Protein: How much is enough?
Is there a minimum protein intake threshold per meal? My quick answer: yes.
Before I answer why, if you haven't read my short breakdown of WHY your body needs protein in the first place, start here.
It's important to restate daily protein needs before diving into why too. The average sedentary male and female needs 56grams (g) and 46g protein per day, respectively. If you're trying to lose weight and/or live an active lifestyle, you need more protein - 1.2g/kg and 2.3+g/kg, respectively. Adequate protein intake helps maintain your lean body mass, decrease diastolic heart rate and preserve a higher basal metabolic rate (aka burn more calories while you're sleeping) when a calorie deficit is consumed and when athletic performance is needed.
Now back to our answer. What is the minimum protein threshold per meal?
The minimum protein intake threshold per meal is approximately 20g, increasing with increased daily physical activity. Any less causes limited protein absorption (specifically, the amino acid Leucine), namely in those with a relatively active lifestyle, in pre- and post-exercise meals, and, again, in those trying to lose weight or cut fat.
This DOES NOT mean you can go gorge your self on a turkey-chicken-bacon-bean-yogurt-whey powder-tofu-stuffed burrito (gross). Your muscles will not necessarily grow more just because you're eating more protein.
There is also a limit to how much protein your body can use within a given meal. How much? For most individuals, even active ones, 40g of protein is about the maximum your body can use at a time. This too can be higher in those with extremely active lifestyles. (Nerd alert! Break it down further: this article shows the absorption rates of the different types of protein). Any amount consumed in excess is treated just like anything you would eat in excess... it's stored in your body as fat.
The point: eat efficiently with your health needs in mind. Aim for 20-40g of protein with each meal.
So, remember, even if you live a sedentary life and you are already a healthy weight, you still need 56g and 46g of protein per day for the average male and female, respectively, and you likely CAN'T get that all in one sitting. Spread your protein out across several meals and be sure to meet your minimum protein threshold to get the most benefit!
In conclusion, again, aim for 20-40g of protein with each meal with your unique health needs and goals in mind for the maximum benefit. And remember that being consistent with your total daily protein intake trumps hitting your goals every.single.meal in the long run.
For information on your specific protein needs, the digestibility of different types of protein, and adequate timing of protein intake please contact your Registered Dietitian or myself today!
P.S. This topic is one of the most common nutrition-related questions I get. I hope I answered the question above, but I'm also happy to share more of the research I've done on the subject for you other research nerds out there. Check them out below:
Protein Needs of Active Individuals
Dietary Protein During Calorie Restriction for Athletes
20-30g Per Meal for Optimum Metabolic Health (2015)
About high protein diets and kidney function:
References from this article (2013 and earlier)
Association with Accelerated Kidney Disease Uncertain (2012)
On the topic of maximum protein intake per meal - the debate research:
Protein Feeding Pattern Does Not Effect Retention (2000)
On the Subject of Intermittent Fasting (2007)
IF Versus Decreased Daily Calorie Intake (2011)
There's plenty more. Feel free to ask. I also encourage constructive commentary!
End note: Please understand that there exceptions to this information. These recommendations are intended for healthy adults (18-65 years old) and are dependent of daily physical activity, hormones, lean body mass, age and gender.
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