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Nutritional Myths that Just Won't Die: Protein!

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      Article Title:
      Nutritional Myths that Just Won't Die: Protein!

      Article Description:
      When it comes to the topic of sports nutrition there are many
      myths and fallacies that float around like some specter in the

      Additional Article Information:
      3385 Words; formatted to 65 Characters per Line
      Distribution Date and Time: Wed Feb 8 00:55:28 EST 2006

      Written By: Will Brink
      Copyright: 2006
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      Nutritional Myths that Just Won't Die: Protein!
      Copyright � 2006 Will Brink
      Author of "Muscle Building Nutrition"

      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@...

      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

      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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