As a Registered Dietitian, I’m often asked if chicken is a fast or slow-digesting protein.
My clients want to know if chicken’s digestion rate affects the ideal time to consume it during the day because they either want to enhance their performance in the gym or are looking for a satiating meal to hold them over during busy times.
So, is chicken a fast or a slow-digesting protein? In general, chicken is a slow-digesting protein. However, the cut and how it’s cooked will affect its digestion rate. For example, chicken without skin will digest faster than chicken with skin. Also, chicken cooked without any additional fats will digest faster than chicken fried in oil.
Once you know all of the factors that make chicken faster or slower digesting, you can determine the best time of day to consume a meal that includes it.
How Long Does It Take Chicken To Digest?
Chicken breast can take 1-3 hours to digest. But it depends on whether you have it with the skin, what kind of cut you have, and how it’s prepared.
How you cook the chicken can also affect its digestion speed. Fried chicken has a higher fat content, making it have slower digestion than grilled or baked chicken breast that isn’t cooked in oil.
Finally, breading or any coating added to chicken can also affect its digestion rate. Breading can make food absorb more fat. So, fried chicken without breading will have faster digestion since it has a lower fat content than fried chicken with breading.
If you’re looking for foods that digest faster than chicken, check out our list of 10 fast-digesting foods.
What Makes a Fast or Slow-Digesting Protein?
The amino acid content of a protein source determines how fast or slow digesting it is. Amino acids are the molecules that make up protein. A protein source with a high amino acid content can take 3-4 hours to digest. On the other hand, a protein source with a low amino acid content will likely only need 1-2 hours to digest.
Also, as I touched on above, the total macronutrient breakdown of a protein source can make it faster or slower digesting. If a protein source also has a high amount of fat, for example, it will digest more slowly.
Does the Type of Chicken Matter For Digestion?
Yes, the type of chicken matters for digestion. The higher in fat, the slower it will digest. To determine how fast or slow a type of chicken can digest, let’s analyze the fat content in different types of chicken.
The following table compares different types of chicken and their protein and fat content per 100 g.
|Boneless, skinless chicken breast
|Chicken wing without skin
|Boneless chicken breast with skin
|Chicken wing with skin
|Chicken thighs with skin
Chicken breast without skin has the fastest digestion since it has the lowest fat content. If we add the skin, it makes it have a slower digestion since it has a higher fat content.
Benefits of Eating a Slow-Digesting Protein Like Chicken
1. It Provides Long-Lasting Energy
Slow-digesting protein can give you more sustainable energy. You can add it to a meal with faster-digesting foods to keep you satiated for longer.
So, instead of having a sudden energy release, it gives you more stable energy. This means that you are less likely to feel fatigued due to changes in energy levels.
2. It Is Better for Weight Loss
Protein stays in the stomach longer since it takes longer to digest and can increase the feeling of fullness. If you are less hungry throughout the day, it is easier to maintain a caloric deficit (eating fewer calories than you burn).
Protein makes you less likely to snack throughout the day, and you may also notice that you need smaller meal portions to feel satiated.
Additionally, since protein is harder to digest, the body needs to spend more calories digesting it. This means that you burn slightly more calories just by adding more protein to your diet.
Drawbacks of Eating a Slow-Digesting Protein Like Chicken
1. It Won’t Provide Fast Energy
If you want immediate energy, chicken is not the way to go. As mentioned before, chicken provides you with slow energy. So, adding it before a workout is not the best idea.
In this case, a faster-digesting protein such as whey protein powder is better to give you the desired energy before a workout.
2. It Can Cause Stomach Problems
Since chicken takes longer to digest, it might cause stomach problems if you eat it right before working out.
Also, as mentioned earlier, the higher in fat the chicken, the harder it is to digest. So, for that reason, you might feel more sluggish or bloated after consuming fried chicken.
When Should You Eat Chicken?
Slow-digesting foods like chicken are better to eat 2-3 hours before a workout or after a workout. Including them immediately before a workout can decrease your performance because you might experience bloating, cramping, or gas.
Including it 2-3 hours before a workout can help give you a more stable energy release when you pair it with a carb like sweet potatoes or lentils. This can allow you to have enough energy for your workout without affecting your performance.
On the other hand, if you include it after your workout, it can help improve recovery. Protein is an essential macronutrient to have post-workout since it helps repair and grow your muscles. Make sure to have it along a carb source (like rice) to help replenish your glycogen stores for more effective recovery.
How To Make Chicken Digest Faster or Slower
1. Change How You Cook It
How you cook chicken can affect its digestion rate.
Since fat takes longer to digest, it can affect the digestion rate of the meat.
So, if you want your chicken to digest more quickly, cook it without adding extra fat. If you want it to digest more slowly, cook it in some oil or butter.
2. Tenderize It
Tenderizing chicken, meaning pounding it with a special hammer, can break some of the muscle fibers. This can lead to softer meat and faster digestion.
3. Added Other Ingredients To It
Food that take longer to digest, like fats and fiber, can decrease the digestion of chicken.
For example, if you consume your chicken with avocado and brown rice, it will have a slower digestion than if you have chicken on its own with no added fats or carbs.
4. Add or Remove the Skin
Finally, one of the best ways to modify the digestion of chicken is to add or remove the skin. As we saw throughout the article, the chicken’s skin can decrease digestion due to its high fat content.
Thus, if you want to have a slower digestion, keep the skin. But if you want to have a faster digestion, ensure to remove the chicken’s skin.
Westerterp K. R. (2004). Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutrition & metabolism, 1(1), 5. https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-1-5
Pasiakos SM, Lieberman HR, McLellan TM. Effects of protein supplements on muscle damage, soreness and recovery of muscle function and physical performance: a systematic review. Sports Med. 2014 May;44(5):655-70. doi: 10.1007/s40279-013-0137-7. PMID: 24435468.
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