difference between the two athletes in the above case ? The first one will obviously have shorter digestion periods (it’s easier to digest 30 grams of protein than 180, right? ), while the other will have longer period of digestion, but his body will use all of the given protein.
In case you believe the philosophy that only 20-30 g of protein can be absorbed and trigger a maximal anabolic impact, and all excess protein is wasted, there is a study on pulse protein feeding conducted by a French researcher by the name of Marie-Agnès Arnal on protein loss and improvement of protein anabolism. In a 14-day trial, Arnal and colleagues found no difference in fat-free mass or nitrogen retention between consuming 79% of the day’s protein needs (roughly 54 g) in one meal, versus the same amount spread across 4 meals a day.
In fact, the single-dose treatment actually caused better muscle protein retention than the “4 meals a day treatment”. This increases the chances that as we grow older, bigger protein feedings might be needed to obtain the same impact on protein preservation and storage as opposed to smaller amounts when we are young.
Another study on protein retention is the conducted by Maarten R. Soeters, who saw no difference in glucose, lipid, or protein metabolism between an intermittent fasting treatment (involving 20-hour fasting cycles) and a standard diet.
In other words, the amount of protein that can be used by your body in one meal is far greater than 30g and it’s actually closer to the amount that is effective in an entire day. Some studies say that the amount of protein that can be used in an entire day is close to 1g/lb for natural athletes (and of course more for the chemically assisted). So feel free to eat more than the traditional 30 grams of protein a meal and eat less than 5-6 meals a day.
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