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How Much Protein Can the Body Absorb?

By Anne Danahy

Proteins are often called the building blocks of life, and for good reason. Not only is protein associated with muscle development, it’s also found in every cell, tissue and organ in your body. The protein you eat is broken down and reassembled into different proteins that are required to regulate most of the body’s functions. While protein is essential, there are some limits to the amount your body can handle.

Ideal Amount for Muscle

Current research on protein and muscle maintenance and development has found that it’s best to eat protein at each meal, rather than eating most of your daily intake at dinner. Researchers at the University of Texas found that up to 30 grams of dietary protein at a time is used to produce muscle. Any additional protein is used for energy or stored as fat. They recommend eating up to 30 grams of protein at each meal for maximum muscle stimulation.

Best Protein Foods

To get up to 30 grams of protein at each meal, focus on foods like meat, chicken, fish or eggs, as well as dairy foods like milk, cheese or yogurt. High-protein vegan options include beans, soy products, nut butters and seeds like quinoa and hemp. Four ounces of meat, poultry or fish or a cup of cottage cheese offers roughly 30 grams of protein, as does four large eggs -- though eggs also contain lots of dietary cholesterol. If you're seeking plant-derived protein, you'll need a massive 2 cups of tofu or beans to meet your 30-gram goal.

Turning to Protein Shakes

If you’re having trouble eating enough high-protein foods throughout the day, a protein supplement is another option to enhance your intake. The most common forms of protein supplements are soy, casein and whey. According to research presented at the June 2005 International Society of Sports Nutrition Symposium, both whey and casein are most commonly used for muscle building and maintenance because they're well-absorbed. Supplementing with casein provides the greatest long-term benefit for muscle synthesis, but whey protein is initially absorbed faster.

Maximum Recommended Amount

While moderately high protein diets are usually safe for healthy individuals, there’s a limit to the amount of protein that can be absorbed into the GI tract and protein byproducts that can be cleared by the liver. Research published in the April 2006 “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism” recommends 2 to 2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight, or about 176 grams for an 80-kilogram person, as the amount of protein that meets body and weight management needs but avoids toxicity. Researchers also advise limiting your total calories from protein to about 25 percent. Check with a registered dietitian to make sure you're not overdoing your protein.

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