In order to bust the protein myth we have to look at some important factors and ask some questions?
Having just completed a comprehensive nutritional certification in Addition to participating in a mentorship program with Dan Garner, I learned some things I thought I already knew and reaffirmed many other bits of info.
How much protein should you be eating? Depending on the source of information you rely on, you may end up eating a lot, very little, or a moderate amount. But which is correct? And what types of protein should you be eating? Are all proteins the same, or are some better than others? What makes a protein “good” or “bad”?
Protein is one of the most misunderstood of the nutrients. We all know what vitamins and minerals do, and that carbs and fats are turned to energy. But the workings of protein are a bit more complex, which is why so many people don’t really understand how to eat the right quantities and types of protein.
Below, we’re going to bust a few protein myths to help you understand the truth about amino acid-rich foods. The information below will make clear how to eat protein the right way:
Protein Myth #1: You should be consuming 10 to 35% of your daily calories in the form of protein.
Truth: 10 to 35? Talk about a broad range? Based on the average 2,000 calorie diet, that’s anywhere from 200 to 750 calories per day. A bit vague, don’t you say?
Though there is a bit of debate on just how much protein to eat, most experts agree that between 0.7 and 1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean body weight is sufficient. A 1988 study backed up this claim, proving that 0.73 grams of protein was enough to help weightlifters retain sufficient amino acids to build muscle.
However, only the VERY active athletes—such as marathon runners or professional athletes–need a full gram of protein per pound of body weight. For the average weightlifter, CrossFitter, runner, or HIITer, around 0.7 or 0.8 grams of protein per pound of lean bodyweight will suffice.
Protein Myth #2: All athletes need the same amount of protein.
It should make sense, right? After all, if you’re engaged in high-intensity resistance training or running, you need a lot of protein to fuel your muscles.
Here’s the truth: more advanced trainees DO NOT require the same amount of protein as beginners.
Newbies (or those returning to resistance training after a long break) can build significant amounts of muscle mass in a short amount of time, thanks to their high protein intake and the muscle damage caused by their training. These people need a lot of protein in order to fuel their muscle growth.
On the flip side, more advanced trainees who have been working out daily for years will no longer require as much protein. Their muscle protein synthesis rates are slower, and they build muscle at a much slower rate. Consuming high quantities of protein won’t speed up muscle growth, but will just increase protein waste byproducts. Advanced trainees should consider reducing their protein intake slightly, increasing their carbohydrate intake in order to provide more energy for their workouts.
Protein Myth #3: Your body can only absorb 20 grams of protein per meal.
This myth is based on your digestive processes and the belief that it can only absorb a certain amount of nutrients per meal before hitting a “ceiling”.
Your stomach can only hold so much food, and your intestines can only absorb nutrients so quickly. If you’re consuming a massive meal, your stomach may empty itself before the proteins are properly broken down to be absorbed.
However, remember that your body is very efficient at breaking down and absorbing everything you eat. Simply put, a larger meal just takes longer to be absorbed, but it will ultimately use the vast majority of the macro and micronutrients in the food consumed. You will be able to get more than 20 grams of protein from your high-protein meals—this is a myth based on very little fact!
Protein Myth #4: All animal proteins are created equal.
This is definitely NOT the case! There are a number of things that affect the “quality” of a protein—animal or vegetable—including:
- Chemical score –This only measures the chemical composition of the food, similar to the way the Glycemic Index measures the carbohydrate content of foods. The higher the chemical score, the richer the food is in essential amino acids.
- Net protein utilization – This measures the amount of nitrogen retained in the body from the amount of protein digested. Higher net protein utilization is better.
- Biological value – This also measures the amount of nitrogen retained in the body, dividing it by the amount of nitrogen absorbed from the food you eat. A value of 100 indicates that ALL nitrogen absorbed by the food has been retained by the body, and a value of 0 indicates that NONE has. This value essentially indicates how effectively a protein is used by the body.
- Protein digestibility corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) – This measures the amino acid profile of a food according to the requirements of the human body.
- Protein efficiency ratio – This measures the amount of weight gained after consuming protein. A score above 2.5 (indicating 2.5 grams of weight gain per gram of protein consumed) is considered a high-efficiency protein.
This may seem a bit too scientific for the average consumer, but savvy trainees will want to know these scores for every food they eat. This will determine what types of protein are consumed in the largest quantity, as well as what balance of amino acids to ingest in order to encourage the most efficient absorption of proteins.
The foods with the highest scores overall include animal products:
- Wild Game
- Dairy products
Plant-based proteins like nuts, seeds, spinach, peas, and legumes take second place for their overall efficiency and intake scores.
Caveat: You don’t HAVE to know the quality score of your food in order to get enough high-quality protein. The most important thing is that you get enough protein (that 0.7 to 1.0 grams per pound of lean bodyweight per day)!
Protein Myth #5: Whey protein is the ideal supplement!
The fact that whey is a quick-acting, easily absorbed supplement certainly makes it the most popular on the market. Add to that low prices and high availability, and you have a protein supplement everyone wants.
There are, however, a couple of downsides to whey protein:
It tends to be highly processed. Some whey proteins are more processed than others, which means the beneficial extra nutrients have been stripped or broken down. This may leave a protein-rich supplement that lacks the calcium, Vitamin D, and other vital micronutrients from the milk.
It can cause rapid amino acid oxidation. The fast-acting whey protein can raise your blood amino acid content, but that quick rise in amino acids will lead to a faster oxidation of the protein. This means there is less time for your body to absorb the amino acids before they are broken down, burned, and eliminated.
Ideally, you should find a whey protein supplement that has been minimally processed, and which contains whey in as natural a state as possible. Pairing it with high-fiber and high-fat foods will slow the absorption rate, preventing the rapid oxidation and increasing the amount your body ultimately is able to absorb and use.
Protein Myth #6: More protein = more muscle.
Let’s get one thing VERY clear: eating a ton of protein isn’t going to cause you to pack on the pounds of muscle. Protein doesn’t stimulate the growth of muscle—all it does is provide the nutrients required for muscle growth.
When you eat a lot of protein, your body absorbs the amino acids and spreads it around to the cells in your body. However, when those cells’ storehouses are filled, the rest of the protein is:
- Burned as energy
- Turned into glycogen or fat for storage
- Broken down or eliminated
When you hit that maximum protein intake your body can handle, there’s no reason to continue eating protein.
Not only does a too-high protein intake lead to a higher risk of stored body fat (yes, too much protein will make you fat!), but you also increase acidity in the body. Excessive protein consumption has been linked to a decrease in testosterone and SHBG production, which can have seriously detrimental effects on your muscle growth and overall health.
That’s why it’s so important to stick to the “0.7 to 1.0 grams of protein per pound of lean bodyweight” rule. This will give you enough protein for an active lifestyle, but not so much it will be wasted or turned to fat.
Protein isn’t some magical nutrient that is automatically turned into muscle by your body. It’s just one more macronutrient that needs to be consumed in the right quantities, and preferably high quality as well.
I hope I have busted the protein myth to some degree and understanding the truth about proteins will help you make the right choices!