How Much Protein is Recommended for You?
According to the guidelines, the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein for a healthy sedentary adult is a conservative 0.8 gm per kg body weight (BW) per day (gm/kg/day). That practically means 60 gm of protein for a person weighing 75 kilos (or 165 pounds).
However, as you reach the age of 40-50 years or above, you start losing muscle mass which can affect your strength and can lead to disabilities. Therefore, to preserve muscle, functionality, independence and quality of life the protein needs to increase to about 1-1.2 gm per kg. Whereas, most active people need more protein especially if gaining muscles and strength is the main goal. According to The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), for building or maintaining muscle mass, a protein intake of 1.4-2 gm per kg BW each day is sufficient for most exercising people.
However, in some cases, resistance-trained individuals who are on a low-calorie diet to reduce weight or fat mass may need a higher protein intake of up to 2.3-3.1 gm/kg/day to minimize muscle loss.
So far, we’ve discussed how much protein you can eat in a day. But what about how much protein can you eat at once? In general, it is recommended that an intake of 20-25 gm (or 0.4-0.55 gm/kg/meal) of high-quality protein evenly distributed over 4 or more meals can maximise muscle growth.
On the other hand, studies also showed that a higher intake of more than 40 gm in one sitting provides no additional benefits.
Is More Protein Better for Bodybuilding?
Another review published in the Journal of the ISSN emphasized the fact that protein supplementation pre and post-workout can increase lean body mass, physical performance, recovery after a workout, muscle hypertrophy (growth) and strength.
While piling up more and more protein may seem the best way to gain muscle but more is not always better.
In reality, our body can indeed use almost all the protein it consumes. However, the problem is more protein you consume in one sitting, the more time it takes to digest. And, muscle protein synthesis (MPS) occurs for a limited time frame (maximum of 2-3 hours) after that it stops before restarting again.
Therefore it is important to make the most out of this window - and even the fastest-digesting protein such as whey takes roughly one hour to digest 10 grams of protein, while cooked protein takes double or triple the time to digest. That simply suggests, in 2-3 hours body can use a maximum of 20-30 grams of fast-acting protein to build muscles.
For that reason, if you consume more protein say 40-50 grams of protein at one go then only about 20-30 grams will help in boosting muscle growth and the rest will certainly not go into your biceps. Surplus protein is either used in energy production or stored in different parts of the body and may result in weight or fat gain.
So, if gaining muscle mass is your goal, the best possible strategy to do that is by spreading your protein consumption (every 3-5 hours) throughout the day. This ensures that bodybuilders and athletes make the most of the opportunities for protein synthesis, growth and repair.
Research also showed that the ideal protein supplement to maximise MPS should be a fast-acting one such as whey (animal source) or pea protein (plant-based) that contains all the essential amino acids (EAA) including 3-4 gm of leucine. It (leucine) helps to trigger MPS by signalling mTOR (a nutrient sensor known for growth signalling).
The intake of protein should also be accompanied by fast-acting carbohydrates such as maltodextrin or glucose (bread, rice, banana etc.), as leucine can’t be as effective as in the presence of insulin (a hormone released after a carbohydrate is consumed). Lastly, a post-workout protein work best in a liquid form (such as shakes or smoothies) without much fibre and fat (may hinder absorption) with added digestive enzymes if required.
Tips to Take Care of Your Protein Throughout the Day
Here are the top 10 tips to swap more protein into your daily diet:
- Don’t eat too much protein in one sitting, instead distribute your protein intake in all 3 meals (major) and have 1-2 power protein snacks in between.
- Start your day with the protein punch. Have a handful of pre-soaked nuts, or fruit with nut butter or simply mix protein into your coffee, cereal or smoothie.
- Always keep your protein options handy by meal prepping in advance - sprouts, boiled beans, roasted nuts, buttermilk, cottage cheese, boiled eggs, trail mix, homemade granola etc.
- Plan your weekly grocery by keeping your protein requirement in mind. Some readymade options for a quick protein bite can be Greek yogurt, canned tuna or salmon, protein powder or bars.
- Instead of having your traditional cereal add some protein for that extra boost. Add boiled chickpeas, cubes of cottage cheese, nuts or seeds, beans or lentils, egg or pieces of chicken.
- Be friends with seeds, add them to your meals or smoothies. Seeds that are high in protein are hemp seeds, chia seeds, pumpkin or sunflower seeds.
- Keep some dry roasted nuts handy they are not only power packed in protein but also a great source of good fat and other micronutrients. Some examples are almonds, walnuts, pistachios, brazil nuts, hazel nuts etc.
- Try some traditional grains such as amaranth, quinoa, buckwheat, kamut, couscous, farro, spelt, millets etc. to your daily diet.
- Add chickpea or soy flour to your usual wheat flour while cooking. You can add protein powders as well to your pancakes, waffles or other baked goods.
- Use chicken broth as a base of your curries, to make your soup or cook your vegetables, rice or pulses
Henceforth you know the answer to the most hyped question - how much protein can you absorb in one meal - is not that simple. Every individual is different so the physical activity levels and the need for protein. Many factors such as age, sex, body weight, type and duration of the activity can be contributory factors in deciding the protein requirement. Therefore, it is important to consult an expert to understand your customized requirement and reach your specific fitness goals.
In general, the bottom line is - if gaining muscle mass is your aim then eating excess protein won’t give your muscles any extra boost. In fact, extra protein will go either to other parts of the body or be flushed into the toilet. Therefore, the best approach is to spread all your protein throughout the day and consume a fast-acting protein (20-30 gm as per your requirements) along with 3-4 gm leucine and other macro and micronutrient in proper balance to maximize the results.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much protein can your body absorb in a day?
Unless you have any underlying condition related to nutrient absorption, you can almost absorb all the protein in a day. However, the real question is how much can be utilized to build muscle. This depends upon various factors such as age, gender, body weight and the training you perform.
How much protein can your body absorb in one sitting?
Generally, there is no limit to how much protein your body can absorb at one go but how much is used to support your goal is a different thing altogether. According to the studies, in order to maximize muscle synthesis, 20-30 grams of good quality protein should be consumed in a meal with some fast-acting carbohydrate and 3 grams or more leucine (an essential branched-chain amino acid).
Does spreading protein intake throughout the day influence results?
The simple answer is yes it does. Consuming tons of protein to increase muscle size or strength may seem the best way but not necessarily the wisest decision. Our body has a limit to digest and absorb protein within a certain time frame to promote muscle growth. Evidence suggests one should target an intake of 0.4 gm per kg BW (about 20-25 gm) in each meal across a minimum of three major meals 1-2 snacks to reach 1.6 gm per kg per day intake.