This is one of the age old questions… and for some reason the internetosphere (I made that up, consider this my copyright) has settled on 30 grams in a meal being the maximum your body can use… but what is the truth, how much protein can we really absorb at one time?
Well, to answer that question we need to really answer 3 questions:
1) How much protein from a single meal can you absorb?
2) How much protein from a single meal will be used for building muscle?
3) What is the optimal amount of protein per meal?
How Much Protein Can You Absorb From a Single Meal?
The honest answer here is that we don’t have a solid answer for what the upper limit is. Several studies have been done where people consume 50 grams or more in a single meal and all of that protein was digested in the span of a few hours. The upper limit may be in the 100s of grams, but we don’t exactly know how high the ceiling is… but we know it definitely isn’t 30 grams.
How Much Protein From a Single Meal Will Be Used For Building Muscle?
The more you consume the more of it goes building muscle. So for example if you consume 20 grams of protein you will have more protein going to building muscle than 10 grams. Same thing goes with 40 grams over 20 grams. We have data in humans up to ~70 grams in a single serving.
Now there is a little bit of a catch, your “efficiency” of putting protein toward muscle decreases as your single meal intake increases. For example, when you consume 20 grams of protein, lets say 5 of those grams go straight to building muscle… which makes it 25% efficient. When you consume 40 grams lets say 8 grams go straight to building muscle, which makes it 20% efficient [these are not the exact, actual numbers, but illustrate the point].
What is the Optimal Amount of Protein per Meal?
The optimal amount of protein per meal is your daily intake divided across ~4 equal servings per day. So if you need 100 grams a day, try for ~25 grams per meal. If you need 200 grams per day, try for ~50 per meal. But to be honest, if you spread it over 3 meals and 2 snacks, it will most likely be just as effective.
That means you have a lot of flexibility and just giving it a bit of thought and a very small amount of planning can help you optimize your intake.
The Wrap Up
So how much protein can your body absorb at one time? Well, rest assured you can consume more than 30 grams per meal and most of that will be absorbed. As your protein per meal increases, it becomes less efficient in terms of being used for building muscle. Spreading your protein intake out evenly across the day is the most effective way to consume your protein.
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