How Much Protein Can Your Body Use from One Meal?

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Steak is a high protein meal

How much protein can your body digest and use at a time? If you you eat the right amount of protein at every meal you’ll supposedly hit the sweet spot – maximum muscle growth and satiety (fullness) without wasting food or money. General guidelines based on short term trials and one cross-sectional study suggest adults need regular meals including 25 – 45 grams of protein per meal to maintain or build muscle mass and maximum strength (1, 2, 3). However, it is possible that more protein per meal may be beneficial in some instances while the per meal amount might not matter very much in others. Your body can and will digest all of the protein you eat in a sitting (it might take a while) and it doesn’t just discard any excess that isn’t used to build structures in the body.

In this article I’ll cover:

  1. Why should we focus on a “per meal” dose of protein?
  2. What happens to “leftover” protein;
  3. What influences protein requirements;
  4. How you can estimate your protein needs.

Does the Amount of Protein Per Meal Matter?

In a really cool study conducted by well-known protein scientists, the minimum amount of protein per meal found to maximally spike muscle growth was 0.11 grams per lb. of body weight in younger adults and 0.18 grams per lb. of body weight in older adults (over 71 years of age) (2). Older adults need more protein due to a decline in muscle response to protein intake that occurs with age. In addition to a minimum, there is an upper limit of protein intake; anything beyond this threshold dose will not be used to build muscle. For example, one study examined 4 ounces of beef containing 30 grams of protein compared to 12 ounces of beef containing 90 grams of protein. The larger serving did not lead to a greater increase in acute muscle protein synthesis compared to the 4 ounce serving (4). So now we know we need some protein, but not 90 grams in one sitting. However, we still don’t know what the minimum upper limit is, beyond which higher intakes do not lead to increases in muscle mass or muscle functioning over time (5).

More evidence for a per meal dose came from a short-term study that found an even pattern of high quality protein at each meal (30 grams per meal; 1.2 g/kg for the day) as opposed to a skewed pattern (10 grams at breakfast, 15 g lunch and 65 g at dinner; 1.2 g/kg for the day) may be best for maximally stimulating muscle building in young adults (1).

Despite the evidence in favor of an even distribution of protein intake throughout the day, a short-term study in older, resistance trained adults given 2x the RDA – 0.68 grams of protein per lb. bodyweight (1.5 grams per kg) per day in an uneven or even pattern (see chart at the end of this article) or the RDA of 0.36 grams of protein per lb. bodyweight (0.8 grams per kg) per day again in an uneven or even pattern found the pattern of intake didn’t matter. Consuming 2x the RDA, regardless of whether it was consumed in an uneven or even pattern, led to a significantly greater increase in muscle protein synthesis compared to consuming 1x the RDA. The pattern of protein intake didn’t matter, possibly due to age-related decline in muscle response to protein intake,  greater total daily protein intake or some other factor (6).

What Happens to Excess Protein Intake?

There is no long-term storage site for amino acids, the building blocks of protein. After eating a thick juicy steak, creamy bowl of split pea soup or sizzling soy fajitas, your body digests the protein and absorbs the amino acids, using them to build new structures, including muscle. When excess protein is consumed, more than the body needs at that point in time, the rest is used for energy or  converted to body fat. The nitrogen (from amino acids) is combined with other compounds to form urea, a harmless waste product, which is processed by the kidneys and excreted in the urine.

What Influences Protein Requirements?

Though 90 grams in one sitting may be more than necessary for muscle, science has yet to figure out the exact threshold beyond which there is no benefit for muscle. This is a complicated question as there are many factors that influence a person’s daily protein needs as well as how much protein a person may need at each meal. These include but are not limited to: age, training status, total daily calorie intake (if dieting total protein needs are higher), overall amount of protein consumed each day; the type (anti-nutrients?), quality and leucine (or EAA) content of the protein consumed at each meal, other nutrients consumed at meal time, training program, lean body mass, health status and goals.

How Much Protein Do You Need at Each Meal?

Given the research to date, does a per meal does matter?

If you are dieting, yes.

If you don’t get at least 0.55 grams protein per lb. body weight (1.2 grams per kg), yes.

If you eat plenty of protein every day and a decent amount at regular meals throughout the day, it might not matter that much, or at all.

