For years, protein has been characterised as an over-hyped nutrient, useful only for bodybuilders. However, this macro nutrient is the backbone of many diet plans, bodybuilders or not and also a consistent topic amongst gym-goers because of a few old, lingering myths and some new confusions. Bro-Science alert!
Here's another episode of "Exposed & Solved". This time it's all about protein! Have fun!
1. Protein powders are better than food
Even though protein powders are easy to absorb and considered a food rather than a supplement, protein-rich whole foods should always be preferred. They not only provide you with more vitamins and minerals, but digest more slowly and keep you full for longer.
An optimal diet doesn't mean to live mainly on supplements or powders. Rather choose a wide variety of fresh foods and add powders only if you have problems hitting your daily macro-nutrient target.
2. You can digest only a certain amount of protein per meal
Total nonsense! This crap has been passed around for so long that it has become accepted as an unbreakable nutrition law: Never eat more than 30g of protein per meal.
There is no reason to limit yourself to 30g of protein per meal. In fact, most low-quality (low-leucine) protein sources will not even trigger muscle protein synthesis if you only consume 30g of protein (e.g. lentils).
And think about it from an evolutionary standpoint. Would we still be alive, if our bodies would simply not use any protein after the first 30g? You hunt down a bison, a cow or a dear and then what? You stop eating after 125g of flesh, because the rest is useless? I'm pretty sure our species would be extinct by now, if that were the case.
To wrap this up, it's better to split your protein intake across multiple meals, rather than eating 200g in one sitting, because you will feel more satiated and it's beneficial for portion control. But there's no problem with 30g+ of protein in a single meal!
3. Eating dairy-based protein leads to fat gain
Naah, wrong! If you tolerate dairy it's perfectly fine and a good source of protein.
However, a diet high in sliced cheese or non-fat cheese can lead to increased water retention due to the excessive sodium intake. Don't worry though, it's just water.
What actually leads to weight gain, is excess calories. Eating more calories than you burn. It doesn't matter where these calories come from - dairy, lettuce, fruits, grains or snickers - it gets stored as body fat.
4. As a vegan or vegetarian you can't get enough protein
Why should this be the case? There are plenty of vegetables, whole grains and legumes out there, that are excellent sources of protein. For example, a cup of lentils has 16g of protein!
Also some say as a vegan or vegetarian you can only consume incomplete proteins, as they can't consume all nine essential amino acids. Again, not true. All plants are complete, they just vary in the amount of each amino acid. If you consume a well balanced diet with multiple protein sources, you'll be fine.
Furthermore, it's also incorrect that you have to eat specific incomplete proteins in one meal, to convert them to a complete protein and get the nutritional benefit. As long as you consume enough protein throughout the day, it's no problem at all.
5. If you want to build muscle, you need extra protein
It's true that your body needs the full suite of essential amino acids to properly repair or generate muscle tissue.
But only eating protein isn't enough to build or maintain strength and muscle mass. You need a proper exercise routine and well balanced diet.
However, individuals who are very active have a higher protein requirement than the average person. That doesn't mean you need a ridiculously high amount of protein, though. Remember, too much of anything is unhealthy.
6. High protein diets decrease bone density
Nope the opposite is the case. A high-protein diet not only helps with maintaining or increasing muscle tissue, but also with a better bone density. It's a myth, that a high-protein intake leaches minerals from bones.
A good protein intake enhances mineral absorption. The bigger problem when it comes to bone density is an accurate intake of calcium, magnesium and vitamin D, which all support good bone health.
7. You just need about 0.36g/lbs (0.5g/kg) per day, which is the RDA
The RDA is way too low. For a 150 lbs adult, that would be 55g per day. Definitely not enough. The RDA is just a guidance level to prevent from deficiencies and most people agree, that the current rules are outdated and should be as much as twice as high.
In general, aim for roughly 2g per kg of body weight or 1g per pound of body weight per day. Going a little bit higher than that could be necessary to protect muscles even more, depending on your genetics. But don't do 300g protein diets like some bodybuilders do!
8. Protein needs are the same throughout your life
As we get older, we gradually lose muscle mass.
If you're around 40 years old, you're not doomed! A proper resistance exercise workout routine and diet can help minimise this effect.
However, as we age our protein needs increase, because we need a higher dosage of protein to stimulate protein synthesis.
9. A diet high in protein will guarantee weight loss
This one's partly true. A diet high in protein will lead to better results across the board, when it comes to weight loss. However, calories are king. It doesn't matter if you eat high carb, low carb, keto, paleo, vegan or only Snickers. Deficit means fat loss!
That a diet high in protein leads to better results comes down to the thermic effect of food. Meaning, 20-30% of the calories you consume from protein are needed to digest the food. Therefore 200g of protein will increase your daily expenditure by 160-240 kcal. Fat has basically no thermic effect and does not increase your expenditure.
Calories in, calories out still hold true though! But by consuming higher amounts of protein, your overall deficit becomes bigger due to higher caloric expenditure. Simple math.
Protein also helps a lot with satiety and therefore diet adherence.
Did I forget a myth? If so, please let me know in the comment section below.