Protein Per Meal: How Much Protein Can You Eat At One Time?

QUESTION: I’ve been told that the human body can only process, digest and absorb about 20-30 grams of protein in a single meal, and the rest goes to waste. Is there any truth to this? Because if there is, it would mean most people would need to eat a higher number of meals per day in order to meet their total protein requirements for the day, wouldn’t it?

ANSWER: I think I can answer this one in just two words: it’s bullshit.

Whew, that was easy. If it’s cool with you, I’m going to start writing the next article now.

Wait… what’s that you say? You want some additional details? Okay, if you insist.

Where Does This Myth Come From?

The myth that your body can only “use” 20-30g or 30-40g or whatever other magical amount of protein in a single meal has been around for decades. Where did it come from?

The two best guesses I’ve come across over the years are:

  • It’s a part of the meal frequency myth. You know, how you must eat 6 meals per day, exactly 2-3 hours apart, to “speed up your metabolism” and make other amazing-yet-not-actually-true things occur? Well, at 6 meals per day, the average sized person shooting for the good old 1g of protein per pound of body weight recommendation would end up eating about 20-40g of protein per meal.
  • Supplements. Is it a coincidence that the typical serving of a typical protein powder contains about 20-30g of protein per scoop? Probably not.

It might be a combination of both. Or something even simpler. Like misinterpreted research. Or maybe some random bodybuilder claiming it for whatever nonsensical reason.

And then whoever heard it repeated it to 5 people, and those 5 people repeated it to 5 people, and those 5 people repeated it to 5 people, and one of those people wrote an article about it that thousands of people read, and so on and so on and so on until it became a universally accepted “fact” that is actually nothing more than a silly diet and fitness myth like any other.

Fun times.

So Then What Happens If You Eat More Than 30g Of Protein At Once?

Ehh, nothing.

You don’t die. The “extra” protein doesn’t go to waste. Everything goes quite normally.

Pretty anticlimactic, I know. But it’s true.

See, your body is good at handling most of what you throw at it. Which is why there is no reason to think your body won’t be able to handle/use/process/digest/absorb whatever amount of protein you give it in a single meal regardless of whether it’s 20g, 30g, 40g, 50g, 60g, 70g, 80g or any other realistically capable amount you can think of. It can and it will.

Various studies (including those looking at intermittent fasting, where significant amounts of protein are eaten within shorter time frames) all support this, and not a single study I’ve ever seen shows otherwise.

The only meaningful difference here is that a meal containing more protein will just take longer to digest than a meal containing less protein. That’s literally it.

Which means, nothing “goes to waste.” All of the protein consumed will still get absorbed… just over a longer period of time. But, in the end, the same total amount protein will be processed whether it was consumed via three 20g meals or one 60g meal. Or any similar example.

So, if you’re currently putting a very specific limit on the amount of protein you consume at one time as a result of this myth, and your diet would be more convenient, enjoyable and sustainable for you if you removed that limit… go for it.

I personally eat more than 30g of protein virtually every single time I eat protein. Hell, I don’t think I’ve had a single dinner in the last 5 years that contained less than 50g of protein.

And that brings us to the other question that may have just popped into your head…

What Is The Maximum Amount Of Protein The Body Can Process In A Single Meal?

So, if 20, 30 or 40 grams isn’t the supposed special cutoff point after all… then what is? What is the maximum amount of protein the human body can handle in one sitting?

The answer to this question is… we don’t know. There really is no exact amount.

But the consensus “best guess” is… a lot. As in – like I alluded to a second ago – the maximum amount of protein you’d ever be capable of consuming in a single meal. Basically, you’d go “holy crap, I can’t eat anymore” long before actually reaching that unknown maximum amount.

I’ve even seen others describe this limit as “likely similar to the amount that’s maximally effective in an entire day.”

So, yeah. Unless you’re planning on entering a hot dog eating contest, you’re gonna be just fine.

(Wondering how much protein you should eat per day to lose fat, build muscle and be healthy? I cover it all right here: How Much Protein Do I Need A Day?)

58 thoughts on “Protein Per Meal: How Much Protein Can You Eat At One Time?”

58 Comments

  1. Once again Jay you continued to make my acquired Lifestyle of Lifting, Eating Sleeping & Repeating one of great Joy via this article! I once believed the myth of there being a ‘Protein Limit’ but, found out via reading your article and others that the science simply isn’t there. I typically eat 30-50 (sometimes more…) grams of protein in a single meal and I’M LOVIN’ IT (sorry McDonalds!! LOL!!). I just make sure it’s good quality, lean protein and just go about my business of enjoying it. Thanks again for a ‘killa’ article! Just finished eating some egg whites w/ steak for breakfast-JUST BECAUSE I CAN!!!

