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There is a lot of misinformation regarding protein intake, knowing which sources of information to trust can be hard. In this article I will try to debunk some of the most common myths about protein and give you a science based protein intake recommendation that will help you lose fat while maintaining and/or improving your muscle mass.
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Protein intake has been a meaty subject in the nutrition world for many years but with new research constantly coming out and the shift from focus on minimum protein intake to optimal protein intake there is a lot of misinformation about protein. You have maybe heard your friends or family talking about the benefits of a high protein diet so you may be wondering if a high-protein diet will help you lose weight, build muscle, and optimize your overall health. You may also have heard that protein could shorten your life, damage your kidneys, that animal protein is better than plant protein. There are a lot of myths and misunderstandings about protein so who do you trust to bust them? As expert exercise and nutrition coaches I've heard it all so I picked the top myths that I hear about protein and am going to try to shed light on the truth as well as give you actionable takeaways that will help you optimize your protein intake!
MYTH #1 PROTEIN CAN HARM YOUR KIDNEYS AND BONES
There are some people that worry that too much protein might overwork their kidney, liver, or other organs. The kidneys and liver produce and process urea which is a nitrogen containing waste that is excreted in the urine. It is true that increasing your protein intake will increase the amount of urea that is excreted but the reality is that this isn't a problem for most healthy individuals with regular kidney function.
Now other people might be worried that a high protein diet might reduce bone calcium and which would weaken your bones and cause osteoporosis. While eating lots of protein may increase calcium excretion in the urine, diets that maintain good calcium intake are sufficient to prevent bone and mineral loss. Studies that compare low, moderate, and high protein diets show that only the low protein diets were shown to pose any risk to bone health. Most people can eat a high protein diet and not be worried about organ or bone health but keep in mind that not a protein sources are created equally. A diet that consists of fried chicken, hot dogs, and processed meat is not going to be optimal for your overall health.
MYTH #2 PROTEIN RICH FOODS ARE CARCINOGENIC
Protein rich foods that are highly processed or deep fried cardiovascular and carcinogenic risks. The reason these food items are carcinogenic is not because of the protein that is in them but rather the high amount of trans fat that is in those food items. This misconception has caused many people to draw the conclusion that a high protein diet may cause cancer. One study showed that a risk for cancer may be increased by 18% for every 50 grams of processed meat consumed per day. Natural proteins with little to no trans fat such as fish or chicken pose little to no cardiovascular and/or carcinogenic risk and foods like salmon that are rich in omega-3 fatty acids are shown to improve heart health. It's important to note the difference between natural and processed proteins when considering your overall health but know that the protein you are consuming has little to no health risks!
MYTH #3 CUTTING BACK ON PROTEIN HELPS YOU LIVE LONGER
Research on protein dates back as far as 100 years, early protein research suggested that if you cut back on protein you might live longer. More recently scientists have refuted this theory and have found that maintaining a lower body mass index by slightly reducing total daily calories is a more likely life-extending practice. It can be very difficult to study longevity with accuracy even when examining hard data such as biomarkers and mortality rates research cannot definitively determine the dietary predictors of lifespan. However, one thing is for sure, restricting protein can be a problem in middle aged and elderly people. The age related loss of muscle mass, called sarcopenia, begins in middle age and protein restriction in older people will speed up this loss of muscle mass. Lack of muscle mass is directly related to a myriad of diseases and there is research that indicates lack of muscle as we age can be directly related to shorter lifespan. Not only does lack of muscle mass put you at a higher risk of all cause mortality it also puts the elderly population at a much higher risk of being injured. Making sure you have adequate protein intake will not only help you increase your muscle mass but it will also help you reduce factors that will shorten your life span!
MYTH #4 ANIMAL PROTEIN IS BETTER THAN PLANT PROTEIN
This myth is the one that I hear the most of, I think that because it's partially true people just misinterpret the information which can lead to a myth like this becoming popular. The good news is that you can be a vegan or vegetarian and still get all the necessary protein in your diet. Plant protein can build muscle just as effectively as animal protein! The difference between animal and plant protein is animal based protein sources contain higher concentrations of essential amino acids (EAAs) than plant based proteins. Proteins that contain essential amino acids are called complete proteins. Complete proteins contain 9 amino acids that are essential for optimal human health particularly when it comes to protein muscle synthesis. In order to get the same amount of muscle supporting amino acids a higher volume of plant based proteins needs to be consumed. By eating different sources of plant based protein you can get all of the essential amino acids, these are called complimentary proteins. Rice and beans are a great example of complimentary proteins, when consumed separately they do not contain all of the amino acids necessary for optimal human health but when eaten together they do.
Scientists have looked at the differences between plant and animal protein in humans by comparing leucine (an essential amino acid that plays a key role in signaling muscle protein synthesis) content between them. In the study subjects ate rice or whey protein (both contain the amino acid leucine) and it was discovered that greater amounts of rice are needed to achieve an optimal anabolic response than whey protein. This is because animal based whey protein contains more leucine so by simply consuming more of a plant protein or consuming complimentary protein sources can overcome the low amino acid content.
It's important to note that because more food intake is required to get all essential amino acids from a plant based diet it can be easy for vegans and vegetarians to over eat causing them to gain weight. To ensure that you are avoiding calorie surplus it's important to be aware of your overall calorie intake in addition to protein content.
HOW MUCH PROTEIN DO YOU NEED?
When deciding on a macronutrient goal it's important that you get a personalized, professional recommendation that fits your lifestyle, goals, and health condition. Protein recommendations are typically made based off of your overall body mass. The leading protein researcher Robert Morton and his team came out with a meta-analysis regarding optimal protein intake called "A systemic review, meta-analysis and meta-regression of the effect of protein supplementation on resistance training-induced gains in muscle mass and strength in healthy adults." The meta-analysis analyzed data 49 studies with 1,863 participants showed that dietary protein supplementation significantly increased changes in strength and muscle size. The study concluded that protein supplementation beyond total protein intakes of 0.7 g/lb/day resulted in no further induced gains in muscle mass.
So according to a meta-analysis from a leading protein researcher the optimal amount of protein that you should consume daily is 0.7 grams x your body weight (ex. if you weigh 200 lbs, 0.7x200=140 grams of protein per day). Again this number may be slightly different depending on your current health condition, activity levels, and goals but in general this is a good place to start. For a personalized protein recommendation set up a FREE consultation at reformed-fitness.com today!
Protein is an essential nutrient in the human diet and plays a myriad of important roles throughout the body. Protein is composed of amino acids which are obtained from food during the digestion process and are then used to form the specific proteins that the body requires. There are 20 different amino acids that your body needs however there are only 9 amino acids that are considered essential. Essential Amino Acids (EAAs) are various amino acids that are essential for normal health and growth and must be obtained in your diet. Emerging concepts in protein nutrition research are focused on moving away from minimum daily needs and more towards protein intake for optimal health. Due to this change in ideology around protein there is a lot of misinformation about proper protein intake. In general, greater protein intake seems to be better for health, body composition, and athletic goals. According to the most up to date protein research individuals should seek to obtain 0.7-1.0 grams of protein per pound of body weight (from complete protein sources) for optimal health. More advanced strategies beyond total daily intake include intake timing strategies throughout the day and near exercise as well as consuming protein from a wide variety of high quality sources
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