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    Nutritional Myths that Just Won't Die: Protein!
    Copyright © 2006, Will Brink

    When it comes to the topic of sports nutrition there are many 
    myths and fallacies that float around like some specter in the 
    shadows. They pop up when you least expect them and throw a 
    monkey wrench into the best laid plans of the hard training 
    athlete trying to make some headway. Of all the myths that 
    surface from time to time, the protein myth seems to be the most 
    deep rooted and pervasive. It just won't go away. The problem is, 
    exactly who, or which group, is perpetuating the "myth" cant be 
    easily identified. You see, the conservative nutritional/medical 
    community thinks it is the bodybuilders who perpetuate the myth 
    that athletes need more protein and we of the bodybuilding 
    community think it is them (the mainstream nutritional community) 
    that is perpetuating the myth that athletes don't need additional 
    protein! Who is right?
    The conservative medical/nutritional community is an odd group. 
    They make up the rules as they go along and maintain what I refer 
    to as the "nutritional double standard." If for example you speak 
    about taking in additional vitamin C to possibly prevent cancer, 
    heart disease, colds, and other afflictions, they will come back 
    with "there is still not enough data to support the use of 
    vitamin C as a preventative measure for these diseases," when in 
    fact there are literary hundreds of studies showing the many 
    benefits of this vitamin for the prevention and treatment of said 
    And of course, if you tell them you are on a high protein diet 
    because you are an athlete they will tell you, "oh you don't want 
    to do that, you don't need it and it will lead to kidney disease" 
    without a single decent study to back up their claim! You see 
    they too are susceptible to the skulking myth specter that 
    spreads lies and confusion. In this article I want to address 
    once and for all (hopefully) the protein myth as it applies to 
    what the average person is told when they tell their doctor or 
    some anemic "all you need are the RDAs" spouting nutritionist 
    that he or she is following a high protein diet.
    Myth #1 "Athletes Don't Need Extra Protein"
    I figured we should start this myth destroying article off with 
    the most annoying myth first. Lord, when will this one go away? 
    Now the average reader person is probably thinking "who in the 
    world still believes that ridiculous statement?" The answer is a 
    great deal of people, even well educated medical professionals 
    and scientists who should know better, still believe this to be 
    true. Don't forget, the high carb, low fat, low protein diet 
    recommendations are alive and well with the average nutritionist, 
    doctor, and of course the "don't confuse us with the facts" media 
    following close behind.
    For the past half century or so scientists using crude methods 
    and poor study design with sedentary people have held firm to the 
    belief that bodybuilders, strength athletes of various types, 
    runners, and other highly active people did not require any more 
    protein than Mr. Potato Head.....err, I mean the average couch 
    potato. However, In the past few decades researchers using better 
    study designs and methods with real live athletes have come to a 
    different conclusion altogether, a conclusion hard training 
    bodybuilders have known for years. The fact that active people do 
    indeed require far more protein than the RDA to keep from losing 
    hard earned muscle tissue when dieting or increasing muscle 
    tissue during the off season.
    In a recent review paper on the subject one of the top 
    researchers in the field (Dr. Peter Lemon) states "...These data 
    suggest that the RDA for those engaged in regular endurance 
    exercise should be about 1.2-1.4 grams of protein/kilogram of 
    body mass (150%-175% of the current RDA) and 1.7 - 1.8 grams of 
    protein/kilogram of body mass per day (212%-225% of the current 
    RDA) for strength exercisers."
    Another group of researchers in the field of protein metabolism 
    have come to similar conclusions repeatedly. They found that 
    strength training athletes eating approximately the RDA/RNI for 
    protein showed a decreased whole body protein synthesis (losing 
    muscle jack!) on a protein intake of 0.86 grams per kilogram of 
    bodyweight. They came to an almost identical conclusion as that 
    of Dr. Lemon in recommending at least 1.76g per kilogram of 
    bodyweight per day for strength training athletes for staying 
    in positive nitrogen balance/increases in whole body protein 
    This same group found in later research that endurance athletes 
    also need far more protein than the RDA/RNI and that men 
    catabolize (break down) more protein than women during endurance 
    They concluded "In summary, protein requirements for athletes 
    performing strength training are greater than sedentary 
    individuals and are above the current Canadian and US recommended 
    daily protein intake requirements for young healthy males." All 
    I can say to that is, no sh%# Sherlock?!
    Now my intention of presenting the above quotes from the current 
    research is not necessarily to convince the average athlete that 
    they need more protein than Joe shmoe couch potato, but rather to 
    bring to the readers attention some of the figures presented by 
    this current research. How does this information relate to the 
    eating habits of the average athlete and the advice that has been 
    found in the lay bodybuilding literature years before this 
    research ever existed? With some variation, the most common 
    advice on protein intakes that could be -and can be- found in 
    the bodybuilding magazines by the various writers, coaches, 
    bodybuilders, etc., is one gram of protein per pound of body 
    weight per day.