  2. I tend to eat 700g of lean chicken (approx 145g of proten) along with rice and some veggies after my workout. Yeah it’s heaps and takes me a good 30-45 mins to get through but it’s my one big meal of the day and it suits my lifestyle. And I’ve consistently made gains this year and hit PRs each month doing your beginner routine (now with a couple slight modifications after sticking with it properly for six months).

    So if I’m any example then you can definitely eat a lot in one meal and it still all go to muscle!

    • You eat more protein in that meal than I eat all day and my bench is almost 405 raw now. 80-120g a day max from veg protein.

    • So you’ve set up your diet in a way that “suits your lifestyle” while allowing you to “consistently make gains and hit PRs each month doing your beginner routine?”

      Uh huh, you’re doing it right.

      • Thanks Jay, I’ve had a few minor setbacks but ultimately the gains have been steady these past eight months.

        PS: 700g of chicken breast is only $12 from the supermarket (I live in Australia so prices are higher here than the US). I also don’t eat this every day, just on my workout days. The others I eat less calories and less protein. Probably more around 120-140g protein from other sources on non-lifting days.

        • Holy smokes. It must have been your handy work in that scene from Jurassic Park, then: Now that is one big pile of shit.

  3. Wow!!

    I’ve had this question in my head for years and I accepted the facts that protein servings should be 20-30g max.
    Thanks for the help Jay!.
    Consuming more protein per serving will definitely help me to sustain and improve my eating habits.

    Great article, quick and direct. Love it!

    Regards!

  4. hahaha awesome article Jay… I’d be lying if I said I didn’t fall into that belief too, like so many. I was afraid I was wasting protein if I ate more than 30 grams a meal….whew !! lol..Thanks for answering this question man.

  5. Out of the park article once again, Jay. I fell into this trap as well along with having read that too much protein would be tough on the kidneys. Glad to know you’re there to filter through the BS to keep us on track for our goals.

  6. Amazing yet again! I also bought into this myth and was just wondering not even 24 hours ago if I should increase my protein intake as my weight loss is slowing down. Now I know 🙂

  7. I like it! I got away from the old myth when I used intermittent fasting for a while. I vary from 20 to over 70 per meal, anything less than 160\day protein and I start losing muscle per a couple of BodPod tests done (very close in accuracy as a water test).

  8. Hi Jay,
    I really enjoy reading your articles, been following this website for a few years. This is another great article and I really like the no-bullshit approach, as usual!

    It’s not mentioned in your article here and when I saw an earlier comment about weight loss slowing down and the commenter seems to imply that upping protein may be the answer to restarting the weight loss. I wonder if our calorie output via lifting, activities, etc is less than what we eat, the excess calories would just lead us to weight gain (not the good kind!). I know it’s a bit off topic but for fat loss, overall calorie equation is still the most important, isn’t it?

    Thanks again for everything!

    • Calories in vs calories out is still in fact the most important thing. Adding more protein (if protein was heretofore insufficient) would be beneficial for many reasons, and while there would be a higher thermogenic effect, it’s not going to cause weight loss unless those protein calories replaced fat or carb calories… and even then it would be fairly minor.

  9. You don’t want to over do the protein…you might die! Lol great blog and great article!!

    Heard this so many times, thanks for clarifying. Keep up the great work!

  10. great article Jay!!! and thanks for that study…I find your links and references amazing….like the one on Alan Aragon’s meta analysis on pre and post workout nutrition you mentioned in one of your previous articles..I must say that guy has got me hooked on just the way I got hooked on to the aworkoutroutine,com when I first came across this site …

    Then there’s this

    http://www.weightrainer.net/

    and this

    http://www.exrx.net/
    plus I’m following your buddy JC Deen…

    Just wanna say a big thanks again!

  11. Hi Jay. Why are there only a few that knows about getting the physique you want. I have female doctors, and when I take my shirt off, they always gasped!!! I’m not a Superman, just that my abs flat.

  12. Hi Jay.

    As I’m skinny-fat I’m trying to lose those horrible love handles and man boobs.
    I have a questions about carbohydrates.

    I don’t eat gluten and since I’m on your Beginner’s Routine, I need to find carbohydrate alternatives in the gluten-free world…

    Should I go for starch sources (white rice & potatoes) or for sugar sources (fruits).

    Which is best for fat loss? What are their differences re fat loss?

    Thank you.

    Marco

    p.s. – What do you think about the “fat burns in the flame of carbohydrates” old adage?
    Is it a real thing?

    • For fat loss, with all else being equal (e.g. total calories), it makes no difference whatsoever. Nearly all of my carb intake comes from white rice and white potatoes, by the way.

      And “fat burns in the flame of carbohydrates” is nonsense. 😉

  13. Wow! Guess I’ll be the first to say … I didn’t know this! Totally fell for those myths. Now every time I put my whey protein in my milk or have a bowl full of boiled beans I wouldn’t feel as guilty. Thanks Jay, you’re pretty awesome.

