You can only digest 30g of protein at once.. Are you sure?

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It seems for the mainstream gym goer that is keen to build their muscles in the most optimum way, there is a need to carry a bag full of Tupperware to the office each day, take up most of the fridge space and clock watch to know when they can eat that high protein delight. Sometimes frustration is caused when one is locked into a meeting so they can’t get their dose of amino acids at the time they ‘need’ it.

Sports nutrition magazines, books and online sources all document that it is necessary to consume protein throughout the day to feed your muscles more efficiently. Now why is this? Well this may be due to the belief that only a certain amount of protein can be used from a particular meal[i]. Here excess protein is considered oxidised and then excreted by the body. This assumption however fails to acknowledge that just because the protein is oxidised, doesn’t mean it isn’t having a protein synthesising effect beforehand[ii]. Would this therefore mean that we don’t have to eat constantly?

One particular study actually showed improvements in lean body mass and fat free mass when one meal at 86g protein was consumed daily compared to three meals[iii]. This would therefore counter the theory that more then 20-30g would simply be wasted. Thinking logically, say an average person consumes their RDA of protein in one sitting, if more than 30g is wasted, it would mean there is potential for a protein deficiency in that person.

Most studies examine optimum protein intake levels by assessing nitrogen balance; an indication of how the body is building muscle. Ideally the bodybuilder would want to achieve a positive nitrogen balance, an optimal state for muscle growth. This has however been criticised as not the most efficient way of measuring optimal protein intake as losses are hard to measure and also it is a measure of whole body protein turnover, not specific tissue.[iv]

It seems science is still in debate whether we should be throwing protein down our necks at regular intervals or perhaps give the body a rest from digestion in order to optimise muscle growth. From a nutritional standpoint, it is of most importance to consider the whole body as a web, giving the gut a chance to rest from digestion of food allowing the body to heal. Therefore it may not be the entrenched belief that getting as much protein down you as possible is the best thing. Put simply, if undigested protein enters the colon, it can potentially create an unstable environment that beneficial bacteria require to thrive, giving rise to a whole host of health issues. We are not built to eat ALL the time.

 

References

[i] Norton, L. E., & Wilson, G. J. (2009). Optimal protein intake to maximize muscle protein synthesis: Examinations of optimal meal protein intake and frequency for maximizing muscle mass in athletes. AgroFood Industry Hi‐Tech, 20(2), 54‐57. Retrieved from http://agro‐foodindustry.teknoscienze.com/pdf/norton_AF2_09.PDF

[ii] Van Vilet, S. (2011). Protein, how much per meal? A systematic review in maximising the muscle protein synthetic response in resistance-trained athletes. Exercise and Science Masters Thesis, University of Chester. Retrieved from http://chesterrep.openrepository.com/cdr/handle/10034/212173. 

[iii] Stote, K. S., Baer, D. J., Spears, K., Paul, D. R., Harris, G. K., Rumpler, W. V., et al. (2007). A controlled trial of reduced meal frequency without caloric restriction in healthy, normal‐weight, middle‐aged adults. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 85(4), 981‐988. Retrieved from http://www.ajcn.org/content/85/4/981.full

[iv] Van Vilet, S. (2011). Protein, how much per meal? A systematic review in maximising the muscle protein synthetic response in resistance-trained athletes. Exercise and Science Masters Thesis, University of Chester. Retrieved from http://chesterrep.openrepository.com/cdr/handle/10034/212173.