What you’ve been told about your body’s need for protein – and its ability to absorb protein – is riddled with misinformation, half-truths and outright lies. Yeah, I said it, and it’s high time somebody did!
The information I’m about to share with you is not only completely accurate, but is also 100% original. You won’t read this anywhere else, written by any other fitness professional, because it’s been borne from a decade of personal experiences, research, skepticism and intense reflection.
When it comes to a topic as extensively researched and written about as protein, that’s saying a lot.
I want to set a clear expectation up front that you should expect that this posting will be both eye-opening and liberating for you.
By the time you reach the end you’ll have an empirical means of determining how much protein you need each day, where that protein should come from, how often you should be consuming it, and whether supplementing your protein intake with a quality protein powder is a worthwhile investment.
For many individuals, the stress and worry over the uncertainties surrounding their protein consumption is comparable to the level of stress experienced by a low-carb dieter who just gave in and chowed down a Snickers bar. It shouldn’t be this way, though.
People wigging out if they aren’t able to start pouring whey protein down their hatches within sixteen milliseconds of completing their training is getting tired. It’s done in ignorance, no doubt, but it’s high time it comes to an end.
Perhaps even worse are the charges of blasphemy leveled in the direction of anyone who would dare claim that a piece of beef, chicken or fish is just as good as a whey protein shake in terms of post-workout nutritional value.
I know, I know, whey protein is digested so much faster than any other source of protein. And when we’re done training it’s of utmost importance that we provide our muscles with nutrition in order to force them out of a catabolic state and into an anabolic state as fast as we can.
We’ve all been fed this information for so long we just assume the difference must be so magnificent that a year of ingesting whey protein after training – instead of some other “inferior” protein like eggs – is mandatory for those of us looking to maximize our gains. This assumption seems logical, but I want to dig a little deeper and see what we find below the surface of this widely accepted belief.
Do you know how many long-term studies there are that conclusively prove that consuming whey protein post-workout leads to greater muscle gains than consuming other complete proteins after training? This might surprise you, but the answer is: None. Zero. Zilch. Not one.
Now, there are a number of studies that have compared the difference between consuming protein immediately after training and not consuming protein until a couple of hours later. These studies absolutely make clear the importance of ingesting protein within an hour or so of training. I said an hour, not 30 seconds.
The fanaticism that surrounds the perceived need to consume protein immediately after training is largely unfounded. It may surprise you to learn that there’s actually credible evidence to suggest that substituting a post-workout protein shake with a pre-workout protein shake provides muscle building benefits that are comparable to ingesting whey protein immediately after training.
In other words, as long as you’re consuming protein at some point in the 3-hour window that makes up the hour before you train, the time you spend training, and the hour after you train, you’re good to go.
This may come as a surprise to you, which would be completely understandable, because it doesn’t exactly line up with what you read on most other blogs and popular fitness mags, does it?
But, this actually makes perfect sense in light of all the evidence we have at our disposal concerning the digestion and absorption processes of protein, as you’re going to see. Although, it’s worth noting that coming to these kinds of realizations takes a level of critical thinking that exceeds what most are willing to put forth.
It also takes integrity. These truths challenge the dogma that has pervaded the lives and shaped the philosophies of personal trainers and fitness enthusiasts for decades.
I’m not patting myself on the back here. But I am committed to endless self-improvement and am perfectly comfortable with the fact that this may force me to question previously engrained beliefs.
I say this to point out why what I’m about to share with you here is not as widely accepted and shared as it ought to be. In today’s world, admitting that there’s a better way is seen as a weakness to many thought leaders in this industry. On the contrary, the ability to question the status quo and reach innovative, honest conclusions can only be viewed as a virtuous personal strength.
With that said, let’s keep moving forward with the topic of whey protein and see that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be in certain respects.
