Good old protein...love it or hate it, there's no way to escape it. As an athlete or anyone else for that matter, you need enough of it to build muscle, support recovery, and just plain survival.
From time immemorial, the availability of protein has determined our success or lack thereof as a species. It's no wonder that we obsess over it and try to get as much of it as possible, often to the point of excess.
Unfortunately, this protein obsession has led to some widespread myths about the nutrient. No matter how good something is, there must be conspiracy theories (whether true or not) that seek to tarnish its reputation. The same is true for protein, so let's debunk some of these myths once and for all.
Myth #1: Protein Is The Same, Regardless Of Source
This myth is perpetuated by the supplement industry, which would have you believe that all protein sources are created equal. They're not. Different proteins have different amino acid profiles, digestibility, and absorption rates, and they can differ in terms of their impact on muscle growth.
When it comes to muscle growth, what matters most is the amino acid profile of the protein. Some amino acids are more important for muscle growth than others, and the ratio of these amino acids can vary from one protein to the next. For example, whey protein is particularly rich in the amino acid leucine, which is considered to be the most important amino acid for muscle growth. So, if your goal is to build muscle, whey protein is going to be a better choice than, say, casein protein.
Another important consideration is the digestibility and absorption rate of the protein. Some proteins are simply more easily digested and absorbed by the body than others. For example, whey protein is rapidly absorbed, while casein protein is more slowly absorbed. This means that whey protein is more likely to be available for muscle growth after a workout, while casein protein may be more beneficial for preventing muscle breakdown during periods of fasting or when you're sleeping.
So, when it comes to muscle growth, not all proteins are created equal. Whey protein is going to be more effective than casein protein, and other proteins may be more effective than whey protein depending on the amino acid profile and digestibility.
Myth #2: For Breakfast, Protein Isn't Nearly As Essential As It Is For Other Meals.
What!? Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day. You need protein for breakfast to help jump-start your metabolism and give you energy for the day.
Protein is important for all meals, but especially because a high protein breakfast has been shown to increase satiety, reduce cravings and help you eat less throughout the day. It can also help you lose weight and body fat. So, if you're trying to build muscle or lose fat, make sure you're getting enough protein at breakfast.
Myth #3: To Avoid Muscle Breakdown, You Must Consume Protein At Least Every Three Hours.
This myth is based on the idea that protein is constantly being broken down in your body and you need to eat protein every few hours to prevent muscle loss. However, this isn't true.
Protein turnover is highest during periods of growth and development, such as childhood and adolescence. In adults, protein turnover is much lower and muscle breakdown only occurs during periods of severe stress, such as prolonged illness or injury.
However, there is no doubt that splitting up meals instead of having just 3 big ones can help you ingest more overall.
So, unless you're going through a major life stressor, you don't need to worry about eating protein every few hours to prevent muscle loss. Just make sure you're getting enough protein at each meal and you'll be fine.
Myth #4: You'll Get Fat If You Eat Too Much Protein.
Did you know that protein is the least likely macronutrient to make you chunky, or fat for that matter? It’s true!
In order for protein to make you bulky, you would have to eat in a calorie surplus (meaning you eat more calories than you burn in a day). Since protein is very filling, it's hard to do this unless you're deliberately trying to gain weight. And even then, it's mostly going to be muscle, not fat.
Protein possesses a thermic effect, which utilizes a large number of calories on digestion and metabolism. If you combine a high protein intake with exercise, you help to shift protein uptake to muscle cells and an anabolic state ensues.
Myth #5: As You Grow Older, You Need Less Dietary Protein.
One common misconception is that as you age, you need less protein. This simply isn’t true. If anything, older adults need more protein than young adults.
There are a few reasons for this. First, as we age, we tend to lose muscle mass. This process, called sarcopenia, can start as early as age 30. By age 80, we can lose up to 50% of our muscle mass.
Losing muscle mass has several consequences. It can lead to frailty, falls, and fractures. It can also make it harder to recover from illness or injury.
Protein is essential for preserving muscle mass. That’s why older adults need more protein than young adults. The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight. For a 150-pound person, that’s 54 grams of protein per day. However, many experts believe that the RDA is too low and that older adults need at least 0.5 grams per pound of bodyweight or 75 grams per day.
Even this number is a far cry from the true recommendation if you are involved in resistance exercise regularly which can be up to 1.2 grams/kilogram of body weight for the elderly according to some researchers.
Another reason older adults need more protein is that they tend to absorb less protein from their diet. This process, called muscle protein anabolism, is essential for repairing and rebuilding muscle tissue.
There are a few reasons why protein absorption declines with age. One is that older adults have a lower level of stomach acid. This can make it harder for the body to break down protein.
Another reason is that older adults tend to have a lower level of an amino acid called leucine in their blood. Leucine is essential for muscle protein anabolism.