For now, stick to the general guideline of at least 25 grams per meal (the amount of an average female’s palm worth of chicken, turkey, red meat, fish). You may need more, per meal, to maximize muscle growth and repair  if:

  • You are older (relative term since we don’t know exactly what age qualifies as “older). Aim for 1.0 – 1.5 grams of protein per day (7) and regular meals with a good amount of protein per meal. If you have chronic kidney disease, follow the advice of your RD and MD.
  • You eat primarily vegetarian proteins.

Many factors influence a person’s nutrition needs. If you want to maintain or gain muscle mass and strength, concentrate on your total daily protein intake (at least 0.55 grams of protein per lb. of bodyweight; 1.2 grams per kg) followed by how much you consume at each meal. There is no one-size-fits-all ideal protein intake per meal and the body doesn’t just “waste” protein that isn’t used for muscle building. For now, research suggests 25 to 45 grams per meal is a good general guideline. More may be better for muscle. Less may be necessary if you have chronic kidney disease.

Table: Quantity of dietary protein intake, but not pattern of intake, affects net protein balance primarily through differences in protein synthesis in older adults (select data and average leucine intake calculated)

Amount Pattern Meal Protein (grams) Protein as a % of total calories Average leucine intake per meal (calculated)
1x RDA Uneven Breakfast 11.1 8 0.89
Lunch 14.9 8 0.89
Dinner 47.8 12 3.56
Total 73.7 10 4.45
Even Breakfast 22.3 15 1.63
Lunch 21.5 9 1.63
Dinner 22.0 9 0.81
Total 65.8 11 4.07
2x RDA Uneven Breakfast 18.1 15 0.80
Lunch 24.3 12 1.60
Dinner 78.4 22 4.79
Total 120.8 19 7.99
Even Breakfast 38.0 25 2.98
Lunch 36.5 17 2.98
Dinner 37.9 18 2.23
Total 112.4 19 8.2

References

1 Mamerow MM, Mettler JA, English KL, Casperson SL, Arentson-Lantz E, Sheffield-Moore M, Layman DK, Paddon-Jones D. Dietary protein distribution positively influences 24-h muscle protein synthesis in healthy adults. J Nutr. 2014 Jun;144(6):876-80.

2 Moore DR, Churchward-Venne TA, Witard O, Breen L, Burd NA, Tipton KD, Phillips SM. Protein ingestion to stimulate myofibrillar protein synthesis requires greater relative protein intakes in healthy older versus younger men. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci 2015;70(1):57-62.

3 Loenneke JP, Loprinzi PD, Murphy CH, Phillips SM et al. Per meal dose and frequency of protein consumption is associated with lean mass and muscle performance. Clin Nutr 2016 Apr 7.

4 Symons TB, Sheffield-Moore M, Wolfe RR, Paddon-Jones D. A moderate serving of high-quality protein maximally stimulates skeletal muscle protein synthesis in young and elderly subjects.J Am Diet Assoc 2009;109(9):1582-6.

5 Deutz NE, Wolfe RR. Is there a maximal anabolic response to protein intake with a meal? Clin Nutr 2013;32(2):309-313.

6 Kim IY, Schutzler S, Schrader A, et al. Quantity of dietary protein intake, but not pattern of intake, affects net protein balance primarily through differences in protein synthesis in older adults. Am J Physiol Endocrinol Metab 2015;308(1):E21-8.

7 Paddon-Jones D, Campbell WW, Jacques PF, Kritchevsky SB1, Moore LL, Rodriguez NR, van Loon LJ. Protein and healthy aging. Am J Clin Nutr 2015 Apr 29.

 

 

Grass Fed Lies: The Truth about Organic Milk & Grass Fed Beef

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Grass fed meat

If you’ve been sucking up the extra cost of organic dairy products and grass fed beef, comforted by the fact that you’re doing what’s good for your body, I have some news for you: you’ve gained little more than peace of mind grounded in a marketing scam. There is no meaningful nutrition difference in organic milk, grass fed beef and their conventional (non organic / grass fed) counterparts.

The Truth about Organic Dairy

Organic milk is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, iron and vitamin D, according to an article published Feb. 16 in the British Journal of Nutrition. This meta-analysis examined the results from 170 published studies comparing the nutrient content of organic milk with conventional milk. They suggest organic milk wins by a landslide: it’s nutritionally superior to its conventional counterparts. Though there were no significant differences in saturated fat and monounsaturated fat in organic vs. conventional milk, organic milk has 56% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, 41% more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), significantly more vitamin E and iron than conventional milk. Statistically speaking, they are scientifically correct. Nutritionally speaking, these differences are meaningless.

