A certain amount of protein is needed each day in order for your body to build muscle. Even so, protein cannot be stored in the body, meaning it must be absorbed at the right amounts at the right time if you are to notice gains. How much protein can your body absorb, and when is the best time to consume it? Here’s what you need to know.
How Protein Absorption Occurs
Protein is broken down into amino acids in your stomach. These amino acids are then transported through the bloodstream to the various cells in your body. Transporter cells in the small intestine are responsible for this process. This can only happen so fast, since there are a limited number of transporter cells available. However, once amino acids are transported, they can perform in a variety of ways to create the new proteins your body needs for a number of functions. As such, too little protein absorption can hamper several bodily processes.
Protein Absorption Rate
Protein absorption does not always happen at the same rate, as not all foods are digested in the same manner or within the same timeframe. In addition, consuming a large amount of protein at one time will not provide you with better protein absorption. A study from the University of Texas Medical Branch showed that participants who consumed a meal containing 30 grams of protein noticed a 50% increase in muscle-building activity. Those same individuals noticed virtually the same results when consuming a meal containing 90 grams of protein. For this reason, several small meals a day are recommended for maximum protein absorption.
Slow vs. Fast-Acting Protein
Bodybuilders in particular are most interested in protein absorption and the manner in which it influences protein synthesis. Whey and casein are two common forms of protein used by bodybuilders. Each has its own rate of absorption and other unique characteristics:
- Whey contains more leucine, a key amino acid for stimulating protein synthesis.
- Casein protein contains more glutamine, affecting growth hormone and providing an anabolic effect on the muscle.
- Studies show that whey protein causes an increase in blood amino acids within 60 to 90 minutes.
- Blood amino acids increase much slower with casein protein, but rates remain elevated for as long as five hours.
The differences in the rate of protein absorption between the two products means that each one should be utilized at different times. Whey protein is ideal right after a workout to replenish protein supplies that have broken down due to exercise. Casein on the other hand is best for nighttime use to help stave off the catabolic effect. You may also use casein as a meal replacement whenever you are unable to eat for more than three hours.
How much protein can your body absorb? That depends on the amount and type of protein you consume. Sports nutritionists recommend regular, consistent intake, either through the consumption of several small, protein-rich meals a day or with the use of an appropriate source of supplemental protein.