Older adults also tend to be less active than young adults. This can further reduce muscle protein anabolism.
Lastly, chronic diseases are more common in older adults. These diseases can lead to inflammation, which increases the body’s need for protein.
Myth #6: Only So Much Protein Can Be Absorbed At Once.
Protein absorption is not limited. In fact, your body is very efficient at absorbing protein.
Most of the protein you eat is absorbed into your bloodstream and used by your cells within 2-3 hours. The amount of protein you can absorb in a single meal is determined by a number of factors, including the type of protein, the amount of protein, and your level of activity.
For example, whey protein is more rapidly absorbed than casein protein. This is because whey protein contains more leucine, an amino acid that stimulates muscle protein synthesis.
The amount of protein you eat also affects absorption. A higher protein intake makes it more likely that all might not be absorbed. But in general, most will be made use of in a timely manner.
Finally, your level of activity affects absorption. Exercise increases muscle protein synthesis and utilization, and can therefore increase the amount of protein your body can absorb.
Myth #7: Protein Can Damage The Kidneys
This is a real-scare tactic used to try to get people to consume less protein when in reality it does not cause kidney damage in healthy individuals.
There are a few reasons for this myth. One is that high protein diets were once associated with kidney stones. However, recent research has found that there is no link between protein intake and kidney stones.
Another reason is that some people with existing kidney problems may need to limit their protein intake. This is because their kidneys may not be able to process and excrete all the nitrogen from protein.
However, for healthy individuals, protein does not cause kidney damage. In fact, protein is essential for the health of your kidneys.
Protein is a key component of many enzymes and hormones that regulate kidney function.
Myth #8: You Must Eat Meat To Obtain Your Protein.
This is absolutely not true. If it were the case, vegetarians and vegans would not be able to survive.
In fact, many plant-based foods are excellent sources of protein. These include beans, lentils, tofu, tempeh, nuts, and seeds.
Additionally, many plant-based foods contain all the essential amino acids your body needs to make protein. This is especially true when you eat a variety of plant-based proteins throughout the day. Or better yet, consume a plant-based protein powder that contains all the essential amino acids.
So, if you’re looking to increase your protein intake, there are plenty of options available to you, regardless of your diet.
Myth #9: It's Preferable To Get Your Protein From Natural Food Rather Than Supplements.
This myth is contentious, as it borders between being accurate but not fully.
There are benefits to getting your nutrients from whole foods. This is because whole foods contain other important nutrients that can't be found in supplements, such as fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Additionally, whole foods are more satiating than supplements. This means that they'll make you feel fuller for longer and are less likely to lead to overeating.
However, there are also benefits to protein supplements. First, they're a convenient way to increase your protein intake. Second, they're often more easily digestible than whole foods, which can be beneficial if you have digestive issues.
And lastly, supplements can be more cost-effective than whole foods. This is because you're getting pure protein with no other nutrients.
So, at the end of the day, it's up to you to decide which is best for you. If you have a hard time increasing your protein intake from whole foods, then supplements can be a helpful option.
And since most people do not get their requirements from solid food, you can see how powders can be extremely useful. Plus, the majority of protein powders are of high quality and complete, so really no reason to avoid them.
Myth #10: Protein Powder Is Unhealthy
This is another myth that is based on some truth but is ultimately not accurate.
Protein powders can be unhealthy if they are full of additives and artificial ingredients. However, there are many protein powders on the market that are made with natural, healthy ingredients.
Additionally, protein powders are a concentrated source of protein, so they can be helpful if you're trying to increase your protein intake.
So, if you're looking for a healthy protein powder, make sure to read the ingredients list carefully. Avoid powders that are full of artificial sweeteners, flavors, and colors. Instead, opt for a powder that is made with simple, natural ingredients.
The fact that society is more interested in health today than at any other time in history also makes it difficult for manufacturers to get away with shady practices.
Daily protein needs for healthy adults are only 46 g for women and 56 g for men, and most Americans get too much protein
Myth # 11: Losing Weight By Eating Less Protein Is A Good Option
You will definitely lose weight if you eat less protein, as would any diet where calorie restriction is practiced.
The problem is that when you lose weight by eating less of anything, you will also lose some muscle.
And since muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body, this can actually slow down your metabolism and make it harder to lose weight in the long run.
Restricting protein over another macronutrient is the fastest way to lose muscle, as protein not only helps with rebuilding but also preservation during calorie restriction.
High protein intake can also help to preserve muscle during weight loss by preventing the breakdown of muscle for energy.
So, if you're trying to lose weight, it's best to focus on eating a healthy diet that includes plenty of protein.
Protein is an essential nutrient that plays a role in everything from muscle building to weight loss.
Despite its importance, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about protein.
Hopefully, this article has helped to debunk some of the most common protein myths.
Next time you hear someone spouting off false information about protein, you'll be armed with the knowledge to set the record straight.