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How much protein can you digest in one sitting?

Posted by Joel Marion

Research is good and research is bad.

Research is good because it can teach us a LOT.

Research is bad because most people don’t understand how to take the results of a study and analyze beyond the study to see how it fits in the big picture.

Fortunately, I will help do both with regards to the below study.

So, a team of researchers sought out to discover some stuff about protein:

J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Sep;109(9):1582-6.
A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects.

Basically, they wanted to see if a 90 gram serving of protein (about the equivalent of 12 oz of grilled chicken breast) would elicit a greater muscle building response when compared to a 30 gram serving (approximately 4 oz of grilled chicken, beef, etc).

The answer:  No.

The conclusion:  Your body can utilize approximately 30 grams of protein for muscle building purposes at a time.  Elite athletes and bodybuilders, perhaps a bit more.

So, does this mean that you should only eat 30 grams of protein per meal regardless of your calorie needs?


There are other factors that should be considered when determining your protein intake, independent of how much of that protein is able to fuel the muscle building process.

What we can, however, learn from this study is a very general rule:

It’s best to spread your protein intake out throughout the day, ala 6 meals with smaller protein portions than 3 meals with larger portions, because yes, there seems to be an upper limit to the amount of protein that the body can use toward rebuilding or building muscle at any one time.

Now, that number could certainly change based on whether the group was participating in regular, intense resistance training — I’m betting the amount would go up.  Perhaps 40 grams on average…maybe more.

Either way, you’re probably going to get better results by splitting it up over the course of the day.

Later this week, I’ll be back to answer the question “How much protein do I actually need anyway?”

And I think you’ll be surprised by the answer.

If you’d like to see that article, do two things for me:

1) Hit the Facebook “Like” button below, then…

2) Leave a comment in the comments section

At least 100 comments and I’ll be back later in the week with the “How much protein do I really need?” article.

Talk to you in the comments section!



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143 comments - add yours
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Sounds like a good study. I agree though there are other benefit to macro-nutrients outside of just muscle development. 30 grams seems to be reasonable and the point about spreading out intake is very useful.

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I’m guessing the size of your palm and about the thickness if you exercise, I’m not sure what it would be if you do not! Let me know!

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Good info

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I read an article by Alan Aragon about this topic and it disagrees with the protein limit theory. Below I have included a paragraph from the article. If you would like to read the entire article with sources you can easily find it on Google but I am not allowed to post the url here. I would love to hear your opinion about it. Thanks!

“Based on the available evidence, it’s false to assume that the body can only use a certain amount of protein per meal. Studies examining short-term effects have provided hints towards what might be an optimal protein dose for maximizing anabolism, but trials drawn out over longer periods haven’t supported this idea. So, is there a limit to how much protein per meal can be effectively used? Yes there is, but this limit is likely similar to the amount that’s maximally effective in an entire day. What’s the most protein that the body can effectively use in an entire day? The short answer is, a lot more than 20-30 g. The long answer is, it depends on several factors. In most cases it’s not too far from a gram per pound in drug-free trainees, given that adequate total calories are provided.”

-Alan Aragon

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Great info. Looking forward to the follow-up on this one.

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I do 100 grams throughout the day! Not ONE SITTING. I am going on 70 yrs. ild and any protein I take in is cheap protein, because I don’t assimilate like younger people. I also am doing exercises that most elders aren’t going near.
Older americans are lazy and fat! My husband is diabetic. Of course vegetables are another necessity we all need. His protein is required more so than others.
Keep up the good articles.

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Thanks for sharing, I will be waiting for the next piece of useful information.
Gracias Amigo

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Can’t agree with you more!@ Clement:

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This is a bit of a surprise, I always thought it wouldn’t matter how much protien at a sitting, if it was the right amount per day. Thanks, I can make the adjustments starting today?

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Good information. Can we have it yet!?? (please)

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Glad u r getting this info out there!

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I really want to know how much protein is necessary for a woman over 40 and almost 50 need to lose belly fat.

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Good introductory research on the topic, but we can hardly extrapolate information from a study done on the young and elderly to set guidelines for resistance-training adults – let alone bodybuilders. I saw a blurb on this same study in Men’s Health, and it’s poor science (and poor reporting) if people looking to build muscle use this study to determine their protein intake.

That said, of course it’s better to split up protein intake over several meals.

Further research needs to be done. Activity level, resistance training, body composition, weight, and gender are a few of the variables which need to be controlled to get us some useful information.

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hello, does it turn into fat if you go over

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I would be nice to know what’s a good prtion to eat each meal as I never know if I’m over consuming proteins.

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Ciao. I’m confused. You say the body can utilize 30g of protein at time: What is that time? Why spread throughout the day? If you eat 200g of protein in one sitting do you use only 30g and the rest dissolve into nether?

No. It doesn’t really matter if you eat once or bazillion meals a day, if you hit your daily requirement of protein on one or ten meals it doesn’t matter. The protein dissolves and keeps dissolving and your body will keep milking the nutrients from the food you take in. It is said in a study (http://diabetes.diabetesjournals.org/content/48/5/958.full.pdf) that about 5 hours is the normal “optimal” range of meals according to conventional science, but I really don’t like to think by that when I can see my body doing perfectly fine with 1-2 meals a day and a 16-24h fast.

If you claim you can use 30g of protein “in one sitting” you gotta tell us when we need to ingest more. Like was said: it takes about 5 hours for a “regular” meal to be totally digested, and at that point the nutrients haven’t even been 100% metabolized. So catabolism? I don’t think so. What if you eat a “big” meal instead of a “regular” one? O-ho! The mind boggles.

And an answer to the anon asking about whether a whale needs more protein than a gazelle: Muscle mass (lean) and activity are needed to take into account when choosing protein intake. Also goals and possible preferences. If a 200kg fatso has 50kgs of lean mass [sic] and the 60kg gazelle has 50kgs of lean mass, then they both need an equal amount of protein, given they expend as much (which they don’t, but you get the idea.)

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