The Ultimate Guide To Maximize Protein Digestion: 10 Tips To Get The Most Out Of Your Protein Intake
If you want to gain muscle, lose fat, and protect yourself against some of the most lethal disorders affecting developed countries today, protein is your friend.
You might think it’s enough to simply eat any food with protein and get on with your day. Of course, it’s never that easy.
Let’s take a minute to understand how protein is digested, and how to maximize protein absorption into our bodies at each step. That way you can be sure to enjoy all the benefits this miracle macronutrient provides.
To do this, let’s follow protein as it makes its way through our bodies through each stage of the digestion process, starting with your first bite.
Stage 1: Protein enters your mouth
Protein digestion starts immediately after taking a bite. While there are no enzymes in saliva to break protein down like they do carbohydrates, chewing helps break down the food into a more digestible form.
- Tip to maximize protein intake in stage 1: take time to chew your food properly! Aim for an average 30 chews per bite, and up to 40 chews for a tough protein like steak. This makes it much easier for the stomach to extract key nutrients from protein and reduces chances of stomach discomfort. Increasing chews has also been proven to reduce the amount of calories you’ll eat per meal - a great bonus if you’re trying to cut fat.
Stage 2: Protein enters the stomach
Protein travels down the esophagus and enters the stomach where it is met with two important ingredients: stomach acid and enzymes
Stomach acid (formally “Hydrochloric Acid”) unfolds the proteins so that enzymes (“proteinase”) can break them down into peptides - short chains of amino acids. Acid and Proteinase work together kind of like a superhero duo - Acid holds the protein down so the enzymes do work and beat down the protein.
Fun fact: Hydrochloric acid is very acidic - more corrosive than battery acid! If it wasn’t for the mucous lining in your stomach, it would wreak havoc on our bodies.
Tips to maximize protein intake in stage 2:
- Divide your protein intake throughout the day so your enzymes have enough time to fully break down the protein into peptides. The recommended amount of protein per meal is between 20-40g
- Increase your stomach acidity by pairing protein foods with acidic foods, such as vinegar or fruit. For example, you might eat your meat with a salad dressed with a vinaigrette.
- Reduce the amount of starch you eat with protein. Since carbs and proteins are digested in different ways, your body has to work over time to bring out the correct combination of enzymes to break them both down simultaneously. You’ll absorb more protein if you pair heavy proteins with some vegetables, and skip the potatoes.
- Add enzyme rich food to your diet. High amounts of enzymes are found in most vegetables, fruits, and fermented foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, and kefir.
- Ensure you’re getting adequate vitamin B6. B6 acts as a coenzyme, speeding up the rate at which enzymes break down protein. This is especially important if you get most of your protein from plant-based sources, which are usually deficient in B6
Stage 3: Protein moves from stomach to the small intestine
Now that the proteins are broken down into more manageable peptides, the pancreas releases other enzymes into the gut that begin chipping away at the peptides as they travel through the intestine. These enzymes further break down the protein turning them into smaller peptides or plain amino acids, and absorb them through the intestinal wall.
If you eat too much in one sitting, excess protein will end up in the colon, where gut microbes need to digest it and produce the dreaded protein farts.
Tip to maximize protein intake:
- Divide intake throughout the day. The recommended amount of protein to consume at one time is 20-40g
- Eat complete proteins high in digestibility, such as eggs, cheese, whey and beef.
- Supplement with probiotics to boost your gut’s ability to breakdown protein
Stage 4: Liver regulates amino acids through the bloodstream
Once amino acids enter the bloodstream, they’re transported to the liver, which stores and regulates where the amino acids should go in your body.
There are many important uses for amino acids in the body, but from a fitness perspective, protein synthesis for muscle repair and growth is the most beneficial.
To maximize protein synthesis from the protein you’re consuming,
- The most effective time to take protein is within a 1-2 hour window following resistance training
- To amplify this effect, take a fast-acting, digestible protein, such as whey protein, or Proteina cheese
- Combine the protein with 30g of simple carbs, such as maltodextrin or dextrose. The spike in insulin has been proven to stimulate protein synthesis in your muscles
Looking for a complete, highly digestible protein that isn’t whey protein powder? Try out Proteina High-Protein Cheese today