Eating more than 45 g protein per meal won’t get you more muscle

The results of the study that sports scientists at the University of Mississippi published in Clinical Nutrition may seem obvious to regular readers of this webzine, but for the sake of completeness we’re posting them here. According to the researchers, even if you don’t do weight training, you’ll build up more muscle and more strength by eating several meals a day that contain 30-45 g protein. Adding more protein to the meal seems to produce few results – but eating more meals with protein does help.

The researchers used data that had been gathered for the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey [NHANES]. The survey looked at 1081 healthy adults aged 50-85.

The researchers had information on the participants’ diet, and knew how many meals they ate each day, and how many grams of protein they consumed per day. In addition, the original researchers had measured the amount of strength the participants were capable of developing on a leg-extension machine. They could also measure the amount of muscle mass the participants had in their upper legs by looking at scans.

The figure below shows the relationship between protein intake from 1 or 2 meals and muscle mass and strength in the upper leg.

The participants who only consumed protein at one meal in the day showed optimal muscle mass and strength at an intake of 30 g protein per meal.
The participants that consumed protein at two meals each day had more muscle mass and strength. Their optimal muscle mass and strength was at an intake of 45 g protein per meal.


The researchers were unable to work out the effect of eating three meals a day containing 30-45 g protein from the data they had.

“Currently, the recommended daily amount for protein makes no recommendation on the per-meal distribution of dietary protein throughout the day”, the researchers concluded. “We propose that in a national sample of U.S. adults eating protein more frequently within the day may be an important strategy for increasing and/or maintaining lean body mass and muscle strength.”

“Further, a threshold of 30-45 g of dietary protein per meal seems to produce the greatest association with lean body mass and strength when consuming more than one meal at that specific intake.”

“Consuming dietary protein at more than one meal may be of importance for individuals seeking to optimize muscle mass and strength, but may be a particularly important strategy among individuals vulnerable to muscle mass loss including older adults and obese individuals undergoing energy-restricted diets.”

Per meal dose and frequency of protein consumption is associated with lean mass and muscle performance


It has been hypothesized that for older adults evenly distributing consumption of protein at 30–40 g per meal throughout the day may result in more favorable retention of lean mass and muscular strength. Such a thesis has not, to our knowledge, been tested outside of short-term studies or acute measures of muscle protein synthesis.

To examine whether the number of times an individual consumed a minimum of 30 g of protein at a meal is associated with leg lean mass and knee extensor strength.

Data from the 1999–2002 NHANES were used, with 1081 adults (50–85 y) constituting the analytic sample. A “multiple pass” 24-h dietary interview format was used to collect detailed information about the participants’ dietary intake. Knee extensor strength was assessed objectively using the Kin Com MP dynamometer. Leg lean mass was estimated from whole-body dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DXA) scans.

Participants with 1 vs. 0 (?adjusted = 23.6, p = 0.002) and 2 vs. 0 (?adjusted = 51.1, p = 0.001) meals of ?30 g protein/meal had greater strength and leg lean mass (1 vs. 0, ?adjusted = 1160, p < 0.05 and 2 vs. 0, ?adjusted = 2389, p < 0.05). The association of protein frequency with leg lean mass and strength plateaued at ?45 g protein/meal for those consuming 2 vs. 0 meals above the evaluated protein/meal threshold. However, for those with only 1 meal at or above the evaluated threshold, the response plateaued at 30 g/meal. Leg lean mass mediated the relationship between protein frequency and strength, with the proportion of the total effect mediated being 64%. Conclusions We found that more frequent consumption of meals containing between 30 and 45 g protein/meal produced the greatest association with leg lean mass and strength. Thus, the consumption of 1–2 daily meals with protein content from 30 to 45 g may be an important strategy for increasing and/or maintaining lean body mass and muscle strength with aging. Source: http://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(16)30018-8/abstract

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