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View Full Version : Is there a limit to how much protein the body can use in a single meal by Alan Aragon



Joe Black
02-22-2010, 08:29 AM
Is there a limit to how much protein the body can use in a single meal?

There are many controversial subjects in the world of bodybuilding, but probably none that give a more varied range of answers than the good old 'What's the maximum amount of protein that can be absorbed in a single sitting?'

It's gotten so bad that there are meatheads everywhere designing their whole diet around what they believe to be the right limit, but are there efforts in vain?

We needed someone that can apply both science and logic and answer this question once and for all and who better than Mr Alan Aragon....

Shemz
02-22-2010, 09:36 AM
Very interesting article. I never even knew that there was a 20-30gr "standard"..Mine can go from 20g to 50g or even more for one meal, never really had any negative effects from it and right now i don't really have the time to eat 6 times a day.

VikingWarlord
02-22-2010, 09:56 AM
That's pretty much what I've always figured. The biggest problem I've always had with it is that "sitting" and "meal" are almost always undefined periods of time but the logic behind the hard limit just doesn't stand up to any kind of scrutiny

Good article, great sources.

Daniel Roberts
02-22-2010, 10:07 AM
Typically very good article from Mr Aragon.

Metal_Man
02-22-2010, 11:14 AM
Good read.

For the past few months I've been having a shake consisting of milk and 3 scoops of protein after workouts (about 75g protein). Then I would wait a couple of hours to eat again. More recently, however, I've begun to eat two spicy chicken sandwiches with my post workout shake(bringing the total up to about 125 g protein). My lifting routine, sleep, etc... has remained the same, but I feel significantly less sore on the days following a workout. I have to credit this to the increased intake at one specific feeding time...

Nice to see a well researched article back up what I've personally experienced.

J.C.
02-22-2010, 12:24 PM
YES!! Great article.

View 1
02-22-2010, 05:51 PM
I agree good article as well, Ive been reading some of Mr Aragons stuff as of late.

Alan Aragon
02-22-2010, 06:35 PM
I'm glad you like the article, guys.

I've experienced plenty of frustration trying to explain to people that "protein dose myth" off-the-cuff, so it's a relief to finally get my thoughts organized in an article.

VDubb
02-22-2010, 07:10 PM
^Definitely appreciated Alan.............keep up the great work.

SteveYu
02-22-2010, 07:24 PM
Awesome article Alan. I always learn stuff from your writing and research.

I think this idea might vary from one personality type to the next (bodybuilders in my mind have a greater ability to be disciplined in general than general population), but there is some merit to allowing people to believe there is a good reason to eat on a structured schedule. I used to tell people all the time that eating more frequently boosted metabolism... which although is not significantly true, it gives people a reason to follow a schedule (I believed it at the time I told them) For the general population, sometimes this is relevant, because it creates more structure, and ultimately, more consistent good eating, no?

Just a thought... I sometimes wonder when people start to understand too much about what is going on, if it hinders their ability to be more consistent, because they over-rationalize things. That said, could ignorance is bliss be a good strategy for some in these cases? If I told someone meal timing doesn't really matter, how does this shape their decisions on a consistent basis... do they stop planning and preparing their meals? Do they go off the wagon if they've not eating anything all day?

Hazerboy
02-22-2010, 10:24 PM
I always thought that 20-30 g a day stuff was BS.

Maybe this wasn't the scope of your paper Alan, but you could have also talked about how muscle synthesis isn't the only goal of eating protein rich foods. Macronutrient breakdown is also a big deal -- almost all of the diets advocated for weight loss in the bodybuilding world are high protein, so if I only ate my 120 grams of protein a day over six meals while on a diet, where the hell else would I get the rest of my calories from? Not to mention all that great creatine I'm getting from protein!

jpaulo
02-23-2010, 09:07 AM
After reading several articles about this protein limit,it never made sense to me at all.Eating 6 small meals a day when I was leaning out,I gradually shifted into eating just 4-5 meals a day not because of anabolism myth but my personal preference and scheduling issue instead.I didn't see any difference as far as changing body composition,only slight gains in increasing LBM since my goal is to stay lean even at hypertrophy phase or culking.Good article Alan!

snorkelman
02-23-2010, 02:27 PM
I can't wait until I start seeing bros citing the Arnal and IF studies and declaring with certainty that men can only digest/use 90 grams of protein and the rest gets pissed out.

Either that or else the bros will begin a campaign that the 60 grams from GNC's wheybolic extreme is "underdosing." GNC will love it and soon will begin marketing a wheybolic super extreme complete with 90 grams of protein and a whopping 420 calories .

