Q: How much protein can a bodybuilder, non-bodybuilder or athletic lifestyle absorb in one meal?
A: The amount of protein an athlete (or non-athlete) can absorb/metabolize is referred to as the protein threshold and is very specific. The storage capacity of proteins, also called the protein threshold, relates to the maximum amount of protein the human body can process without negative consequences. The protein threshold in humans has been well established in the scientific literature and in current research.
One of the most interesting aspects of protein research is that, no matter how much a human weighs, the protein threshold is still the same: 30 grams of elemental protein. For example, in world class powerlifters (who weigh up to 400 pounds) the protein threshold does not exceed 30 grams within a 2-3 hour period. During the time I worked with Mr. Universe Ron Coleman (Editor’s Note: Just for clarification there are two champion bodybuilders named Ron Coleman – one is Mr. Universe and the other is eight-time Mr. Olympia) and the World Powerlifting Federation, my research team experimented with different forms of protein and varying levels of protein intake. Women powerlifters were squatting 650 pounds, and the men were lifting 1000 pounds! This gave us the perfect test subjects to determine the maximum amount of protein a human could metabolize at one time.
Additionally, the Glycemic Research Institute just completed a two million dollar research project on protein thresholding, which reflects the same findings as the study published in the February 2010 issue of the journal of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, in which researchers concluded that there is “Significantly reduced loss of lean body mass with increased protein compared with a normal protein diet in healthy lean athletes.”
The bottom line in protein research reflects the following guidelines:
In world class bodybuilders, such as Mr. Olympia, who hold huge amounts of muscle mass and low amounts of body fat, regardless of weight or size or calories burned, the 30-gram protein rule does not change. The same holds true with other elite athletes.
The average non-athlete does not require an intake of 30 grams of protein at one time and can achieve protein homeostasis by ingesting specific forms and amounts of protein throughout the day.
Based on my research, using proteins at the 30-gram dose in an inappropriate ketogenic formula or product (proteins without carbohydrates) can cause serious problems, including ketosis, elevated liver enzymes, and liver strain.
Some research suggests that humans ingesting ketogenic proteins (i.e., those without any carbs) and low carb meal replacement products may result in increased body fat levels via elevation of insulin and LPL fat storage in fat cells. Ketogenic protein drinks and meal replacements are contraindicated.
Protein drinks and protein products that contain only sugar alcohols, certain synthetic sweeteners, and other non-carbohydrate ingredients may hinder healthy protein storage capacity and push the body into ketosis.
For maximum growth hormone (GH) release, protein drinks should not be consumed near bedtime, as this causes lowered delta-stimulated GH and testosterone production.
Proteins that contain high glycemic ingredients result in increased body fat levels via elevation of insulin, lipoprotein (LPL), and fat storage in adipose tissue fat cells.
The Doctor’s Prescription
Bodybuilders cannot metabolize more than 30 grams of protein at one time, regardless of athletic ability, energy output, weight or size. In terms of maximum muscle mass, the optimum protocol for an anabolic state is:
Ingest 30 grams of protein combined with low glycemic carbohydrates, taken every 4 waking hours (not during or near sleep cycles).
Do not ingest proteins 2 hours prior to sleep (avoids blunting GH).
Do not ingest ketogenic proteins (protein without carbohydrates).
Low glycemic carbohydrates are superior in protein drinks (as compared to high glycemic carbohydrates) for increasing lean muscle mass and decreasing body fat.
Written by Dr. Ann de Wees Allen
Dr. Allen is the Chief Of Biomedical Research at the Glycemic Research Institute and Director of Nutritional Neuroscience