    So for a 200 pound guy that would be 200 grams of protein per 
    day. No sweat. So how does this advice fair with the above 
    current research findings? Well let's see. Being scientists like 
    to work in kilograms (don't ask me why) we have to do some 
    converting. A kilogram weighs 2.2lbs. So, 200 divided by 2.2 
    gives us 90.9. Multiply that times 1.8 (the high end of Dr. 
    Lemon's research) and you get 163.6 grams of protein per day. 
    What about the nutritionists, doctors, and others who call(ed) us 
    "protein pushers" all the while recommending the RDA as being 
    adequate for athletes?
    Lets see. The current RDA is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of 
    bodyweight: 200 divided by 2.2 x 0.8 = 73 grams of protein per 
    day for a 200lb person. So who was closer, the bodybuilders or 
    the arm chair scientists? Well lets see! 200g (what bodybuilders 
    have recommended for a 200lb athlete) - 163g ( the high end of 
    the current research recommendations for a 200lb person) = 37 
    grams (the difference between what bodybuilders think they should 
    eat and the current research).
    How do the RDA pushers fair? Hey, if they get to call us "protein 
    pushers" than we get to call them "RDA pushers!" Anyway, 
    163g - 73g = (drum role) 90 grams! So it would appear that the 
    bodybuilding community has been a great deal more accurate 
    about the protein needs of strength athletes than the average 
    nutritionist and I don't think this comes as any surprise to any 
    of us. So should the average bodybuilder reduce his protein 
    intake a bit from this data? No, and I will explain why. As with 
    vitamins and other nutrients, you identify what looks to be the 
    precise amount of the compound needed for the effect you want (in 
    this case positive nitrogen balance, increased protein synthesis, 
    etc) and add a margin of safety to account for the biochemical 
    individuality of different people, the fact that there are low 
    grade protein sources the person might be eating, and other 
    So the current recommendation by the majority of bodybuilders, 
    writers, coaches, and others of one gram per pound of bodyweight 
    does a good job of taking into account the current research and 
    adding a margin of safety. One things for sure, a little too 
    much protein is far less detrimental to the athletes goal(s) of 
    increasing muscle mass than too little protein, and this makes 
    the RDA pushers advice just that much more.... moronic, for lack 
    of a better word.
    There are a few other points I think are important to look at 
    when we recommend additional protein in the diet of athletes, 
    especially strength training athletes. In the off season, the 
    strength training athletes needs not only adequate protein but 
    adequate calories. Assuming our friend (the 200lb bodybuilder) 
    wants to eat approximately 3500 calories a day, how is he 
    supposed to split his calories up? Again, this is where the 
    bodybuilding community and the conservative nutritional/medical 
    community are going to have a parting of the ways... again. The 
    conservative types would say "that's an easy one, just tell the 
    bodybuilder he should make up the majority of his calories from 
    Now lets assume the bodybuilder does not want to eat so many 
    carbs. Now the high carb issue is an entirely different fight 
    and article, so I am just not going to go into great depth on 
    the topic here. Suffice it to say, anyone who regularly reads 
    articles, books, etc, >from people such as Dan Duchaine, Dr. 
    Mauro Dipasquale, Barry Sears PhD, Udo Erasmus PhD, yours truly, 
    and others know why the high carb diet bites the big one for 
    losing fat and gaining muscle (In fact, there is recent research 
    that suggests that carbohydrate restriction, not calorie 
    restriction per se, is what's responsible for mobilizing fat 
    stores). So for arguments sake and lack of space, let's just 
    assume our 200lb bodybuilder friend does not want to eat a high 
    carb diet for his own reasons, whatever they may be.
    What else can he eat? He is only left with fat and protein. If he 
    splits up his diet into say 30% protein, 30 % fat, and 40% carbs, 
    he will be eating 1050 calories as protein (3500x30% = 1050) and 
    262.5g of protein a day (1050 divided by 4 = 262.5). So what we 
    have is an amount (262.5g) that meets the current research, 
    has an added margin of safety, and an added component for 
    energy/calorie needs of people who don't want to follow 
    a high carb diet, hich is a large percentage of the 
    bodybuilding/strength training community. here are other reasons 
    for a high protein intake such as hormonal effects (i.e. effects 
    on IGF-1, GH, thyroid ), thermic effects, etc., but I think I 
    have made the appropriate point. So is there a time when the 
    bodybuilder might want to go even higher in his percent of 
    calories from protein than 30%? Sure, when he is dieting.
