How Much Protein Is Absorbed From One Meal?


Fitscientist has determined whether or not we are able to still absorb 30 grams of protein per meal without having any excess turn into unnecessary weight.

Most fitness enthusiasts support the claim that our bodies are not able to absorb more than 30 grams of protein in one sitting. As such, the most common recommendation is to not eat more than 20-30 grams of protein per meal. The recommendation is troubling for people who work out because, in order to keep their muscles growing and recovering, they usually eat around 5-6 meals a day. So what does science have to say about this issue? Can we eat a huge steak and rest assured that the better parts of that meal won’t go straight to the toilet? Alan Aragon, a fitness expert, compares the results of the short-term and long-term research in his articles on the limits of protein absorption. For starters, he suggests that we exam the points of protein absorption from a standpoint of simple logic.

Simple logic

Protein absorption rates vary from person to person, because everyone has different compositions of muscle mass. Protein requirements for someone who weighs 150 pounds vs the requirements for someone who weighs 220 pounds will be quite different. Take a look at the example given by Aragon below:

“Let’s consider two people who both weigh 150 kilos and both intake 150 grams of protein per day. One of them gets 150 grams of protein dividing the whole amount equally into 6 meals that is 30 grams of protein per meal. The other gets the same 150 grams but at once. If our body was able to absorb not more than 30 grams of protein per meal, the second person would suffer from lack of protein as his body would get only 30 grams from the whole amount of protein. In this case he would get only 0.33 grams of protein per one kilo of his weight which is just a third of RDA.”

You can also check out some tips on taking protein in the article Proteins Guide.

However, a human body is a very smart system that is, however, often underestimated by people. Our body will always take what it really needs and is able to digest quite an ample amount of food. Otherwise, the humanity would have already disappeared. In the example above the first person will have short periods of digestion during which his body will digest and absorb the protein. While the second person will have longer periods of digestion and absorbing the protein due to the amount of protein. According to Aragon, despite the arguments above it is not enough to take into account only logical conclusions in order to draw a firm one.  Let’s refer to the scientific data.

It is not necessary to distribute the amount of protein equally into 5-6 meals. Just get enough protein during the day without going crazy about it.  


Short-term research

Many of the prophets of taking 20 grams of protein per meal claim that this very amount provides the strongest anabolic action. These people make references to the results of Moor and Robinson’s research,  during which it was stated that the consumption of 40 grams of protein doesn’t cause stronger anabolic response than consumption of 20 grams does. Moreover, the anabolic action was examined only for 4 hours after the meal containing the protein. The experts drew the following conclusion: “We suppose that a consumption of 20 grams of protein 5-6 times a day allows one to reach the most efficient protein synthesis.”

Scientists Moor and Robinson say that taking 100-120 grams of protein per day is the limit that lets built muscles as quickly and efficiently as a human being is able to. However, much research shows that every person needs such an amount of protein per day that would fit their daily requirement of protein, aims and kind of physical activity. Because, as it has been mentioned above requirement of protein for a 70 kilos bodybuilder and the 100 kilos one will differ a lot.

In another research the scientists of University of Connecticut compared the way the body responds to a moderate (30 gr) and to a large (90 gr) amount of protein within a 5-hrs period after a meal. As the result, a 90-gram portion of protein didn’t cause more efficient synthesis of protein than a 30-gram portion did.  Irrespective of the amount of the protein taken by a person the increase of the muscle protein amount was 50%.

Long-term research

As it has already been said above our body is a very smart and, which is more important, – economic system that can digest a big amount of food. During a two-weeks experiment (Amaletal) there wasn’t found any difference in the lean body mass and nitrogen retention (it is nitrogen balance which decides whether we built muscles or not) between the test people who got about 80% of the daily protein requirement (about 54 grams of protein per day; the research was conducted among women with the average lean body mass 40, 8 kilos) within one meal and those who divided the same amount of protein into 4 meals.

Taking into account the fact that the majority of the men who work out have a much larger amount of muscle bulk than the women who took part in the research, most likely than not, our body is able to absorb more than 54 grams of protein per one meal and use it for building muscles. If we take the same 1, 67 grams of protein per one kilo for a grown up man we’ll get more than 95 grams of protein which is three times the upper limit of 30-grams protein intake which is widely discussed by incompetent fitness enthusiasts.

Demonstration research

The scientists of Beltsville Research Centre conducted an interesting experiment including the method of intermittent fasting.

During 8 weeks of the experiment the test people were divided into 2 groups. The first group didn’t have any food for 18 hours a day and got 86 grams of protein during a 4-hrs gap. The second group got the same amount of protein divided equally into 3 meals a day. As the result, within the first group the great improvement of the body composition was stated (including lean muscle mass increase), while within the second group there wasn’t noticed any statistically significant improvement.

The results of the long term research show that our body is able to absorb and use for building muscle much more than 30 grams of protein taken per one meal. There is scientific evidence for this which is due to the peculiarities of physiology of digestion.

Brief information about the physiology of digestion by the researchers from

The food that we consume loses its original appearance inside the acid bath know as a stomach and turns into smooth mass – chyme. Then chime moves forward along the small bowel with the help of peristalsis (contraction and relaxation of muscles that propagates in a wave down a tube, in an anterograde direction) and is absorbed by its walls. This is called the process of digestion.

Protein digestion

When we consume protein it is being digested in the stomach and breaks down into amino acids and peptides which are then absorbed by the bowels and with the help of special carriers travel into blood. It is these carriers which are the limiting factor of the speed of protein absorption. The carriers are able to take the protein to muscles at a particular limited speed.

However, according to Spenser Nadolsky ,the manager of, our body doesn’t have any limit of protein absorption per one meal, as depending on its needs it can regulate the speed of digestion. This is due to the ability of amino acids and some peptides to control the time of being inside the bowel themselves. An example of such peptides is a digestive hormone cholecystokinin that can slower peristalsis of the bowel and slow down the speed of protein absorption.

Cholecystokinin is produced in protein and is able to slower digestive processes in order to absorb all the protein consumed together with the food.

The conclusion:

According to researchers from there is the limit of speed at which our body is able to absorb protein. However, if you consume more protein than it can absorb within a particular period of time, the speed of the digestive process will slower and the rest of the protein in the bowels will definitely be absorbed, though it will take more time.

In conclusion, Alan Aragon emphasizes the fact that if there is the limit of the amount of protein that our body can absorb per meal, most likely it equals the whole daily protein requirement that our body needs in order to meet all the requirements including muscle building.

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