How Much Protein Can Your Body Absorb At Once?

protein absorption

In the pursuit of athletic and muscular gain, athletes and bodybuilders will often consume large quantities of protein, hoping that this increased protein consumption will stimulate better muscle growth and repair. It is not unheard of for bodybuilders to consume anywhere from 200 to 400 grams of protein per day. Does eating this much protein really offer benefits, or is it just wasting money and protein? We will also answer how much protein your body can absorb at one time?

How much protein can your body absorb at once?

The body can absorb between 20 to 45 grams of protein per meal or sitting. Things like activity level, age and states of disease can all affect how much protein the body can absorb and utilize at one time. In this article, we care about how much protein is an optimal amount per meal to stimulate the most significant amount of protein synthesis and muscle growth, so that is the area we will highlight.

The range of how much protein your body can absorb at once varies widely, and some people say 20 to 25 grams is the maximum amount you can eat before you see diminishing anabolic gains or benefits. This 20 to 25 gram range seems to be the most common protein range online, and some studies back this number up. One study done by sports scientists at McMaster University in Canada looked at protein consumption after a workout. They found that protein consumption above 20 grams did not benefit muscle-building. The researchers at McMaster University found that increasing the protein above 20 grams increased the breakdown of amino acids.[1]

The one problem with this study is it is only looking at the post-workout window after test subjects had done a training session. We know that resistance exercise can lower the protein and amino acid threshold for stimulating protein synthesis and an anabolic response. We think that because the protein intake was following resistance training, it resulted in lower protein intake needed to stimulate protein synthesis. We need to look at real-world protein consumption and not just following workouts to get an accurate picture of how much protein can be absorbed at once.

So, how much protein can your body absorb at once, not after a workout but just normally? Studies that show that the body can absorb 45 grams or more at one time are usually done not around the post-workout window and are looking at not one meal but numerous meals throughout the day.

A study done by sports scientists at the University of Mississippi looked at how much protein can be absorbed effectively per meal and what dose of protein per meal produced the best anabolic response for muscle. The researchers found that eating at least two high-protein meals per day with 45 grams of protein per meal produced the most significant muscle mass and strength increases.[2] 

How often should you eat high protein meals?

As you can see from the last study mentioned above, the threshold of how much protein you can eat before seeing diminishing gains is much higher outside of the post-workout window. So a good way to use this information is to plan your protein intake and amounts differently around your workouts. For regular meals during the day, strive to reach a protein content in each meal of around 45 grams of protein and then reduce that amount after your workout to 20 grams. This plan will ensure that you optimize protein synthesis throughout the day. 

Here is a breakdown of what this means for an average guy who weighs 170 pounds.

  • Breakfast 45grams of protein
  • Lunch 45 grams of protein
  • Post-workout shake 20 grams of protein
  • Dinner 45 grams of protein

This protein consumption plan gives a total daily protein intake of 155 grams. This amount falls in line with the recommended daily protein intake for athletes and bodybuilders of 1.7 to 2.2 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.[3]

Summary of maximum protein absorption

As you can see from the information we provided and the studies we referenced, there is a wide variance in the amount of protein you can absorb at one time. Many variables in protein absorption, protein synthesis, and the anabolic response come into play. When deciding how much protein you need to consume per meal, you need to factor in the following:

  • When are you eating the protein? The amount of protein you need changes based on when you eat it. After a workout, you need less protein to get the same anabolic response as outside the post-workout window.
  • How old are you? Age plays a significant role in the amount of protein required.
  • How active are you? Activities like weight training require much more protein to repair and recover from
  • How healthy are you? If you are sick or in a diseased state, your body will absorb and process protein differently. Catabolic diseases like cancer and AIDS can drastically impact protein and skeletal muscle.

Hopefully, this information and research will give you a better understanding of how to structure and plan your daily protein intake. Remember that everyone is different, and each person’s ability to absorb protein will vary. This variability means you will have to use the information we provided as a starting point. You can experiment and determine what dose and frequency are best for you and produce the best gains in skeletal muscle and strength.

If you found this article helpful and interesting you might be interested to read about if protein powder expires.

Please always consult with your doctor before applying any health or medical information. The information contained within this article is not intended to be taken as health or medical advice.