    It is well established that carbs are "protein sparing" and so 
    more protein is required as percent of calories when one reduces 
    calories. Also, dieting is a time that preserving lean mass 
    (muscle) is at a premium. Finally, as calories decrease the 
    quality and quantity of protein in the diet is the most important 
    variable for maintaining muscle tissue (as it applies to 
    nutritional factors), and of course protein is the least likely 
    nutrient to be converted to bodyfat. In my view, the above 
    information bodes well for the high protein diet. If you tell the 
    average RDA pusher you are eating 40% protein while on a diet, 
    they will tell you that 40% is far too much protein. But is it? 
    Say our 200lb friend has reduced his calories to 2000 in attempt 
    to reduce his bodyfat for a competition, summer time at the 
    beach, or what ever. Lets do the math. 40% x 2000 = 800 calories 
    from protein or 200g (800 divided by 4). So as you can see, he is 
    actually eating less protein per day than in the off season but 
    is still in the range of the current research with the margin of 
    safety/current bodybuilding recommendations intact.
    Bottom line? High protein diets are far better for reducing 
    bodyfat, increasing muscle mass, and helping the hard training 
    bodybuilder achieve his (or her!) goals, and it is obvious that 
    endurance athletes will also benefit from diets higher in protein 
    than the worthless and outdated RDAs.
    Myth #2 "High Protein Diets Are Bad For You"
    So the average person reads the above information on the protein 
    needs and benefits of a high protein diet but remembers in the 
    back of their mind another myth about high protein intakes. "I 
    thought high protein diets are bad for the kidneys and will give 
    you osteoporosis! " they exclaim with conviction and indignation. 
    So what are the medical facts behind these claims and why do so 
    many people, including some medical professionals and 
    nutritionists, still believe it?
    For starters, the negative health claims of the high protein diet 
    on kidney function is based on information gathered from people 
    who have preexisting kidney problems. You see one of the jobs of 
    the kidneys is the excretion of urea (generally a non toxic 
    compound) that is formed from ammonia (a very toxic compound) 
    which comes from the protein in our diets. People with serious 
    kidney problems have trouble excreting the urea placing more 
    stress on the kidneys and so the logic goes that a high protein 
    diet must be hard on the kidneys for healthy athletes also.
    Now for the medical and scientific facts. There is not a single 
    scientific study published in a reputable peer - reviewed journal 
    using healthy adults with normal kidney function that has shown 
    any kidney dysfunction what so ever from a high protein diet. Not 
    one of the studies done with healthy athletes that I mentioned 
    above, or other research I have read, has shown any kidney 
    abnormalities at all. Furthermore, animals studies done using 
    high protein diets also fail to show any kidney dysfunction in 
    healthy animals.
    Now don't forget, in the real world, where millions of athletes 
    have been following high protein diets for decades, there has 
    never been a case of kidney failure in a healthy athlete that was 
    determined to have been caused solely by a high protein diet. If 
    the high protein diet was indeed putting undo stress on our 
    kidneys, we would have seen many cases of kidney abnormalities, 
    but we don't nor will we. From a personal perspective as a 
    trainer for many top athletes from various sports, I have known 
    bodybuilders eating considerably more than the above research 
    recommends (above 600 grams a day) who showed no kidney 
    dysfunction or kidney problems and I personally read the damn 
    blood tests! Bottom line? 1-1.5 grams or protein per pound of 
    bodyweight will have absolutely no ill effects on the kidney 
    function of a healthy athlete, period. Now of course too much of 
    anything can be harmful and I suppose it's possible a healthy 
    person could eat enough protein over a long enough period of time 
    to effect kidney function, but it is very unlikely and has yet to 
    be shown in the scientific literature in healthy athletes.
    So what about the osteoporosis claim? That's a bit more 
    complicated but the conclusion is the same. The pathology of 
    osteoporosis involves a combination of many risk factors and 
    physiological variables such as macro nutrient intakes (carbs, 
    proteins, fats), micro nutrient intakes (vitamins, minerals, 
    etc), hormonal profiles, lack of exercise, gender, family 
    history, and a few others. The theory is that high protein 
    intakes raise the acidity of the blood and the body must use 
    minerals from bone stores to "buffer" the blood and bring the 
    blood acidity down, thus depleting one's bones of minerals. Even 
    if there was a clear link between a high protein diet and 
    osteoporosis in all populations (and there is not) athletes have 
    few of the above risk factors as they tend to get plenty of 
    exercise, calories, minerals, vitamins, and have positive 
    hormonal profiles. Fact of the matter is, studies have shown 
    athletes to have denser bones than sedentary people, there are 
    millions of athletes who follow high protein diets without any 
    signs of premature bone loss, and we don't have ex athletes who 
    are now older with higher rates of osteoporosis.