Alan, joking aside, this is a great article. Maybe someday a researcher will come across this and actually design a study setting up subjects in groups as you have laid out.

Alan Aragon
02-23-2010, 08:53 PM
Steve -- I think that the liberation from unfounded "rules" by becoming aware of the facts is more empowering than being held captive by false beliefs that governs your behavior (and some of your results) by sheer default. The ultimate combination is being educated about that it takes to hit your macro targets for the day, in addition to knowing that the rest is distantly secondary (with a few exceptions, of course).

All -- Thanks very much for the feedback.

Frameless
02-24-2010, 12:41 AM
Alan, you don't mention anything about protein breakdown in the article. As far as i can see, the egg and beef study only examines protein synthesis. Doesn't this make the bogus claim that 20-30g of protein is the maximum the body can use at a sitting, false to begin with? I thought it was pretty much established that high protein diets does not only maximize protein synthesis, but also lowers protein breakdown. Studys have shown slow protein to be superior to fast protein, when it comes to protein retention. And that's not because of greater protein synthesis, but because of the significant decrease in protein breakdown that comes with slow protein (such as casein, whole milkprotein or eggs). Clearly, protein breakdown have a greater role in protein retention than protein synthesis.

"A Review of Issues of Dietary Protein Intake in Humans" says this:
"In healthy adult men consuming small frequent meals providing protein at 2.5 g ? kg-1 ? d-1, there was a decreased protein breakdown, and increased protein synthesis of up to 63%, compared with intakes of 1g ? kg-1 ? d-1 (16). Subjects receiving 1g ? kg-1 ? d-1 underwent muscle protein breakdown with less evident changes in muscle protein synthesis."

Rip.66.
02-24-2010, 04:42 AM
good to know for a person who is about to experiment with the warrior diet!

MrKleen73
02-24-2010, 03:47 PM
Awesome stuff here Alan, I completely agree.

Obviously there is not a time limit or maximum on digestion, the stomach doesn't just dump undigested clumps of protein and meat into the intestines for excretion at an hour or so after ingestion just because it is time to do so. It continues to digest the food product until it is broken down small enough to be passed through the intestines then the food is passed into the intestines. If this were not the case we would see half chewed peices of meat in our feces just like the corn that never digests. Sorry for the rashness.

I am planning to load my nutrients in the mornings around my workouts which are done fasted except for my EAA's. I will take in about 30 grams of EAA's 30 minutes pre workout and sip on another 30g in my intra drink. Go home and have a shower, then have another 75 grams of protein, probably mixed between whey and real meat and about 100-120 grams of mixed carbs. Keep the nutrient intake balanced at a low-moderate level through out the day and then one last big push of solid food protein at night before bed to keep a trickle of protein dripping into my bloodstream as ong as possible overnight. I know it sounds simple but I think it will play into keeping nutrients readily available in my system. I can also do HIIT or some body weight pushups and squats or something later in the day to cause more protein synthesis if I want it, rather than relying on a sudden influx of protein to cause the synthesis to occur.

Guido
02-25-2010, 08:33 AM
Thanks, Alan. What an elightening article. I've been wondering about the whole "the body can only digest 20-30g of protein at a time" myth for a long time but never really got a definitve answer. Thanks for doing the research.

Alan Aragon
02-25-2010, 10:31 AM
The feedback is appreciated, everyone. It's hilarious how this article is linked on a few other boards, and some people don't even read it (thinking I'm gonna offend their dearly held beliefs) while others make hasty prejudgements that the article is a veiled supp ad. Hah! Learning takes effort, & idiocy is bliss. Thanks for actually READING the article, guys.

rbtrout
02-25-2010, 11:27 AM
Excellent article, too bad we can't get it published all over.

I've figured that the 20-30 grams per sitting was crap, as well, based upon the same logic that you used in your article - we'd all have a lack of protein.

Joe Black
02-25-2010, 11:58 AM
The feedback is appreciated, everyone. It's hilarious how this article is linked on a few other boards, and some people don't even read it (thinking I'm gonna offend their dearly held beliefs) while others make hasty prejudgements that the article is a veiled supp ad. Hah! Learning takes effort, & idiocy is bliss. Thanks for actually READING the article, guys.

I read one forum thread where the article was posted and was clearly linked and one guy just didn;t even read the article and said 25g at the most per sitting lol..