Organic milk contains 56% more omega-3 fats than regular (conventional) milk (56% more based on the total fat content). However, statistically more than a little bit is still a little bit. Milk is not considered a major source of omega-3 fatty acids in the diet, regardless of milk type. In fact, according to one study, 1 cup of organic whole milk has about 8.2 mg of the omega-3 fatty acid eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and 11 mg of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) compared to 6.2 mg of EPA and 9.1 mg of DHA. That’s a far cry from the 250 – 500 mg of EPA + DHA we should get, on average, each day. Fatty fish are the best way to get EPA and DHA.

milk jug
Organic Milk:
19 mg EPA + DHA

Conventional Milk:
15 mg EPA + DHA

 

 

 

Salmon

Herring, Wild
Salmon, Farmed (Atlantic)
Salmon, Wild (King)
Mackerel, Wild

1,200 mg EPA + DHA

 

 

  • EPA and DHA are heart smart – they lower blood fats (triglycerides) and blood pressure. Plus they’re good for your brain and eyes.

What about CLA? CLA is group of polyunsaturated fatty acids found in meat and milk. There are many proposed benefits associated with CLA including changes in body fat with ultra high supplemental doses of CLA. However, the difference in CLA content is also biologically meaningless – 56 mg in a glass of organic whole milk and 47 mg in a class of conventional whole milk.

The British Journal of Nutrition research also showed slightly higher beta carotene and vitamin E in organic milk. These very small differences may be due to a host of reasons including seasonal variation and breed. Milk is not a major source of these nutrients, so this has no biological impact on human health. If you want iron, eat more red meat, fish and poultry or plant-based sources including beans, lentils and peas (eat these with a vitamin C rich food to increase the absorption of plant-based iron). For vitamin E your best bets are oils, nuts and seeds.

  • Key point: statistical significance ≠ biological relevance.

What about antibiotics and hormones in dairy? I covered that in another blog post. You can read more about it here.

Is Grass Fed Beef Better?

If you’re one of many Americans paying a premium for grass fed beef because it contains more omega-3s and less saturated fat than it’s unassuming conventional counterparts, it may be time to reconsider where you’re spending your grocery money.

The omega-3s in grass fed beef are different than the kind in fatty fish. Fatty fish and algae contain EPA and DHA. There’s a third omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linoleic acid (ALA), found in plants including walnuts, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, flaxseeds and chia seeds. Grass fed beef contains ALA because flaxseeds are added to their feed. While EPA and DHA lower blood fats (triglycerides) and are tied to heart benefits, ALA does not lower blood fats and is not associated with the same heart health benefits. ALA rich foods also contain a variety of other bioactive compounds that may act independently or synergistically to improve cardiovascular disease risk factors (eat the whole food not just ALA). The human body can convert ALA to EPA and DHA but this conversion process is inefficient. Less than 4% of ALA is converted to EPA and less than 1% makes its way to DHA. ALA ≠EPA + DHA. A 5-ounce serving of grass fed beef contains a whopping 20 to 30 mg of ALA (slight variations in brands of grass fed beef based on the cow’s diet). The Adequate Intake for ALA is 1,600 and 1,100 grams per day for adult men and women, respectively. Eat grass fed beef and you’ll get 2 – 3% of the AI for ALA for men and 1-2% for women.

Grass fed beef and conventional beef have the same amount of saturated fat with some differences in the types of saturated fatty acids. The difference in CLA content of grass fed and conventional beef is tiny. According to a review from Dave et al. (Nutr J 2010;9:10), it ranges from 0.13 – 2.65 (grams CLA/100 grams of fat in the meat) in conventional meat and 0.43 – 5.14 (grams CLA/100 grams of fat in the meat) in grass fed beef depending on the cow and feed. So, you could be getting less total CLA in certain cuts of grass fed beef than conventional beef. 

What about the Bacteria in Conventional Beef?
You cook your beef right? Bacteria is killed during cooking. Moot point.

Is Grass Fed More Sustainable? What about Hormones and Antibiotics?
I will address this and other issues in the next post. Stay tuned….

