Have you ever heard anyone tell you: You must eat every couple of hours because your body can’t absorb the nutrients from your foods if you eat a large amount at one time? Many use this argument to support eating 5-6 meals a day by saying that you can only absorb 30g of protein at a time. This just simply is not true. The purpose of this article is to bring clarity to this topic, specifically the myth that your body can only absorb 30g of protein in one sitting.
Firstly, we must know how our body is made. Our bodies are simply amazing and they were created to survive under just about any circumstance. When we eat, our body starts a process of digestion and absorption of that food. This is a very complex process. The main thing I want to focus on is that our body will get everything that it needs out of our food. It is very efficient about how it does this. Depending on what we eat and how much we eat, our bodies will slow down or speed up the digestion process so that it can absorb as much as it possibly can. So the bigger the meal usually the longer the digestion time. The type of food plays a role as well; meals high in fat, protein and complex carbohydrates will take longer than smaller meals with more simple carbohydrates. So if our bodies are making sure that they get everything out of the food we eat, then what happens to protein if we eat more than the 30g “limit”? Well Dr. Jason Fung, who is a kidney specialist, says this: “Excessive protein is turned into glucose and then to fat. But how much protein is excessive? That’s the real question that stirs up all kinds of controversy. The Recommended Daily Allowance for an adult is 0.8 g/kg per day.” (How much protein is excessive?). We must eat for our goals and body type. Athletes who are trying to gain muscle and who put themselves through rigorous training will need more protein since protein is used in our bodies to build new structures.
Many people will say that if you have too much protein in one sitting it will go to waste. They believe that your body is smart enough to absorb the fat and carbohydrates but that it is not smart enough to absorb the protein that it needs. “Researchers in France have found that eating protein all at once can be just as well absorbed as spreading it out over your day. A group of 26-year-old women were given either 80% of their protein for the day at one meal or spread over multiple meals. After two weeks, there was no difference between the subject and control groups, in terms of nitrogen balance, whole body protein turnover, whole body protein synthesis, or protein breakdown.” (Protein Absorption). This study shows that if we must, we can get all of our protein for the day in virtually one sitting. Jeff Cavelere, a physical therapist and personal trainer that has been helping people for years says, “Studies now show and support that very interestingly if you have 150g of protein in one meal vs 30g of protein in 5 meals spread throughout the day, that the overall nitrogen excretion and protein synthesis stayed the same.” (Cavelere). There have been countless studies done on this subject since it can be such a big deal. The evidence is out and the studies prove that there is no magical protein gram number that if we go over, our bodies will waste.
Just because our bodies can be very efficient in how they digest and absorb food doesn’t always mean that they are. “Calcium is also used to activate enzymes involved in fat and protein digestion and production of energy.” (Edelstein). Protein absorption is regulated by the nutrients that we receive from food and that we have stored in our body. If we are malnourished then we may not be able to digest and use protein as well as our bodies could. Most people in the United States would never think of themselves as malnourished. I’m not talking about the fact that we get PLEANTY of calories in America but the fact that we do not get enough nutrients from those calories. If we do not eat whole, clean foods then our bodies will not be able to function in the processes that are critical to digestion and absorption. We must give our bodies everything that they need to do what they need to do. This means nutrient dense foods.
The last point I will make on this topic is to look at the historical evidence. Do we really think that people would have survived all of these years if our bodies could not be efficient with how it absorbs food? People did not always have an ample supply of food all the time. There were no such things as grocery stores in ancient times. You ate when you had the resources to do so and that may have only been 2-3 times over the course of the week. If our bodies would have only been able to absorb 30g of protein per sitting, then when people didn’t have a meal for days at a time their bodies would not have been able to recover and rebuild; they would have died pretty quick. The fact is that humans would not have survived this long if our bodies could not adapt to a situation. Fasting, up until 50 or so years ago, was a normal thing to do. You would eat when you needed food and you would let your body use up its storages so that you would not carry around excess fat. But now it seems like the big message that is being preached is to eat all of the time so that it can rev up your metabolism which simply isn’t true. Think about it… if this were true and our bodies did so well with eating every 2 hours, which would be how we would have to eat in order to get enough protein if the 30g myth were true, then why is obesity, diabetes, fatigue, insomnia and sickness at its highest? All of these have skyrocketed since we have started eating constantly. Obviously people aren’t getting any healthier. Our bodies were not made to constantly have food eaten. Our digestive system needs a rest! So if this is how our bodies were made then why would it make sense to say that we need to eat a constant supply of food or else we will waste nutrients that we take in when people have survived for centuries fasting and letting their bodies do what they were intended to do.
The simple fact is that we need to eat the right nutrients, at the right times, in the right amounts for our specific needs. Find a health professional such as a personal trainer or a nutrition specialist that can help you create a plan specific to your needs. If we stick to this maintenance mindset and implement tactics that can help us stay lean, such as fasting, then we will be able to go from Glory to Glory for a lifetime.
Cavelere J. How Much Protein Can You Digest Per Meal? (ABSORPTION MYTH). YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4JE-wdA3PHw&t=586s. Published October 4, 2014. Accessed September 19, 2017.
Edelstein S. Life cycle nutrition: an evidence-Based approach. Burlington, MA: Jones & Bartlett Learning; 2015.
How much protein is excessive? Intensive Dietary Management (IDM). https://idmprogram.com/how-much-protein-is-excessive/. Published October 26, 2017. Accessed February 16, 2018.
www.Facebook.com/LiftBigEatBigMedia. Protein Absorption: The Myth of 30 Grams. Lift Big Eat Big. http://liftbigeatbig.com/protein-absorption-the-myth-of-30-grams/. Published October 3, 2014. Accessed September 20, 2017.