May 17, 2016
How Much Protein Can Your Body Use from One Meal?
Sports Nutrition Expert, Spokesperson, AuthorHow much protein can your body digest and use at a time? If you you eat the right amount of protein at every meal you’ll supposedly hit the sweet spot – maximum muscle growth and satiety (fullness) without wasting food or money. General guidelines based on short term trials and one cross-sectional study suggest adults need regular meals including 25 – 45 grams of protein per meal to maintain or build muscle mass and maximum strength (1, 2, 3). However, it is possible that more protein per meal may be beneficial in some instances while the per meal amount might not matter very much in others. Your body can and will digest all of the protein you eat in a sitting (it might take a while) and it doesn’t just discard any excess that isn’t used to build structures in the body. In this article I’ll cover:
- Why should we focus on a “per meal” dose of protein?
- What happens to “leftover” protein;
- What influences protein requirements;
- How you can estimate your protein needs.
What Happens to Excess Protein Intake?There is no long-term storage site for amino acids, the building blocks of protein. After eating a thick juicy steak, creamy bowl of split pea soup or sizzling soy fajitas, your body digests the protein and absorbs the amino acids, using them to build new structures, including muscle. When excess protein is consumed, more than the body needs at that point in time, the rest is used for energy or converted to body fat. The nitrogen (from amino acids) is combined with other compounds to form urea, a harmless waste product, which is processed by the kidneys and excreted in the urine.
What Influences Protein Requirements?Though 90 grams in one sitting may be more than necessary for muscle, science has yet to figure out the exact threshold beyond which there is no benefit for muscle. This is a complicated question as there are many factors that influence a person’s daily protein needs as well as how much protein a person may need at each meal. These include but are not limited to: age, training status, total daily calorie intake (if dieting total protein needs are higher), overall amount of protein consumed each day; the type (anti-nutrients?), quality and leucine (or EAA) content of the protein consumed at each meal, other nutrients consumed at meal time, training program, lean body mass, health status and goals.
How Much Protein Do You Need at Each Meal?Given the research to date, does a per meal does matter? If you are dieting, yes. If you don’t get at least 0.55 grams protein per lb. body weight (1.2 grams per kg), yes. If you eat plenty of protein every day and a decent amount at regular meals throughout the day, it might not matter that much, or at all. For now, stick to the general guideline of at least 25 grams per meal (the amount of an average female’s palm worth of chicken, turkey, red meat, fish). You may need more, per meal, to maximize muscle growth and repair if:
- You are older (relative term since we don’t know exactly what age qualifies as “older). Aim for 1.0 – 1.5 grams of protein per day (7) and regular meals with a good amount of protein per meal. If you have chronic kidney disease, follow the advice of your RD and MD.
- You eat primarily vegetarian proteins.
|Amount||Pattern||Meal||Protein (grams)||Protein as a % of total calories||Average leucine intake per meal (calculated)|