I want to be perfectly clear that while whey protein has been proven to be digested and absorbed faster than other forms of protein, evidence suggesting that whey produces faster muscle growth than other proteins when consumed post-workout is nonexistent. This won’t be all that surprising once you have a proper understanding of how the digestion and assimilation of protein takes place.
As we’re going to see, there likely is a minor muscle gaining benefit associated with consuming whey protein post workout. The difference is so trivial, though, that it would take a long-term study with a duration that far exceeds what has been used in previously completed studies for it to become quantifiable.
You have to understand that protein, no matter where it’s from, is digested and absorbed slowly. Even whey protein – the protein that’s most efficiently digested and absorbed – is absorbed at a rate of about 8 grams per hour.
So, whether your post-workout shake contains ten grams of whey protein or a hundred, an hour later your muscles will have received around 8 grams of protein to use for rebuilding and recovery. That’s it.
As a comparison, protein from eggs, chicken, pork, beef or fish is absorbed at a rate of about 5 grams per hour.
What this logically means is that, in a 24-hour day, the maximum amount of protein that can be digested and absorbed for use in the body is about 200 grams. This assumes that whey protein is consistently consumed throughout the day and is being digested and absorbed at a maxim rate of approximately 8 grams per hour.
Now, I don’t want you to miss the somewhat subtle point that, because whey protein is digested and absorbed more efficiently than other proteins, consuming nothing but whey protein in a given day will lead to a greater amount of useable amino acids being absorbed and potentially assimilated to the muscles for growth and recovery.
Again, one can expect to receive a maximum of around 200 grams of useable protein in a given day if they’re consuming nothing but whey protein.
On the other hand, consuming other complete proteins that have a typical absorption rate of around 5 grams per hour will only allow for a maximum potential of around 120 total grams of useable protein being absorbed by the body in a given 24-hour day.
There’s no denying that this is a substantial difference in protein absorption we’re afforded by consuming whey protein. Indeed, it’s one that simply can’t be overlooked.
Let’s use the hypothetical example of two guys, John and Jason, who are identical genetically (and in every other way), to help us put this information into perspective.
Let’s say that John consumes 200 grams of protein exclusively from whey every day and Jason consumes 200 grams of protein exclusively from chicken breasts every day.
Using what we’ve learned, we know that at the end of the day, John’s body will have absorbed the full 200 grams of protein, while Jason’s body will have only absorbed around 120 grams of the 200 grams of total protein he consumed.
The slower digestion/absorption rate of chicken protein, compared to whey protein, has hindered the amount of protein Jason’s muscles were able to receive and use throughout the day. Even though John and Jason consumed the exact same number of grams of protein, John’s body absorbed 67% more of it than Jason’s.
If that didn’t get your attention, think about it this way: At the end of a full year, John’s body will have enjoyed the benefit of utilizing almost 30,000 more grams of protein than Jason. That’s almost 67 more pounds of protein John’s body will have absorbed for growth and recovery than Jason’s.
Now, obviously, the process of protein being turned into muscle tissue is nowhere near 100% efficient. So, John isn’t going to have 67 more pounds of muscle than Jason at the end of the year.
Still, John building 3-5 pounds of lean muscle mass more than Jason isn’t out of the question. 3-5 pounds of additional muscle mass isn’t a trivial difference.
I don’t know about you, but having another 5 pounds of muscle sure sounds swell to me.
Now, lest you read this and go replacing all of your grass-fed beef, free range poultry and wild-caught fish with whey protein shakes, please understand that’s not the point I’m trying to get across here.
Whey protein may give you the highest potential for absorbing muscle building amino acids, but other sources of animal proteins contain essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals that you’re not going to receive from a whey protein powder.
To keep you on your toes, I’m now going to throw you a curve ball here and tell you that supplementing your animal protein with a quality whey protein shake may not, in fact, benefit you much at all. This is due to the fact that the digestion and absorption rates of proteins isn’t the only limiting factor in determining how much “useable” protein a person can receive in a given day.
