How often have you heard someone say “there is no point eating all that protein because you can’t absorb more than 30g per meal!”? All too often! Is there an element of truth in what they are saying or is it a total myth?
In this article I hope to clear up the confusion and bust the myths about how much protein you can absorb per meal.
Protein Synthesis VS Protein Absorption?
Two very different things! There is conflicting evidence on protein absorption and muscle protein synthesis, however, one thing to first get straight is the difference between muscle protein synthesis and protein absorption. Muscle protein synthesis is the process of building new and repairing old muscle, from the protein you absorb, that comes from the food you eat.
Protein absorption is the breakdown of the protein from foods we eat into amino acids by the enzymes in the stomach, these amino acids are then absorbed through the stomach wall (transported) into the blood stream for the muscles to use for protein synthesis.
So What Is the 30g Per Meal All About?
Protein absorption occurs mainly in the small intestine and the small intestines have a high demand for protein, for this reason they are able to absorb and hold onto a large amount of amino acids (broken down from protein), waiting to release them until the body needs them.
On top of this the body can slow down and speed up digestion through intestinal contractions to allow all the present protein to be absorbed.
This would suggest that you can eat as much protein as you like per meal and it will eventually find it’s way to your muscles for growth and repair or to other organs that also need protein. Studies have shown that eating larger amounts (50g) of protein per meal or spreading it over 2 meals has no difference in the growth or retention of muscle mass. Suggesting eating 50g of protein in one meal then 10g in the next meal will be just as beneficial to muscle growth and repair as 30g then 30g. This is most likely because your body will adapt and slow down digestion to absorb it and retain the protein in the blood in the form of amino acids for use a few hours later.
When we are looking at muscle protein synthesis (building new muscle from the protein you eat) studies suggest eating more than 30g of protein per meal will not stimulate more muscle growth than eating 20-30g of protein, however you cannot base how much protein we need on muscle protein synthesis alone, because other areas of the body also use protein and therefore this extra protein absorbed may be used by other organs or held in the blood for use a few hours later.
What Does My Protein Intake Depend On?
These studies however, were done on young men. You are individual and therefore you may have a different optimal amount of protein you need to consume. This depends on a few key factors:
How much muscle you have – you will need more protein to retain muscle if you have a higher muscle mass.
Your age – when you get older your body needs more protein to retain muscle.
How active you are – the more active you are the more exercise you do as your body needs more protein to grow and/or repair your muscles.
These are just a few key factors you need to consider, there are many others that also contribute to how much protein you need to consume.
Take Home Message?
Research would suggest that you can actually absorb more than 30g of protein per meal, this is because your intestines are a clever organ and adapt for maximal protein absorption. For maximal muscle protein synthesis 30g of protein per meal is sufficient, however, as your body can regulate the speed at which protein travels through the intestines, studies suggest you will not “waste” protein if you eat larger amounts in one meal. Your body will absorb or hold (in the blood) the extra protein until your muscles or organs need it a few hours later.
As always, any questions shoot me a message! I hope you have found this interesting and useful!