For decades, experts have debated about the subject of maximum protein absorption. While there is still plenty of research to be done, there are some widely accepted facts and estimates that we can work with now to ensure our daily needs are being met.
Understanding how your body absorbs protein can help you to make decisions about how much protein you should eat and when you should eat it. In this article, iwi life gives you a guide to how much protein you can absorb and how algae may factor into your protein intake.
What Is Protein?
Protein is a cornerstone to any diet, as it is one of the the three macronutrients, along with fats and carbohydrates. These macronutrients are the nutritive components of the foods we eat which our bodies require in the largest amounts. In fact, protein is so vital that it is found in every human cell!
Protein is crucial for your general growth and development, building muscles, and repairing tissues in the body.
Protein is made up of a chain of amino acids. There are 20 amino acids that can be used as building blocks to form a protein. Of these 20, there are 11 that can be produced by the body, while the other nine can only be obtained through food.
In the body, protein creates an anabolic response, which is the difference between protein synthesis and breakdown, or the net protein balance. To obtain the most benefit from your protein, you want an improved anabolic response that maximizes protein synthesis while minimizing protein breakdown.
When you eat protein, it is mostly digested in the small intestine. While your stomach uses gastric acid to break down food, your small intestine utilizes digestive enzymes made by the pancreas which can actually break down the protein itself.
How Much Protein Can Your Body Absorb?
The amount of protein your body can absorb has been a scientific discussion for quite some time. And although this question has been widely researched, it is still hard pinpoint a direct amount your body can absorb.
Some research has shown that consuming more than 20 grams of protein at one time may affect the oxidation of amino acids, reducing their effectiveness. Protein is also absorbed differently depending on where it comes from.
For example, your body may take longer to absorb a cooked egg than it does water-soluble whey protein powder. Based on current research, it does not seem that your body absorbs or uses more than 30 grams of protein in one sitting.
Another factor to consider is just how much protein your body needs. Even if your body can absorb extensive amounts of protein, that does not mean it needs to. The recommended dietary allowance for a sedentary lifestyle is about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, or 0.37 grams per pound.
For a more active person or someone trying to gain muscle tissue, the recommendation changes to about 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight or about 0.73 grams per pound. Although this amount is enough to promote muscle gain, some bodybuilders consume a high-protein diet that includes as much as 2.2 grams per kilogram each day. Ultimately, though, there is not much evidence to support increased muscle protein synthesis from excess protein intake.
However, it is reasonable to want to make the most of the protein that you take in. If you are trying to obtain your recommended daily protein levels, it helps to know when to consume protein and maximize its benefits.
Can You Improve Protein Absorption?
A variety of different factors may influence protein absorption, and there are ways to promote a higher protein absorption rate. Factors like when you eat your dietary protein and what foods you eat your protein with may have an impact.
Timing of Protein Intake
Your ability to absorb protein may be influenced by when you consume it. For starters, if you are trying to obtain your daily protein needs, then it may help to split up your protein consumption rather than squeeze all of your protein into a single meal. This may help you maximize your protein intake and reduce the risk of amino acid oxidation by keeping each meal to a consistent, easily absorbed amount of protein.
Other evidence shows that you may benefit from eating more protein in the morning compared to later in the day. Eating protein for breakfast may help with absorbing protein and building muscle mass better than those who consume their protein later in the day. This is likely a result of circadian rhythm, a natural process that affects how our body responds to different stimuli at different points throughout the day.
Consuming protein after your workout may also help your body put protein to better use, as your body sees increased rates of muscle protein synthesis after a workout. To do this, many individuals use a post-workout formula that features whey or casein protein.
Foods That Accompany Protein Intake
Another way to support protein absorption is to pair your protein meals with other specific nutrients. Some nutrients that can support protein absorption include complex carbohydrates, vitamin B6, and omega-3 fatty acids.
Eating complete proteins, meaning protein-rich foods that contain all nine essential amino acids, three of which are branched-chain, can also help to support your body’s ability to absorb and use protein effectively. Not every food you eat has to be a complete protein, but you should aim to obtain high-quality protein from a variety of foods throughout the day to maximize your protein metabolism.
Meat and dairy products are almost always good sources of complete proteins. For those on a plant-based diet, eating combinations of foods like nuts, seeds, vegetables, and whole grains can give your body the necessary range of amino acids.
You can also combine food with plant-based protein supplements if you’re having trouble meeting your protein requirements or daily macronutrients. However, there are many types of protein supplements, so you may want to work with a registered dietitian to find which type works best for your body composition.
Choosing your protein pairings properly can also lead to additional health benefits. For example, it is generally best practice to obtain your protein from sources without large amounts of saturated fats, simple carbs, and cholesterol. This means that while weight loss protein shakes are popular sources of extra protein, consumers should ensure that the nutrients necessary to aid protein absorption are present.
Why Is Algae Important?
Algae is a type of plant that survives through photosynthesis but lacks the typical structure of plants, like stems, leaves, and roots. However, this organism is becoming a more widely embraced source of nutrition and may even become a critical food source in the future.
Algae is very nutrient dense and is a good source of protein by itself. In fact, some algae, like the Nannochloropsis species cultivated by iwi life, can produce seven times the amount of protein as soybeans annually using the same amount of land. It can also produce 300 times the amount of amino acids per acre as pea farming.
Other types of algae, like spirulina, are complete proteins — meaning they contain all nine of the essential amino acids that cannot be produced by the body. Altogether, algae may be the protein source of the future, with the ability to support a rapidly growing population.
For now, algae has its place as an effective omega-3 supplement. Some algae is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA). DHA and EPA fatty acids provide multiple health benefits for several of the body’s systems. Some of the key benefits of these two fatty acids include:
- Supporting healthy blood pressure
- Maintaining healthy cholesterol levels
- Supporting joint health
- Supporting cognitive function
- Supporting eye and vision health
How Does Algae Influence Protein Absorption?
On top of its many health benefits, algae can also potentially influence how your body uses digested protein. The omega-3 fatty acids in algae may help you get the most out of the protein you consume, making it more likely that you can use it for building more muscle.
Omega-3 fatty acids may even have a positive influence on muscle growth by supporting your body’s protein synthesis. EPA and DHA fatty acids not only support your body’s protein synthesis but can also help your body keep the protein it already has. As a result, it appears that omega-3 fatty acids may help you use dietary protein properly for direct muscle growth.
Include More Algae in Your Daily Diet
Although there are imperfect answers to how much protein you can absorb, you can rely on the likelihood that around a portion of 20-30 grams per meal is enough. By being mindful of your protein distribution and incorporating other nutritional foods and supplements like algae into your daily diet, you can work to improve your protein absorption.
At iwi life, we are happy to provide an easy but effective way to obtain beneficial omega-3 fatty acids. Our omega-3 supplement is an excellent option to improve your intake of both DHA and EPA fatty acids. Whether you want to provide additional support to your body’s protein absorption or enjoy the many other benefits that these healthy fats offer, iwi life’s omega-3 supplement is a great choice. Try it and see the benefits for yourself.
Protein, Its What’s for Breakfast | American Society for Nutrition