How Much Protein Can Your Body Absorb?
I had a conversation about protein with my doctor, and he said that the body can only absorb 15 grams of protein per sitting.
I was wondering if it is true?
It is unfortunate that some doctors continue to mislead people on subjects like these, that are obviously not their specialty.
Just because someone is a doctor doesn’t mean that they are the know all resource for everything that has to do with the human body.
If that were the case, we wouldn’t have all the different kinds of doctors and nutritionists we have.
One guy, called a doctor, would know everything and you would have all these other jobs.
The truth is no one knows how much a person can absorb because it varies from one person to the next.
Let's talk common sense here for a minute: Do you think that professional athletes from all over the world could accumulate the amount of muscle they do on what would total out to be about 45g a day by doctors standards?
They actually probably consume more like six times (at least) that amount in order to grow the muscle they do.
“Yeah, but they’re all on steroids?”
First off, that’s not true.
Yes, like it or not, steroids are a part of any competitive sport at some level and to say otherwise would be a very ignorant statement.
However, I don’t think it would be a stretch to say that in this era the majority of athletes are clean in most sports (now 10-15 years ago may be a different story).
Yes, steroids can help you gain massive amounts of muscle, but they themselves do not directly cause muscle gain.
They basically make your body much more efficient at processing and using the raw materials you give it.
You can take all the steroids in the world you want to and if you don’t have enough building blocks for muscle (protein) you aren’t going to grow.
Sufficient and consistent protein intake (with or without steroids) is directly proportionate to muscle mass.
Think of it in terms of building a house.
To build a house you need two things: workers & materials.
Let's say you are building a house and you want to get it built as quickly as possible.
So you hire 100 guys to come build the house, they all show up on Monday morning and the materials aren’t on site.
What happens? Nothing right?
They don’t have anything to build with. Now, relate that back to your body.
You want to build a lot of muscle real fast and so you go bust your ass in the gym everyday, but you don’t give your body the protein & calories it needs to build muscle.
What happens? Nothing.
To build muscle you have to have two things: workers & materials (resistance training & protein).
Now, let's examine the house analogy once again. Let’s say this time you have your 100 workers show up on Monday morning and you do have the materials there, except you only have enough for half a day's work.
What happens at noon?
The guys have used up all the materials and can’t build any more of your house, their progress was limited from the get go.
It ends up being wasted labor. See where I’m going with this?
You have to have enough protein to build throughout the day or you are going to be limiting your potential and wasting your hard work.
This is what happens when you abide by the “You can only absorb 15 grams of protein per sitting” mentality.
Your body needs those proteins and amino acids.
Without the proper nutrient intake, you are severely limiting your progress before you even get started.
The fact is, there are no studies that have ever been done that conclusively prove how much whey protein powder a person can assimilate in one sitting.
The reason concrete data is unavailable on this subject is because people are all different.
The amount of protein your body can absorb is dependent on many factors.
Age, body weight, sex, muscle mass, activity level and type of protein are all factors that decide how much protein your body will actually absorb in one sitting.
The research that has been done (1) does not take all of these individual factors into play.
There are just way too many individual factors and differences between people to conclusively prove how much protein any one person can assimilate.
The bottom line is everyone is different.
There is way too much variance in the individual factors of people to make a general statement like “You can only absorb 15 grams at one sitting”.
Anyone who does is making unintelligent generalizations and not looking at the big picture.
So ... How Much Protein Can a Normal Person Absorb?
Typically, even a beginner male athlete can absorb 25 grams of protein per meal, however this is a “jumping off” point, a minimum.
Keep in mind that it is most likely possible for some people to absorb much more than 25 grams, depending on their individual factors we discussed earlier.
When I am trying to gain muscle I personally use Level-1 (2.5 scoops) in water as a staple for at least three meals throughout the day to make absolutely sure I am getting enough quality protein.
I may go a little overboard, but I make sure I’m not on the short end of the scale when it comes to stimulating muscle protein synthesis.
Many pro bodybuilders I know consume more than that at each meal!
The point here is that the amount of protein that can be absorbed is different for each individual person.
There is absolutely no way to determine a set amount for everyone to absorb and in my opinion it was extremely irresponsible for your doctor (or anyone else) to attempt to do so.
It seems a lot of people, especially medical doctors, have a problem these days with saying the phrase “I don’t know.” It’s very unfortunate.
1. Phillips, S.M., Physiologic and molecular bases of muscle hypertrophy and atrophy: impact of resistance exercise on human skeletal muscle (protein and exercise dose effects). Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 2009. 34(3): p. 403-10.