Organic dairy products and grass fed beef come in beautiful, higher end packaging with natural hues of green and brown outlining their superiority to modest looking products that sit beside them on store shelves. If you love the taste, stick with your organic milk and grass fed beef. But don’t buy into the marketing hype.

References

Circulation 2011;123(20):2292-333.
British Journal of Nutrition 2016;115:1043–1060.
PLoS One 2013; 8(12): e82429.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2001;74:612–9.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 1999;69:890–7.
British Medical Journal 1996;313:84–90.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2009;89(5):1649S-56S.
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2006;83(6):S1526-1535.
PLoS One. 2013; 8(12): e82429.
Nutrition Journal 2010, 9:10.

 

 

 

 

Expo East Food Trend Spotter: Natural Jerky

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Jerky was hot this past weekend at Natural Products Expo East (the leading trade show on the East Coast in the natural, organic and healthy products industry). And I was thrilled to see so many varieties since my clients are often looking for shelf stable, portable, higher protein, healthy, TSA-approved (you can travel with it) snacks. If you are looking for a healthier version of jerky, check out these finds from the Expo:

KRAVE is a small-batch producer of all-natural, gluten free, artisanal jerky marinated and baked to lock in moisture. KRAVE’s well-seasoned meat is braised first, utilizing the “low & slow” method to result in its signature moist and tender texture. KRAVE’s wide selection of innovative flavors includes basil citrus and lemon garlic (turkey); chili lime, chipotle, garlic chili pepper and pineapple orange (beef); grilled sweet teriyaki and black cherry barbecue (pork). Check out their Store Locator to find out which grocery stores near you carry KRAVE.

Lemon Garlic Krave Turkey Jerky
Lemon Garlic Krave Turkey Jerky

The New Primal greeted me at their fantastic booth like they did with every customer – showing their appreciation that you stopped by to check out their jerky (in the new products section at Expo East). Their jerky comes from grass-fed beef, marinated and smoked to perfection. The founder, Jason, started in his own backyard, fine-tuning his jerky until it was ready for store sheaves. Because The New Primal specializes in artisanal jerky that contains no nitrates, preservatives or MSG and their original beef has just 1 gram of sugar per serving. It comes in Jerky and Spicy and perhaps best of all you can find it in a store near you. 

Original-Beef-Front-1000x1000
The New Primal Grass-Fed Beef Jerky
Original-Beef-Back-1000x1000
The New Primal Grass-Fed Beef Jerky Nutrition

Golden Valley Natural wants you to taste the Flavor of the West with their natural, gluten free, high quality beef, buffalo and turkey jerky. They come in Teriyaki, Bar-B-Que, Black Pepper, Sweet N’ Spicy and Original. Purchase online only right now.

Golden Natural Valley Buffalo Jerky
Golden Natural Valley Buffalo Jerky

Country Archer starts with extra-lean beef and adds fresh, high quality ingredients like chili peppers, pineapple juice, ginger and tamarind. No artificial ingredients or preservatives. They carry Hot, Sweet & Spicy, Peppered, Beef Teriyaki and Turkey Teriyaki. This brand is in many stores on the west coast, some in Canada and a sprinkling in the northeast (PA on up). For retailers, click here.

Country Archer Beef Jerky - Hot
Country Archer Beef Jerky – Hot

Fusion Jerky is gluten free, preservative free, contains no artificial ingredients, is and is all natural. Order these flavors online: Basil Citrus Beef, Chipotle Lime Beef, Basil Citrus Chicken, Lemon Pepper Chicken, Garlic Jalapeño Pork, Island Teriyaki Pork, Chili Basil Turkey, Rosemary Citrus Turkey. The nutrition information is listed for each flavor if you go under “shop” at the top, scroll down and click on the flavor under “Online Store” (click on the arrows at the top on the left to increase the size of the nutrition label to make it bigger).

Fusion Jerky

Triple-R-Farms features grass-fed Highland beef jerky (grass-fed means less saturated fat). Triple-R-Farms flavors include Chesapeake Bay with Coffee Beef Jerky, Chesapeake Bay Beef Jerky, Red Hot Pepper with Coffee Beef Jerky, Red Hot Pepper Beef Jerky, Beef Jerky with Coffee. They need both the nutrition information and a store locator (or some information regarding where you can find it), on their website. Props for the Chesapeake flavor!