Alan Aragon
02-26-2010, 12:03 PM
I read one forum thread where the article was posted and was clearly linked and one guy just didn;t even read the article and said 25g at the most per sitting lol..I think I could have found what you're talking about. Check out the brain power going on in this thread:

http://forums.mmaweekly.com/showthread.php?t=32384

meh
02-26-2010, 01:17 PM
I just don't see a premise that supports the conclusion that "... this [protein] limit is likely similar to the amount thatís maximally effective in an entire day." Based on the studies linked, it seems incorrect to give more credence to the stretchy extrapolation of the data listed in [11][12][13] as opposed to the short-term studies listed in paragraphs prior. As noted in the article, the short-term results, unsophisticated as they may be, are fairly consistent in suggesting the converse of Alan's conclusion is likely true. In my view, Alan did a great job finding the research which outlines the shockingly inconsistent results, then drew a conclusion that simply isn't adequately supported by the data. I'd imagine it's kind of disconcerting to simply throw your hands in the air as a professional when the data doesn't imply anything, but I believe that is all that can be done here.

In my view, Alan did the same thing in his otherwise strong article on milk in months prior; did a great job of rutting through the body of evidence, then came down on one side (pro-milk, as it were) with little reasoning defended within the article (which is to say, listing of pro-milk evidence in roughly the same dosages of casein-specific concerns, then sided with pro-milk). I'm a big fan of Alan's remarkably awesome ability to dig through the data, but I think sometimes he manufactures a conclusion that just isn't there.

Alan Aragon
02-26-2010, 03:06 PM
I just don't see a premise that supports the conclusion that "... this [protein] limit is likely similar to the amount thatís maximally effective in an entire day." Based on the studies linked, it seems incorrect to give more credence to the stretchy extrapolation of the data listed in [11][12][13] as opposed to the short-term studies listed in paragraphs prior. As noted in the article, the short-term results, unsophisticated as they may be, are fairly consistent in suggesting the converse of Alan's conclusion is likely true. In my view, Alan did a great job finding the research which outlines the shockingly inconsistent results, then drew a conclusion that simply isn't adequately supported by the data. I'd imagine it's kind of disconcerting to simply throw your hands in the air as a professional when the data doesn't imply anything, but I believe that is all that can be done here.

In my view, Alan did the same thing in his otherwise strong article on milk in months prior; did a great job of rutting through the body of evidence, then came down on one side (pro-milk, as it were) with little reasoning defended within the article (which is to say, listing of pro-milk evidence in roughly the same dosages of casein-specific concerns, then sided with pro-milk). I'm a big fan of Alan's remarkably awesome ability to dig through the data, but I think sometimes he manufactures a conclusion that just isn't there.If you put more credence in short-term outcomes than longer-term outcomes, I for one cannot help you, dear Meh.

Frameless
02-26-2010, 05:30 PM
Alan, again, why didn't you say anything about protein breakdown in article? As i said, protein breakdown is clearly a big factor in protein retention. Ingesting protein does not only stimulate protein synthesis, but also hinders protein breakdown. Training increases protein turnover (both synthesis and breakdown), and even if a low dose like 20g of protein maximally stimulate protein synthesis, we still want to maximally hinder protein breakdown. Question is, how much protein do we need to maximally hinder protein breakdown?

Alan Aragon
02-27-2010, 12:04 PM
Frameless -- That's a good question, and a good point you make. I don't think that this has been systematically investigated yet. If you have any speculations or hard data regarding what the answer is, please post it up. That said, I think that the question you're asking is more applicable to acute (short-term) studies, which are good for generating hypotheses. Long-term studies measuring the macro-outcomes (performance & body composition) would be the ultimate test of such hypotheses.

heathj
02-27-2010, 01:51 PM
awesome article. would be good if some more studies showed the difference in strength athletes vs recreational or even sedentary.

forwarded to all my co-workers.

Alan Aragon
02-27-2010, 10:12 PM
heathj -- Yup, this is a very understudied area of research. I'm eager to see how future study designs will improve. Glad you like the article, thanks for spreading it.

snorkelman
03-03-2010, 08:17 AM
Alan, one of the boneheads in that MMA thread you linked seems to have reached the conclusion that you are endorsing "Nitrean" and your pimping of such protein is your driving force for writing the article. Amazing.

Alan Aragon
03-03-2010, 01:19 PM
Snorkelman -- Yeah, that was hilarious. What a dumbass.

Joe Black
03-04-2010, 01:58 AM
It cracks me up because the product plug is SO small and VERY relevant!

