Out of all the articles I research, this has got to be one of the most widely contested discussions in the fitness world that I’ve covered. Well, that and protein shake windows. It turns out that the amount of protein your body can absorb in one meal is a highly divisive topic, with studies showing different outcomes. Bearing that in mind, I thought I would try and find out if there are any common denominators in the studies to see if we can untangle some of the threads surrounding protein absorption.
Let’s begin by defining absorption. This term is used to describe the process of the foods we consume travelling through our digestive system, and the nutrients within them being absorbed and put into circulation. There are certain factors, such as the type of protein you’re consuming, which affects the ways in which your body can absorb it, and therefore the digestibility of the protein overall. In short, absorption refers to the amount of protein which ends up in your bloodstream from what you ingest.
How much protein can your body absorb in one go?
Let’s dive right in with the most commonly held belief that the body can only absorb 20-25g of protein at one time, and that anything else will be excreted and not used.
Certain studies have shown that there is almost no limit to the amount of protein our bodies can absorb, but the more protein you consume in one go, the longer it will take to digest. There are other factors which affect this, such as the content of certain amino acids within the protein you are consuming. Leucine, for example, has been shown to trigger muscle protein synthesis, so the lower the leucine content in the protein, the more you may need to trigger beneficial muscle protein synthesis. High leucine protein sources include pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, lentils, and spirulina. If you are looking to improve your muscle protein synthesis, then a protein powder with branched chain amino acids like Vivo Life’s PERFORM, including leucine, may well be beneficial for your muscle growth, tone and definition.
You’ll also need to be aware of your current musculature and tone. The more muscular you are, the more protein you’ll need for muscle protein synthesis. Does this mean that you should only eat a certain amount of protein in one go? The answer to this is, not necessarily. Understanding your own training schedule, macros and the types of protein you’re consuming are all important factors in determining how much protein is right for you.
Should you spread your protein consumption out throughout the day?
As we now know, our bodies do not stop absorbing protein when we’ve ingested 20-25g, so the secondary question of whether or not this has any impact on our ability to build muscle comes into play. Certain studies have shown that more than 20g of protein in one sitting has little to no effect on muscle protein synthesis, meaning that if we’re eating heavy amounts of protein in order to grow more muscle, eating more than 20-25g in one go won’t give us more muscle at a faster rate than if we were having small amounts of protein spaced throughout a day. In fact, research does show that it is your total protein intake over the course of the day which is the most important factor for muscle gain, and athletes may benefit from spacing out their protein intake to make the most of the opportunities for muscle protein synthesis, growth and repair.
There are certain risks associated with eating a continuous, excessively high protein diet. Whilst it doesn’t necessarily matter if you fill all of your protein requirements in one meal, consistently eating a lot more protein than you need can have a negative impact, especially if you have any chronic kidney conditions, and certain liver conditions. This is because breaking down protein creates byproducts such as ammonia. If there are reasons why your body might not be able to excrete excess ammonia, then a higher protein diet might cause unnecessary complications. If you’re worried that you might be having too much protein, look out for these signs.
If you are unsure on how much protein you should be having every day, you can check out our article on how much protein you need. No matter what though, if you need a burst of protein to see you through a particular workout, or to supplement your diet, Vivo Life’s range of protein powders contain between 20 and 25g of easily digestible plant-based protein, catering for a range of different fitness levels and goals.