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Protein Absorption – Are w making use of all this protein we eat?

What we are really interested in as far as building muscle is not protein absorption or the digestion of protein; it’s how much of the protein we are using to build muscle. So we are actually looking at protein utilisation. Let’s start with some definitions:

Protein Absorption / Digestion of Protein

Protein Absorption is the amount of protein our bodies can absorb from our stomach and intestines for use in the body. This does not mean that the protein absorbed will be used for building muscle! Hence the difference between protein absorption and protein utilisation. The protein our bodies can absorb per hour depends on the type of protein we are consuming. The generally accepted statistics are that Whey Protein is the fastest and is absorbed at a rate of 10 grams per hour, casein is absorbed at 6 grams per hour and protein from eggs at a meagre 1.6 grams per hour. If you have Whey Protein in your system you will absorb that first so the maximum is 10 grams per hour regardless of the combination of proteins you use.

For the protein to be absorbed it has to be broken down in to its amino acid form, transported to the liver and then put back together. The reason for this is allowing whole proteins in to the body would mean you could be allowing viruses and germs to easily enter your body through the digestion system. Even if the whole proteins weren’t viruses they would be treated as such once inside the body and our immune system would react accordingly.

The exact Protein Absorption will vary a little depending on the size of the person (and therefore the size of their digestive system) and their nutritional requirements but the above is a good guide.

Does Caffeine Block Protein Absorption?

Sometimes people ask does caffeine block protein absorption. I personally wouldn’t worry about this. It is possible but the amount of caffeine required would probably kill you! Also, as I’m about to come on to, you will probably be absorbing more protein then you are able to use for building muscle anyway.

Protein Utilisation

Once the broken down amino acids are in our body they then have to be turned back in to protein. This protein that is produced has to be of the right make up using the right combination of amino acids. Some of the amino acids can be produced within the body if there is a shortage. The amino acids that cannot be produced within the body are called the Essential Amino Acids or Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs). If the protein absorbed is from an incomplete source such as protein from peas then your body will not be able to utilise it as protein for building muscle.

Protein that is absorbed but not utilised for building muscle is either used for energy immediately or stored as fat. It depends on the blood sugar levels of the person at that time (i.e. it depends on if they need the energy or not).

Protein in Urine

Some people believe that excess protein will come out when they go to the toilet. This is not true. There will be traces of protein in urine but if there is any more then that then you would need to see a doctor. You probably have a problem with your kidneys and may even find blood in the urine too.

There is another reason for the myth. When protein is not utilised but is converted to be used as energy or fat there is nitrogen left over from the reaction. The nitrogen does come out in urine as is harmful if it builds up in your body. The useful thing we can learn from this is that if all the protein you are consuming is dehydrating you, then it is being used for energy not muscle and your body is getting dehydrated from flushing out the nitrogen. Keeping an eye on this can really help you tune your protein intake to get better results.

Other considerations

We need a consistent supply of slow releasing protein so at any given point in time we are meeting our protein utilisation needs. If the body needs energy it will use the protein for energy so you also need a source of energy, ideally slow releasing carbs with your protein.

We normally absorb more protein per hour during the day and utilise more per hour at night when we are asleep. If you were to utilise a single gram of protein per hour every hour of every day then you would put on nearly 20lbs of muscle in a year which is good even for a steroid user! You would be 100lbs of muscle heavier and ready for your first bodybuilding competition within 5 years, from 1 single gram per hour. This should put things into perspective and help you from going over the top. The trick is to maintain a consistent slow releasing supply in your blood stream. I always have a big shake with carbs an hour before bed.

The Summary:

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