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How much protein can the body use at a time?

Jose Antonio, PhD
Nutrition & Dietetics
It currently is not known how much protein your body can 'utilize' at one time. Suffice to say though that eating protein in place of refined carbohydrate can indeed improve body composition.
Howard E. Lewine, MD
Hospitalist
Body builders and people who exercise vigorously rarely need more than 0.75 grams of protein per pound of body weight daily. For a 180-pound man, that would be a total of 135 grams of protein per day.

A person who rarely exercises needs half that amount -- about 0.37 grams per pound of body weight per day.

Regarding how much protein can be digested and absorbed in the intestine at one time, there really is no maximum amount. However, the body will only use what it needs – 0.75 grams per pound of weight for a body builder.

When we eat high amounts of protein, the body (especially the kidneys) needs to work hard to get rid of all the nitrogen in proteins.

Too much dietary protein can have adverse consequences. These include:
  • dehydration
  • gout
  • kidney stones
  • higher risk of osteoporosis
Also, there is some evidence that ingesting excess amount of protein over many years impairs kidney function later in life. Another question body builders and athletes often ask is whether the type of protein matters. There is no definite proof that one type of protein builds more muscle than any other type. Fish, vegetable, bean and nut proteins are healthier. They don't contain the saturated fats that accompany animal proteins.

If you are looking for a protein supplement, one that contains a mixture of casein and whey is a reasonable choice. Whey protein is broken down into peptides (small pieces of protein) and amino acids. The body absorbs this protein quickly. Casein is broken down even more and absorbed more slowly.

Assuming you are already getting the protein you need from food sources, you don't need a supplement.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.