According to an article published on the University of California, Los Angeles’ website, the maximum amount of absorbable protein an individual can expect to receive per day equates to 0.91 grams per pound of body weight they have.
This means a 150-pound person will be limited to absorbing about 136 grams of protein per day, even if the protein is spread out in multiple servings throughout the day, even if they consumed more than 200 grams of protein that day, and even if it all came from whey protein.
Earlier, we saw that not consuming any whey protein at all will still allow an individual’s body to absorb about 120 grams of protein per day (based on 24 hours multiplied by the 5 grams per hour average digestion/absorption rate of non-whey proteins).
Combining this information with the University of California, Los Angeles’ conclusion that we’re limited to absorbing 0.91 grams of protein for every pound of body weight we have, per day, tells us that there’s virtually no daily protein absorption benefit from ingesting whey protein to be had for anyone weighing in at 130 pounds or less.
This is because anyone weighing 130 pounds (or less) can achieve their maximum protein absorption potential of 120 grams (or less) with exclusively non-whey protein sources.
As one gains mass over this 130 pound “basement”, the growth and recovery benefits of supplementing with whey protein will become more and more pronounced until reaching a ceiling of about 220 pounds. I calculated this ceiling of 220 pounds by dividing the maximum amount of digested/absorbed protein of 200 grams by the other limitation of 0.91 grams absorbed per pound of body weight per day.
In other words, at 220 pounds a person’s body has the ability to absorb 200 grams of protein per day, which is the maximum that can be digested by the body in a 24-hour period.
My astute readers will have made the connection that this information can also be used as a viable means of planning out their daily protein needs. For instance, a 180 pound guy can easily calculate his daily protein needs by multiplying 180 by 0.91 to get a total daily protein need of 164 grams.
From there, he would just need to make sure that he’s regularly ingesting protein throughout the day, and is consuming at least 44 grams of protein from whey each day to ensure that this 164 gram total protein absorption potential is met.
Here’s a table I put together to give you a better idea of what this looks like:
For the best results, the whey protein should be split up into about 3 servings per day to maximize the absorption potential. However, I’m a big proponent of personal freedom, and simply getting in your whey protein requirement is much more important than worrying about mixing and drinking a shake every 3 or 4 hours.
Still, if maximizing protein absorption is important to you, you’ll want to spread out your consumption of whey protein throughout the day as evenly as possible.
For simplicity’s sake, most personal trainers will simply advise their clients to aim for 1 gram of protein for every pound of body weight they have per day. As should be clear at this point, this advice is lacking in that it fails to account for the digestion/absorption rates of the proteins their clients are consuming.
For those who weigh 130 pounds or less, this direction will be completely adequate. As long as they’re consuming one gram of protein for every pound they weigh, they’ll be absorbing all the protein they’re capable of.
For those weighing more than 130 pounds, however, where they’re getting their protein from becomes increasingly important.
The bottom line is this: If you weigh more than 130 pounds and have the desire to digest and absorb more protein than around 120 grams per day, a whey protein supplement is a requirement. Period.
Like anything else, whether you ought to be supplementing with whey protein or not is completely dependent upon your personal goals and lifestyle. Someone whose sole concern is fat loss – who could care less about adding or retaining muscle – has much less need to worry over maximizing protein absorption than someone who desires to add ten to twenty pounds of sexy muscle mass to their body.
Even if you don’t stand to gain any additional protein absorption benefit from using a whey protein powder, I would be remiss not to point out the fact that the convenience of having a whey protein supplement on hand is still enough to justify investing in it for a majority of people.
Regardless of your current personal goals, I hope that this posting has provided you with some clarity on this oft-misunderstood subject, and that you have a clear answer to the question of how much protein you should be eating every day.
Now, do me a favor and share this with as many people as you can, so they, too, can be enlightened and stop wigging out over all the contradictory information about protein consumption they’re undoubtedly being bombarded with.
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