    In fact, one recent study showed women receiving extra protein 
    from a protein supplement had increased bone density over a group 
    not getting the extra protein! The researchers theorized this was 
    due to an increase in IGF-1 levels which are known to be involved 
    in bone growth. Would I recommend a super high protein diet to 
    some sedentary post menopausal woman? Probably not, but we are 
    not talking about her, we are talking about athletes. Bottom 
    line? A high protein diet does not lead to osteoporosis in 
    healthy athletes with very few risk factors for this affliction, 
    especially in the ranges of protein intake that have been 
    discussed throughout this article.
    Myth #3 "All Proteins Are Created Equal"
    How many times have you heard or read this ridiculous statement? 
    Yes, in a sedentary couch potato who does not care that his butt 
    is the same shape as the cushion he is sitting on, protein 
    quality is of little concern. However, research has shown 
    repeatedly that different proteins have various functional 
    properties that athletes can take advantage of. For example, whey 
    protein concentrate (WPC) has been shown to improve immunity to 
    a variety of challenges and intense exercise has been shown to 
    compromise certain parts of the immune response. WPC is also 
    exceptionally high in the branch chain amino acids which are the 
    amino acids that are oxidized during exercise and have been found 
    to have many benefits to athletes. We also know soy has many uses 
    for athletes, and this is covered in full on the Brinkzone site 
    in another article.
    Anyway, I could go on all day about the various functional 
    properties of different proteins but there is no need. The fact 
    is that science is rapidly discovering that proteins with 
    different amino acid ratios (and various constituents found 
    within the various protein foods) have very different effects 
    on the human body and it is these functional properties that 
    bodybuilders and other athletes can use to their advantage. 
    Bottom line? Let the people who believe that all proteins are 
    created equal continue to eat their low grade proteins and get 
    nowhere while you laugh all the way to a muscular, healthy, low 
    fat body!
    Over the years the above myths have been floating around for so 
    long they have just been accepted as true, even though there is 
    little to no research to prove it and a whole bunch of research 
    that disproves it! I hope this article has been helpful in 
    clearing up some of the confusion for people over the myths 
    surrounding protein and athletes. Of course now I still have to 
    address even tougher myths such as "all fats make you fat and are 
    bad for you," "supplements are a waste of time," and my personal 
    favorite, "a calorie is a calorie." The next time someone gives 
    you a hard time about your high protein intake, copy the latest 
    study on the topic and give it to em. If that does not work, role 
    up the largest bodybuilding magazine you can find and hit hem 
    over the head with it!
    See Will's ebooks online here:
    Muscle Building Nutrition http://musclebuildingnutrition.com A 
    complete guide bodybuilding supplements and eating to gain lean 
    Diet Supplements Revealed http://aboutsupplements.com A review 
    of diet supplements and guide to eating for maximum fat loss
    He can be contacted at: PO Box 812430 Wellesley MA. 02482. 
    BrinkZone.com Email: will@brinkzone.com
    Article References
    1 Lemon, PW, "Is increased dietary protein necessary or 
    beneficial for individuals with a physically active life style?" 
    Nutr. Rev. 54:S169-175, 1996.
    2 Lemon, PW, "Do athletes need more dietary protein and amino 
    acids?" International J. Sports Nutri. S39-61, 1995.
    3 Tarnopolsky, MA, "Evaluation of protein requirements for 
    trained strength athletes." J. Applied. Phys. 73(5): 1986-1995, 
    4 Phillips, SM, "Gender differences in leucine kinetics and 
    nitrogen balance in endurance athletes." J. Applied Phys. 75(5): 
    2134-2141, 1993.
    5 Tarnopolsky, MA, 1992.
    6 Carroll, RM, "Effects of energy compared with carbohydrate 
    restriction on the lipolytic response to epinephrine." Am. J. 
    Clin. Nutri. 62:757-760, 1996.
    7 Bounus, G., Gold, P. "The biological activity of undenatured 
    whey proteins: role of glutathione." Clin. Invest. Med. 14:4, 
    296-309, 1991
    8 Bounus, G. "Dietary whey protein inhibits the development of 
    dimethylhydrazine induced malignancy." Clin. Invest. Med. 12: 
    213-217, 1988

    Writer's Resource Box:
    Will Brink writes for numerous health, fitness, medical, and 
    bodybuilding publications. His articles can be found in Life 
    Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise 
    For Men Only, Oxygen, Women's World, The Townsend Letter For 
    Doctors and many more. His website is http://www.brinkzone.com
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