  14. What a fresh breath of air on this topic. I hear this very same myth almost on a weekly basis in the gym, among friends, etc. I think because almost all protein bars and pre-made drinks around here comes with just around 30 grams of protein, people think that confirms the stated myth.

  15. A question completely unrelated to this article. My gym only has one leg press machine which means it is always busy, and very difficult to get on 90 percent of the time. So I am looking at doing front squats as an alternative. What is the best approach when incorporating a new exercise into a routine? Start light and work your way up?

  16. Hi Jay, I’ve recently gotten my macro intake down after months of tweaking and doing what it takes to eat everything I need. My only problem is that my back shoulders and chest are much larger than my arms and I feel disproportionate. Is there anything i can do to even this out I’m using your beginner program 3 times a week doing exactly what it says any advice at all would be greatly appreciated.
    Also im 6’2 230 19 years old

    • For a beginner, nope. I’d recommend not worrying too much about your arms (seemingly) lagging behind everything else until you’re at the intermediate level at which point adjustments can be made for this purpose.

  17. I’d learned the misconception/misinformation about “25-30 grams max per meal” back around 1974, at age 18, in my third year of bodybuilding, and it was not a new misconcept even in 1974.

    What corrected that misinformation for me was learning what different top bodybuilders did, and realizing that not all of them used that “25-30 grams per, max”.

    For example, Peter Grymkowski, who placed second in the 1971, ’72, and ’73 AAU Mr America contests and won the Heavyweight Class of the 1977 IFBB Mr America, considered how large carnivorous mammals eat one huge daily feeding to be applicable to humans, so he consumed the bulk of his daily protein in a single meal. Considering that his protein intake was enormous — as a PEDrug user, he believed it necessary to subtantially increase protein intake the more steroids he took, and he was admitting openly even in the early 70s he was dosing himself with a minimum of 2 GRAMS PER DAY of steroid stacks — Grymkowski was obviously consuming exceedingly more than 30 grams of protein at his one huge daily meal. Yet his body certainly was able to process the glut of protein from that one main meal to build the amount of lean mass necessary to successfully compete at the national level..

    Examples like that made it clear to me that, while it certainly isn’t counterproductive to consume a max of 30 grams per meal; and that for some people that might, for various individuals’ reasons, make for a more convenient, expedient, and/or gastrointestinally-comfortable protocol for ingesting protein; limiting to 30 grams was neither necessary nor metabolically wasteful.

    For many if not most people, the body will adapt to almost ANY scheme for ingesting protein, from one meal per day to ten meals per day. Just find a method that fits best with your daily life and consistently ingest adequate protein to enable catabolism.

    • OOOOppppssss, correction: my last sentence in the next-to-last paragraph should be, “.. limiting to 30 grams was not necessary nor consuming over 30 grams metabolically wasteful.”

  18. great article. bumped my protein intake up to 180g/day (almost 1g per pound of me) – which also bumped my calories, and all I can say is that i can still lift heavy (gains) and am losing the chub….thanks

  19. Really helpful article…i just want to ask you whether i should take whey protein on rest days also..i follow your muscle building routine

  20. So, is it the truth that you should take 1 gram of protein equaling your body weight daily? As an example – 150 pounds you would take 150 grams of protein per day. Only on workout days?

    • It’s not really true or untrue. It’s more just an simple protein intake starting point for someone training hard to build muscle and/or lose fat. A little less or a little more are both fine, too.

  21. I think the idea comes from the knowledge that there’s a finite amount of peptase enzymes in your stomach and a total disregard that your stomach will just increase the time it takes to digest something in order to compensate for that. People believe all kinds of crap. Didn’t you say it’s easier to fool someone than convince them they’ve been fooled?
    Thanks for all the info by the way, just starting down the path to an easier cut and regaining lost muscle with only your website, I’ll let you know how it goes!

  22. I hear people talking about how eating too much protein can be harmful to the… liver? something like that
    That about 15% of your kcal intake should come from protein, 25% tops, no more than that.
    Lets go crazy then, what if I get 40% of my kcal intake from protein, what kind of complications and health issues would I have?

    btw, Huge fan here.
    if you could post more studies to back what you’re saying here, it would be really cool.

  23. Ahahaha I love the Wayne’s World clip!

    Thanks so much, Jay. I’m back on the wagon after having a baby and 12 long months of no lifting. I was a bit discouraged by how much muscle I’d lost and having to go back to beginner stage. But only 3 weeks in to your beginner routine, I’m seeing huge gains (surely part of the muscle memory magic, as well). I purchased the best workout routines e-book. Loving it, but going to be riding out the beginner training as long as I can. Excited to see how far I can get before switching to the muscle building routine.

    Thanks again for dispelling all.the hogwash on the interwebs (and idiot “trainers”)!

  24. Good article to bust the myth! Actually, it is difficult to reach the protein requirement if you can only intake 20-30g per meal. It will take so many meals LOL. Diet plan is really important as well as training hard in gym.

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