Protein is an integral part of any diet and exercise plan.
Prioritizing protein is especially important for athletes looking to gain muscle mass and improve body composition.
It makes sense to want to pound protein in at each meal to try to maximize muscle gains.
But, how much protein can your body absorb at one time?
In this article, we’ll break down how much protein your body can absorb in one sitting. We’ll also discuss the best protein for maximum absorption to help you reach your fitness goals as quickly as possible.
- Strength training and dietary protein are essential for building and maintaining lean body mass
- Although we need additional research, it’s best to stick with consuming between 20-40 grams of protein per meal to support maximum muscle gains
- Whey protein powder is superior for muscle gain as it is quickly absorbed and contains high amounts of leucine. If you are unable to consume whey protein, pea protein powder is very comparable
WHY PROTEIN INTAKE AND TIMING MATTER...
Every cell in your body contains protein, making it essential to hit your daily protein needs to stay healthy.
Protein also plays a vital role in an athlete's eating plan as it helps strengthen and repair muscle tissue.
Performing resistance exercise without the right amount of protein can also result in a loss of muscle tissue.
Numerous scientific studies show consuming protein before and after workouts induces a significant rise in muscle protein synthesis (building and repairing of muscle).
Despite the current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein being just 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, many experts suggest active individuals need more than that.
For example, a 200 pound male with an intense training schedule looking to build muscle will need 200 grams of daily protein to meet his goals.
In contrast, a 200 pound male with a low-level training schedule who is wanting to lose fat while maintaining muscle will only need 127 grams of daily protein to meet his goals.
If you’re unsure of the amount of protein you need to reach your fitness goals, you can check out our free protein calculator.
How and when you consume protein also plays a key role in the effectiveness of protein for muscle gains.
Spacing protein throughout the day will not only help you avoid feeling “hangry”, but it will also ensure it’s being utilized to build and maintain lean body mass
In fact, a new study recently came out showing an even protein distribution throughout the day leads to more muscle gains than eating more protein at dinner with less at breakfast.
So now that we know it’s important to space your protein out, just how much can your body absorb at each meal?
HOW MUCH PROTEIN CAN YOUR BODY ABSORB IN ONE SITTING?
Technically, you can eat as much protein as you want in one sitting and your body will probably absorb it. However, it will take much longer to digest.
Many studies suggest there is a limit to how much protein the body can use for muscle synthesis at a time. The rest will be stored elsewhere or excreted in your urine.
Let's take a look at what the research says...
- Minimum of 0.4 grams of protein per kilogram across four meals.
- Maximum of 0.55 grams of protein per kilogram across four meals.
- Muscle protein synthesis is maximized at 20-25 grams per sitting.
A 2018 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, showed that to maximize anabolism (building of muscle from protein), a person should consume a minimum protein intake of 0.4 grams per kilogram per meal across four meals. This will allow you to reach a minimum of 1.6 grams per kilogram each day.
The study suggests the maximum protein one should consume is 0.55 grams per kilogram per meal across four meals to reach a daily total protein intake of 2.2 grams per kilogram.
Lastly, the study also noted that muscle protein synthesis is maximized at a protein intake of about 20 to 25 grams per sitting for fast-digesting protein like whey. In this case, a sitting is a period of 1.5-2 hours. This means the body can absorb whey at a rate of around 10 grams per hour.
- 30 grams of protein per meal is optimal.
- Excess protein goes to waste.
Per the study, excess protein does not further stimulate muscle protein synthesis or boost your muscle growth.
20-40 grams of protein per sitting to increase muscle growth.
WTF? SO HOW MUCH PROTEIN CAN THE BODY ABSORB?
After taking a look at the presented studies, it's best to consume between 20-40 grams of protein per meal for efficient absorption.
Although the results remain mixed on the exact amount of protein that is needed at each meal, most seem to agree that protein should be spread out during the day to support a healthy lifestyle and enhance muscle building benefits.
Keep this in mind and make sure to evenly space your protein out among a minimum of four meals per day and avoid cramming protein in during one sitting.
AMINO ACIDS' ROLE IN PROTEIN ABSORPTION
Amino acids are the building blocks of protein.
There are 20 different amino acids, with 9 being essential. Essential amino acids cannot be produced by your body — they must be obtained from food or supplements.
After the protein you eat reaches your stomach, digestive enzymes break it down into smaller chains of amino acids.
Those amino acids are used by the body to build and repair itself.
Complete proteins are those that contain all 9 essential amino acids needed for muscle growth and other important functions in the body.
High-quality protein sources, such as eggs, lean meat, and fish are considered to be complete proteins and generally have a higher digestibility.
ANIMAL VS PLANT-BASED PROTEINS, WHICH IS BETTER?
When compared to animal protein, plant-based proteins generally do not have a complete amino acid profile. They also are not as easy to digest.
A 2019 study published in Nutrients suggests that plant-proteins may offer environmental and health benefits, but they have less of an anabolic effect than animal proteins because of their low digestibility and lower essential amino acid content.
Plant based proteins also have a lower leucine content, which is an amino acid that’s extremely important for building muscle.
THE BEST PROTEIN POWDER FOR MAXIMUM ABSORPTION
Let’s face it, sometimes we need a quick high protein snack during the day to help us hit our daily protein requirements. Using a protein powder supplement can do exactly that.
Plus, protein powder is absorbed more rapidly than protein consumed alongside foods that contain fiber.
Basically, it’s a win-win.
However, all protein is not created equal. You’ll want to choose a high-quality protein powder that your body can quickly utilize for processes such as muscle protein synthesis.
Next up, we’ll discuss the difference between animal and plant based protein powder.
ANIMAL BASED PROTEIN
The amino acid composition of animal based protein makes it a superior option for absorption and muscle building.
Whey protein is absorbed faster than casein, which is a slow digesting protein.
More specifically, whey protein hydrolysates are the fastest digesting because they undergo additional processing to help the body absorb it more than whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate.
Quick digestion of protein is best for building muscle because the faster you recover from a workout, the more often you can train.
Whey protein contains the highest amount of the amino acid leucine, which is a type of branch chain amino acid (BCAA) that helps your body build new muscle, as well as reduce muscle breakdown after physical activity.
- Impacts your muscles’ ability to breakdown and use protein more than other amino acids
- Helps your muscles process higher amounts of protein
However, whey protein consumption may not be a good option for those who are lactose intolerant or follow a vegan diet.
The good news is that another option is available for those who are unable to consume whey protein.
Out of the most common plant-based proteins available (soy protein, pea protein, hemp protein, rice protein), pea protein has the best absorption rate.
Although whey is still superior, pea protein can work in a similar way to promote muscle protein synthesis. It’s also higher in leucine than other vegan protein powders.
Researchers found no significant difference between the two protein groups and suggested that vegetable pea protein can be used as an alternative to whey protein.
Whether your goal is to build muscle, lose weight, or maintain lean body mass, consuming adequate amounts of protein is vital.
Although how much protein a person needs is highly individualized, studies show that a protein spaced evenly throughout the day is the most beneficial for muscle building.
The use of protein powders is an effective way to supplement a healthy diet to ensure your protein needs are being met.
Whey is the fastest digesting of all supplements. However, for those who can’t consume whey protein, pea protein is fast digesting and can also stimulate muscle protein synthesis.