Based on absorption, how much protein should you be ingesting per meal?
There is a popular (mis)belief that the human body can’t absorb more than 30 grams of protein protein per meal. I remember back in my swimmer days that my coach told us that our body couldn’t handle more than 25 grams of protein at a time, it wouldn’t know what to do with the excess and it would make us sick. But then again, he also told us to eat carbs before and after practice, and to load up on spaghetti the night before swim meets…. I am going to channel my inner Professor Platek and look at this from an evolutionary point of view. In ancient human history, could our bodies really only handle 25 grams of protein at one time?
Science and common sense seems to refute this claim.
Researchers in France have found that eating protein all at once can be just as well absorbed as spreading it it out over your day. A group of 26 year old women were given either 80% of their protein for the day at one meal or spread over multiple meals. After two weeks, there was no difference between the subject and control groups, in terms of nitrogen balance, whole body protein turnover, whole body protein synthesis, or protein breakdown.
In both subject and controls, the amount of protein given was 1.7 grams of protein per kilograms of fat-free mass per day. This means that for a 26 year old, 125 pound woman, eating 77 grams of protein in one meal had the same effect as spreading it out. While I don’t view 1.7 grams of protein per kilo of fat-free mass as sufficient for a weightlifter, it is still nearly triple the amount you can supposedly ingest, according to what you hear from the uneducated.
The experiment was then repeated in older subjects, with whom, it turns out, eating protein all at once can actually lead to better protein retention. Giving elder women 80% of their protein for one day in a single meal for two weeks led to almost 20% more synthesis and retention of protein compared to dividing it in smaller doses.
It appears that daily protein is more important than per-meal protein. For some people though, including my wife, eating 80% of your protein in one meal just isn’t going to happen (spouses can be stubborn, can’t they?). In that case, I WOULD recommend protein at every meal, just to make sure they reach the daily dose.
It’s also important to remember that food weight does not equal protein weight. For example, if you weigh near-fat-free chicken breasts on a food scale and the total is 140 grams it doesn’t mean you are getting even close to 140 grams of protein. In fact, 140 grams of chicken contains about 43 grams of protein, less that 1/3 of the total weight. People forget the heaviest piece: water.
A good rule of thumb for daily intake: 1-2 grams of protein per kilo of bodyweight. However, if you are currently lifting big and trying to get big, I suggest 1.25-2 grams of protein per pound of lean body mass, which means you subtract your your bodyfat first.
Here are a few examples: 100lbs of LEAN mass= 125 grams of protein 120lbs = 150 grams 150 lbs = 187.5 grams 200lbs = 250 grams
Not gaining muscle? Here is a tip: Track your protein intake over 1 day. Then eat more.
Article excerpts taken from “The Hour Hour Body” by Tim Ferris.