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4 Top Myths About Protein To Know
These days, protein is all the rage. Open up any weightlifting, nutrition or fitness magazine and every diet article is about protein. But whenever a particular food or food group becomes this popular, it’s only a matter of time before misconceptions begin to form and spread.
What are the facts regarding protein intake? How much should we eat, and how often? Do you need to eat it with every meal? Is it super healthy, or should you avoid it if you want to lose weight? Let’s explore some of the myths and realities of this essential food group and set the record straight.
Myth 1: Animal Protein Is Bad for You
This has been a consistent, ongoing belief among many health and nutrition-minded people for decades, including (but not exclusively) in the vegetarian and vegan communities. But is it actually true?
A lot of the answer to this question depends on where the meat comes from. If it’s factory-farmed beef, which usually comes from cows treated with growth hormones like recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH), then no, it’s not going to be a healthy source of protein. Many poultry chickens and turkeys are raised in appalling conditions, and captive-raised fish are frequently exposed to harmful chemicals. All of these animal protein sources can be harmful to some extent.
But this doesn’t change the fact that human beings have evolved to eat meat and fish. Humans are natural omnivores and have hunted for meat and eaten aquatic animals for hundreds of thousands of years. The truth is that natural, organic meat and seafood can be very beneficial. Animal proteins offer a complete amino acid profile, unlike plant-based proteins, which we will discuss shortly. Animal proteins are also usually accompanied by fat, which the body needs as well (especially omega-3 fatty acids.)
This doesn’t mean you necessarily need to eat animal protein. Plenty of people eat only plant proteins and are fine. But the idea that animal proteins are unhealthy and should be avoided at all costs is just not true.
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Myth 2: You Need to Eat 1-2 Grams of Protein Per Pound of Bodyweight, Every Day
You might be shaking your head at this one if you’re not a regular gym-goer. There’s a long-held belief among certain athletes, as well as in the bodybuilding community, that the best way to gain muscle mass is to eat enormous quantities of protein, ranging from 1 gram to 2 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight, every day. So following this model, if you weighed 150 pounds, you would have to eat at least 150 grams of protein each day during your “bulking phase” to gain muscle. Many bodybuilders will double the number, so our hypothetical 150-pound man would be stuffing 300 grams of protein down his throat every day.
This is what happens when “bro science” gets out of hand.
The truth is a little more complicated. If your goal is to gain pounds of muscle mass, then yes, eating huge quantities of protein, along with a heavy lifting regimen, is going to help you achieve that. However, you probably don’t need to eat THAT much protein in order to gain muscle.
A lot of it depends on how physically active you are. If you’re an average person who doesn’t engage in vigorous exercise on a regular basis, it would be absurd to be eating that much protein all the time. It just isn’t necessary. If you’re a serious athlete or bodybuilder, however, you’ll need more protein than the average person, because your body will actually put it to good use.
A study at McMaster University concluded that approximately 0.6 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight is sufficient to maximize protein synthesis. It does, however, vary depending on genetics. Everyone’s body is different. Some people may indeed benefit from eating extra protein, but for many others, there’s a point of diminishing returns beyond which it simply isn’t necessary to eat that much protein.
Final verdict: it depends on your body, but most people can eat a little less than 1 gram per day to maximize muscle gains while trying to bulk up.
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Myth 3: Protein Makes You Lose Weight
When it comes to shedding unwanted pounds, what you don’t eat has just as much of an effect as what you do eat. Protein-rich diets like Atkins and the Paleo diet call for a lot of proteins because they are using them to replace sugary junk foods and high-glycemic-index carbs (white rice, white bread and pasta, baked goods etc). Foods high in sugars like these have been linked to weight gain.
Protein can also help you feel full for a longer period of time, so it makes sense to replace a plate of white pasta with a small steak and salad. You’ll end up eating less at the end of the day.
Myth 4: Eating Protein Makes You Strong
Most people think that eating a bunch of protein will make you stronger. But that’s only true if you actually exercise in the first place! There’s a lot of protein in burgers from fast food chains, but don’t expect to get strong if you eat two Big Macs a day and never go to the gym.
Protein is only beneficial in this regard if you live a physically active lifestyle. One caveat is that consuming protein will help prevent muscle wasting to a degree (if you’re bedridden due to an injury, for instance). But simply drinking an extra protein shake every morning isn’t going to turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger. You need to put in the physical work as well.