"Your body can only absorb 30 grams of protein at once. Anything over that amount your body will not absorb and it will be wasted."
This is the widespread theory held by many. However, there isn't an exact amount of protein that your body can absorb. Your body tends to preserve all the protein you consume but how effectively it does this depends on the person. If you happen to consume more protein than your body can handle, it sits in your gut until it can be processed, as there is a limit on how fast you can absorb protein.
When you eat food, it passes through your stomach and into the intestines before it is absorbed. Around 90% of all protein you consume is used for building enzymes, hormones, and other important things, including muscles. But, only a small amount of protein is used for building muscles. The cells of your small intestine and liver get first dibs on the protein you consume.
There are also hormones that regulate the rate at which protein is digested. These hormones are released when there is dietary protein present and signal your body to slow down digestion in order to absorb all the protein.
Depending on the source, about 10 grams of protein is absorbed per hour. This is probably where the idea that bodybuilders must eat every three hours came from.
It's common practice among bodybuilders and fitness enthusiasts alike to eat every few hours in order to avoid losing muscle mass. However, one study done on women showed that consuming 54 grams of protein in one meal versus four meals resulted in no differences. Similarly, another study showed that consuming 80-90 grams of protein in one meal versus three meals resulted in no differences in muscle mass.
This isn't to say that consuming all your protein in one meal is best. It does suggest, however, that your body can handle far more protein than most people think.
Gavin Van De Walle holds a Bachelor of Science degree in nutrition and is a certified personal trainer. He is in the coordinated dietetic internship program at South Dakota State University where he is a Master of Science candidate in nutrition with a specialization in sports nutrition. Contact Gavin at www.supranutrition.com.