It would seem logical that the more protein you pack away during a meal, the bigger your muscles grow. Because more is always better, right?
Well, your body doesn’t necessarily work that way. There’s only a certain amount of protein that your muscles can absorb in one sitting and it has to do with a process called “protein synthesis.”
“Skeletal muscle protein synthesis is maximized by 25 to 35 grams of high-quality protein during a meal,” says Doug Paddon-Jones, Ph.D., a professor of nutrition and metabolism at the University of Texas Medical Branch.
So “protein synthesis” is basically a fancy way of saying “building and repairing muscle.”
The process works like this: Exercising creates micro-tears in your muscles. The harder you workout, the more of these tears occur. Dietary protein helps to repair these muscles tears, and this, in turn, then causes your muscles to grow bigger and stronger for the next bout of exercise.
Now, if your muscles receive fewer than 25 grams of dietary protein in a sitting, those muscle tears brought on by exercise will persist due to a lack of building materials.
But if your muscles receive more than 35 grams of protein, they have all the building materials they need and the protein goes to other parts of your body—or into the toilet.
In general, Men’s Health advocates for eating 30 grams of protein at each meal to help you build muscle and keep you feeling satisfied. (In fact, we’ve built a whole franchise around this called 30/10.)
So aim for 30 grams of protein at mealtime to maximize muscle growth.
What Does the Right Amount of Protein at Each Meal Look Like?
Here are a few examples…
So, no, gnawing your way through an entire side of beef may not benefit your muscles any more than taking down a smaller portion of tenderloin.
Is There Any Danger in Eating Too Much Protein?
Well, if you’re piling your plate with too much protein, you might be pushing other vital nutrients out of your diet from foods such as vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and whole grains, all of which can help with muscle recovery and weight loss.
Protein is filling, after all.
A good way to eyeball how much protein 30 grams is: Make a fist.
One fist-sized portion of meat, fish, seafood, tofu, whatever is about how much you need.
Is There an Optimal Time to Eat Protein for Muscle Building?
No. So, you don’t have to down a huge shake or omelet immediately after (or worse, before) a workout. Studies on protein timing show muscles’ elevated sensitivity to protein lasts at least 24 hours.
In fact, one review study by McMaster University showed that muscle protein synthesis may continue for 24 to 48 hours post-workout.
What matters most is your total protein intake throughout the day.
Reframe how you think about protein, especially if you’re trying to build muscle. Instead of eating 60 grams of protein during three meals a day, trying eating 25 to 35 grams of protein four or more times a day.
Consume one of these meals within one to two hours pre- and post-workout so you cover your bases.
Additional research by Jessica Girdwain
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