How much (vegan) protein per meal for optimal muscle growth?

How much (vegan) protein per meal for optimal muscle growth?


General protein recommendation range per meal 

There is a minimum amount of protein necessary for optimal muscle protein synthesis (MPS). The amount is mostly dependent on the quality of the protein. It seems that in particular the leucine content is important. 
The amount of protein per meal should be between 20-50g protein. 

Protein range recommendation when eating a plant-based meal (vegetarian/vegan) 

We need to adapt to the fact that plant-based protein has a lower anabolic response than for example specific animal-based proteins. So, we suggest to eat the upper range of the recommendation per meal and supplement with limiting amino acids , which are the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) in 2:1:1 ratio to optimize the amino acid profile. Especially leucine (which seems to play an important role in muscle protein synthesis) tends to be lower in plant-based foods.



Are we "wasting" protein by eating more than 50g protein per meal?

We are not "wasting" or not "not absorbing" our protein intake if we eat more than 50g per meal, but you're only getting an anabolic response from the first 30-50g protein. 
For example, if you eat 80g in one meal, you'll get an anabolic response up until +/- 50g protein, in other words, those 50g is an anabolic threshold, after that, the amount of protein will not do much for anabolism in the muscle. You're not "wasting" it, but you're also not getting "extra gains" by eating more protein per meal. 


How to eat your (plant) protein for optimal muscle protein synthesis?

  1. Find out how many protein you should be eating per day. The total protein intake a day is leading. A great guideline is +/- 2,2g per kg body weight.
    So, if you weigh 75kg it's 2,2x75= 165g of protein per day. Or you can choose to take a percentage of your total amount of calories, for example 30-35%. So, if you're eating 2200 kcal and you want 30% of those calories to be protein: 0,3x2200=660/4 (1g protein=4kcal)=165g protein
  2. Divide your protein intake over the amount of meals you want to eat. So, if for example you want to eat 4 meals a day: 165g protein/4= 41,25g protein per meal
    You can also choose to use 0,4-0,55g protein per kg body weigh per meal (use the upper range when eating plant-based). For example, if you weigh 75kg: 0,55x75=41,25g protein per meal 
  3. Plan 40-50g of (plant) protein before you go to sleep. Having protein before bed provides an opportunity to stimulate muscle growth during the night.
  4. Plan 30-50g (plant) protein around your workout (optimal within 2 hours after your workout) ánd supplement with limiting amino acids, which are the branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) to optimize the amino acid profile of vegetarian/vegan meals. This way you can make sure to get at least 3g leucine in, which is important for muscle protein synthesis. 


If you want to build muscle mass, in addition to a strategic planning around the protein intake, the amount of kilocalories (kcal) is also important. Sufficient kcal has a muscle protein sparing effect.
In addition, not much will happen without a continuous stimulus from strength training, so ensure a strategic structure of training with a progressive overload.


Angela Oosterling, BSc Sports Dietitian , NSCA-CPT Strength Coach, ISAK Anthropometrist