How Much Protein Should You Take At Once?

January 21st, 2015
protein powder

As a result of certain studies[1,2], we have seen countless articles posted on the Internet recommending that it isn’t worth eating more than 20 -30g of protein in a single serving.

The rationale behind this is typically that any additional protein on top of this base amount will be oxidized or will, well, end up in the toilet.

In this article we’re going to put all of this into perspective so that you can figure out whether or not you should actually be consuming more than 20 -30g of protein per meal.

Oh, and for those lazy so-and-sos out there who can’t be bothered to read the whole article: Yes, there are loads of benefits to be gained from going above this supposed protein limit!

What Does the Science Actually Say?
We’re going to start off by clarifying what the research has to say on the matter of protein intake limits.

Basically, studies show that consuming 40g of protein doesn’t illicit a greater physiological response than a 20 – 30g dosing of protein.

If we’re talking solely of protein synthesis then yes, this is partially correct.

Putting Things into Perspective
We say partially correct because looking at things in the context of bodybuilding requires that we take a person’s muscle mass into consideration.

Simply put, an advanced trainee weighing 240lbs at sub-10% body fat is not going to have the same protein requirements or protein synthesis capabilities as that of a 140lbs skinny fat beginner.

The most common recommendation for protein intake is somewhere in the region of 1 – 1.5g per pound of bodyweight, so for an 180lbs individual this would equate to 180 – 270g of protein per day.

This is a sensible recommendation for someone who is training with relatively high volume and frequency, and who is looking to build or retain muscle.

If we assume that the body can only make us of 20 – 25g of protein per meal; let’s say 25g, our 180lbs bodybuilder would only be eating 150g of protein per day, and that’s assuming he’s eating six meals a day on a consistent basis.

To make things even more absurd, could we really expect the 240lbs behemoth we mentioned above to be eating the same 150g daily protein intake as a 180lbs trainee with 60lbs less muscle?!

Other Reasons to Break the 20 – 30g Rule

This one should be obvious to anyone who has ever tried to gain weight.

If you want to build muscle you need to be consuming enough calories to fuel your workouts, recover from training, and illicit the release of hormones such as growth hormone and IGF-1 to support muscle hypertrophy.

Eating 150g of protein per day will yield 600 calories; so if you’re aiming for 3,000, 4,000, or 5,000 calories per day where are you going to get all of these other calories from?

Assuming you’re eating a high-quality diet without tons of junk food, you’re going to have a real hard time trying to eat 3,000 – 4,000 calories from rice, oatmeal, peanut butter, and so on.

Thermic Effect of Food (TEF)
In our recent article Eat More Protein to Burn Belly Fat we saw that roughly a quarter of the calories consumed from protein are used simply in processing and absorption.

This is known as the thermic effect of food or TEF, and it has a proven effect on body composition, reducing belly fat and waist circumference.

Be sure to check out this article because it expands on this area of protein intake.

Other Nutrients
The truth is, looking at protein intake simply as protein intake misses the bigger picture because we don’t really eat protein; we eat the foods they come packaged in.

Chicken, beef, eggs, protein powder; these items contain all manner of nutrients.

Come to think of it, let’s take a look at just some of the nutrients that you’ll be getting from these foods, all of which are beneficial to general health as well as bodybuilding and athleticism in general:

• Vitamin A
• Vitamins B6 and B12
• Vitamin D
• Vitamin E
• Fatty Acids (including conjugated linoleic acid or CLA)
• Minerals, antioxidants, etc, etc.

A whole book could be written on the benefits of the individual nutrients found in protein-rich foods, but suffice to say you are selling yourself short by imposing limitations on the amount of protein you eat on a daily basis.

Discover What Works for You
Our bodyweight, lean muscle mass, insulin sensitivity, training volume, training intensity, physical conditioning, digestive health, and all manner of other factors will determine how much protein our body is actually capable of utilizing on both a per-meal and a daily basis.

Some people require different amounts of protein and net calories, even at the same bodyweight, and this is a simple fact of the human body.

Instead of taking everything you read (including this article) as Gospel, pay attention to your own body and performance in the gym.

Now go make a shake and quit worrying about the minutia!

[1] Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009

[2] A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects. Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 2009