Bah, in my opinion if you don't have the intelligence to read something and grasp the quality of the information and learn from it, you don't deserve too lol

View 1
05-26-2010, 01:12 PM
Last night I went out to dinner with some friends for one of the guys birthdays, at dinner we started working out diet etc... One of the guys ( never met him before ) starts talking about how the body can only absorb 26 grams of protein max and thats it. Now I am not one to sit and argue or debate with people but I could not let this one go ( plus I know a little bit but I am not an expert ). So I brought up this article and I also brought up the issue of IF as well ( which I have been doing for almost a month and glad I switched over to it ) and the guy still said I was wrong, stating that a whole team of guys came to this conclusion ( though he does not know the study and cannot quote it, as I asked him to ) and Alan is just one guy ( which made me laugh out loud ). So I then brought up the fact that depending on the protein source it is absorbed into the body at different rates then he says this study was only for "isolates" so I said your talking about whey then and he said no isolate protein its not the same as whey, at this point I was just dumbfounded by his stupidity I was almost at a loss for words. I asked him how protein was made and he did not know so I explained how its a bi product of cheese and the different types of proteins etc etc.. and he still said I was wrong, so I just told him alright conversation is done as you are clueless, I asked him if he the internet on his phone he said yes I told him to look up this article and how whey was produce and its different types all of witch he said he would do later, I just smiled and said ok, and I just dropped it, people are so stuck in body building dogma its just unreal.

Two things that made me laugh even more was the fact that he did not like my gym ( local chain, they have 4 gyms in my city ) because it has to many free weights and not enough machines, and then he got so drunk he threw up all over himself and the table when he took one to many shoots.

Times like these makes me want to learn as much as I can about nutrition for when times like these appear.

fixationdarknes
05-27-2010, 12:29 PM
Great article! I really enjoyed that.

Jake Impastato
08-15-2010, 05:51 AM
Of course there is a limit. The only thing is no one knows what it really is for each individual. So you gotta always take in more than what is necessary to keep growing.

Alex.V
08-19-2010, 01:19 PM
DEAR GOD.

Someone who knows what he's talking about. I was drawn to one line in your article in particular.. "This brings me to the crucial point that acute outcomes merely provide grounds for hypothesis. Itís not completely meaningless, but itís far from conclusive without examining the long-term effects."

Thank you for this. This is the point that EVERYBODY should keep in mind when evaluating the various data that are floating around and often cited when people write god-awful position papers (can't really call them articles) on nutrition, training, etc.

Very well done article, a thoughtful piece that can be easily understood by all audiences while referencing relevant scientific data. Solid conclusion, good evidence, a must read!

Drizzt
11-29-2012, 12:09 PM
While it is fair to say that different usage scenarios will result in different conclusions as to protein usage, one should be careful to discredit studies based on arguments that are explicitly excluded in the study to begin with. While it is easy to say that the studies that pegged maximum protein absorption to less than 30g are in error by arguing them out of the scope of their application, these studies were not in any way slanted by the academics and the results can be taken as prima facie evidence of limited protein absorption taking place in the exact scenarios tested.

The reason for the difference in absorption is because it is an entirely time-dependant process. Hence a steak, that takes much longer to digest, would in fact allow more protein to be absorbed than a serving of the same amount of whey protein which digests much faster. Hence it can be safe to assume that you are wasting your money if you decide to gobble down huge amounts of whey at once and think that your body will 'sort it out'. But here's the thing: most researchers know this, yet the author of this article seems not to know it. Which is why they are testing for protein supplementation absorption and not steak protein absorption, two entirely different scenarios mind you. An argument on the one has no bearing on the other.

While anyone is allowed to make up their own mind on this issue, I would use the authors own words against him and warn that exactly because the long term effects have not been studied that intensively, it is much better to under-supplement than over-supplement. Your body would be severely taxed to break down a lot of excess protein in the event that the author is wrong and then you will likely have health problems because of this advice.

Alex.V
11-29-2012, 06:36 PM
Your body would be severely taxed to break down a lot of excess protein in the event that the author is wrong and then you will likely have health problems because of this advice.

How so? To my knowledge, there is little evidence showing ammonia toxicity or excessive liver/kidney stress in HEALTHY individuals directly caused by "excessive" protein intake. In speaking with quite a large number of physicians/researchers in the nutrition field, I've yet to even find any case studies of individuals who have had liver or kidney damage/failure as a result of high protein intake. Note I DO emphasize "healthy"- I have seen a number of cases of individuals with pre-existing conditions who've experienced issues with high protein intake.

To me, this is really the major point of dissent- if healthy individuals have nothing to fear from high protein intake, then extra protein becomes essentially an expensive and inefficient (though quite tasty) source of pyruvate/acetyl CoA and a whole bunch of urea.