Protein: Myth or Reality?

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Anyone with an interest in nutrition will undoubtedly have heard a rumor about protein.  Protein is often depicted as the miracle macronutrient that wondrously aids in muscle growth and weight loss. With the right amount of protein, anyone can have perfectly lean or sculpted muscles, right?  Sadly, protein is so sensationalized that it’s hard to decipher the truths from the lies.  I hope to clear up some common misconceptions about protein with a little game I call, “Protein: Myth or Reality?”

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The recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein is 0.8g/kg of body weight per day. Myth or Reality?

Reality! Let’s be honest—this number is extremely confusing.  The US doesn’t use the metric system, so how is anyone supposed to figure this out?  It’s actually really simple math.  Take your body weight in pounds and divide by 2.2.  That is your weight in kilograms.  Times that number by 0.8 and that’s your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of protein.  For example, A 160 pound male weighs about 72kg.  Multiply that by 0.8g and he should consume about 58g of protein per day, according to the RDA.

An endurance athlete should consume 1.2- 1.4g/kg of protein per day, while a resistance athlete needs 1.6-1.7g/kg of protein per day.  Myth or Reality?

Reality!  However, the key word here is athlete.  These numbers are based off of a male who runs 10 miles per day at a 6-minute mile pace and a strength athlete who expends 14-15% of his daily calories lifting weights.  Think a collegiate soccer player and professional weight lifter.  For the average person spending an hour at the gym, these numbers are just simply too high.  The most protein an average gym goer needs is about 1- 1.2g/kg of body weight.  For that same 160-pound male, that’s about 72-87g of protein a day.  This leads me to my next point…

Gym goers need to supplement their diet with extra protein.  Myth or Reality?

Myth! Most Americans eat more than the recommended daily value of protein in their diet alone, which means that extra protein is just wasted.  Let’s go back to our 160-pound male and assume he is eating a healthy diet.  Here’s a sample menu and what his protein intake may look like:

Breakfast Cereal with Milk ~4g of protein
Lunch Turkey sandwich (3 oz turkey) on whole wheat bread 27g protein
Dinner Grilled fish (6 oz), brown rice, vegetables 50g protein

As you can see, his diet already contains the RDA of protein if he is working out (81g), and that’s without snacks.  Why would he need more?  As you will learn in my next point, extra protein does not mean extra muscles.  It means extra fat.

Protein shakes are a great recovery drink after a tough workout.  Myth or Reality?

Myth! Protein is helpful for muscle repair after a tough workout, but there are a few reasons that protein shakes are unnecessary. Protein shakes often contain too much protein.  It is widely accepted among Sports Dietitians that an individual can only absorb 20g of protein at one time (Moore, 2009).  Two scoops of Muscle Milk with water contains 32g of protein.  A 17-ounce carton of pre-made Muscle Milk drink contains 32-34g of protein.  So what happens to that extra protein that the body can’t absorb?  Well, it gets stored as fat or leaves the body in the urine.  Not to mention that those products are expensive and contain many additives, such as maltodextrin, sunflower oil, crystalline fructose, natural and artificial flavors, inulin, soy lecithin, and sucralose just to name a few! Some protein powders have even been shown to contain heavy metals, like arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury!

All of this information begs the question: What is a good source of protein for workout recovery?  Well, we’ve already learned that the average gym goer gets enough protein in their everyday diet, so having something small like an 8 ounce glass of milk (8g of protein) or a hard boiled egg (6g of protein) or two slices of turkey (7g of protein) will aid in muscle repair.  For athletes and those training for athletic competition, a 16-ounce glass of chocolate milk contains 16g of protein.  Don’t like milk by itself?  Try making a smoothie with 8 ounces of milk, ½ container of Greek yogurt (about 3 ounces), and your favorite fruits, which will result in 17g of protein.  Or a container of Greek yogurt by itself has 18g of protein.  And all of these suggestions are much cheaper and omit the additives and harmful metals.

High protein diets aid in weight loss.  Myth or Reality?

Reality! High protein diets have been shown to help with weight loss, but they must also be coupled with calorie restriction.  Eating a high protein diet of 3,000 calories/day, but only expending 2,000 calories will result in weight gain.  But eating a high protein diet of 1,500 calories and expending 2,000 will most likely cause weight loss.  Research has shown that weight loss is more likely with a high protein diet with calorie restriction than a standard protein diet or high carbohydrate diet with energy restriction (Wycherley, 2012) (Claessens, 2009).  So if you are trying to lose weight, cut your calories and increase your protein.

 

References:

http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/magazine-archive/2010/july/food/protein-drinks/what-our-tests-found/index.htm

Moore, D.R., Robinson, M.J., Fry, J.L., Tang, J.E., Glover, E.I., Wilkinson…Phillips, S.M. (2009). Ingested protein dose response of muscle and albumin protein synthesis after resistance exercise in young men. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 89 (1), 161-168. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.2008.26401

Wycherley, T.P., Moran, L.J., Clifton, P.M., Noakes, M. Brinkworth, G.D. (2012).  Effects of energy-restricted high-protein, low-fat compared with standard protein, low-fat diets: a meta analysis of randomized controlled trials.  American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 96 (6), 1281- 1298.  doi: 10.3945/ajcn.112.044321

Claessens, M., van Baak, M.A., Monsheimer, S. Saris, W.H. (2009).  The effect of a low-fat, high-protein or high-carbohydrate ad libitum diet on weight loss maintenance and metabolic risk factors.  ­­­­International Journal of Obesity, 33 (3), 296-304.  doi: 10.1038/ijo.2008.278

 

 

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