Protein Myth Busting

In this week's article, we bust some commonly believed myths related to protein and health.

Due to the growth and utilization of social media as a platform for spreading information, there has been an increase in alleged “nutrition experts” providing their version of nutritional support online. Which of course is no surprise, we all eat multiple times a day, therefore it is a universal concern or at the very least an area of interest for most. The following segment aims at demystifying some common myths associated with protein and health.    

MYTH #1 - The post-workout anabolic window?   

The anabolic window is a proposed period of time, approx. 60 minutes, following physical activity which is based on claims that ingesting protein IMMEDIATELY post-exercise, is necessary to build muscle, which is somewhat true depending on your nutritional status.   

However, there is nothing magical about consuming protein within the first-hour post-exercise. Research shows TOTAL daily protein intake to be the most important factor coupled with resistance training for muscle growth (1). Followed by the distribution of this protein at different mealtimes, meaning don't eat all your protein at dinner, try to spread it evenly over all meals. As depicted on the right-hand side of Figure 1.

Figure 1: Suboptimal and optimal protein distributions.

If you want to advance into timing your intake of protein with regard to exercise, here is an example:

Intake of protein before and after exercise should not exceed 2-3 hours.

You could eat 1 hour prior to exercise, train for 1 hour, then you got 1 hour to consume protein (2.5-3g of leucine) again to maximise the muscle-building response.

This is where protein powder is convenient, consuming a heavy protein-rich meal right before exercise isn’t always so pleasant. Especially, if you are going to do high-intensity endurance or resistance exercise. 

PLANTFORCE Protein Shake:

Consuming at least 40-50g of protein (2.7-3.4g of leucine) is recommended to maximise muscle recovery and growth.

 

MYTH #2 - Can too much protein consumption increase health risks?    

Many protein myths are related to high protein intakes. For example, "high protein diets can lead to osteoporosis” - there is no causative link or data to support this statement, however, there is data to support that bone on average is composed of 45% protein and higher protein intake is associated with superior bone health (2). Additionally, “high protein diets can damage your kidneys” - this is also incorrect, if you are a healthy individual with no pre-existing kidney disease (3), there is no evidence to support the intake of up to 4.4g/kg body weight affects kidney function and increased risk (4). Remember that context and relevance is key when interpreting nutritional science research.   

It’s true that consuming excessive amounts of protein means your kidneys will have to work a little harder to remove the breakdown products from protein, but as mentioned previously if you are healthy with normally functioning kidneys then this is of no concern. 

International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) has researched men and women consuming 3.4-4.4g/kg/day of protein and did not report any adverse effects or health risks on markers of kidney function & health – in contrast, it can strengthen and condition the kidneys to handle these loads (1).   

The main downside of too much protein consumption is probably going to be a lack of variety in your diet, lack of fibre, essential vitamins, fats, and minerals. We advise that most people to stick somewhere between 1.4-2g/kg/day if the goal is to build muscle. Individuals who are in long term caloric deficits trying to minimize muscle loss and maximize satiety should consider the higher end of this range (1).    

There will always be variability from person to person depending on your biology, age, body composition, preferences, and goals. If you’re healthy the scientific data supports protein intakes up to 4.4g/kg/day is safe although close to impossible to consistently consume. Eat high protein foods until your heart's content with the caveat - it is part of a balanced and healthy diet including plenty of fruits & vegetables, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains.   

 

MYTH #3 - Can you overuse a protein supplement?   

This is like asking can you eat too much of a certain source of protein, from a physiological standpoint, protein in foods or supplements will be handled by the body similarly, with differing digestion and absorption kinetics depending on the sources and amount.   

Individuals sensitive to dairy or whey proteins need to avoid these supplements and plant-based proteins alternatives should be utilized.   

One research group utilized 4.4g/kg/day, where most of the protein intake was provided for subjects as protein powder, there were no adverse reactions reported in this study (4). However, using just protein supplements suggests that you are not consuming a variety of protein sources which also have benefits beyond just their protein content. Which include fibre, essential micronutrients, essential fatty acids, phytochemicals and antioxidants. 

 

CONCLUSION

It is advised to use protein supplements to complement an existing diet rather than a substitute for a balanced diet. We suggest using protein powders to provide a complete protein boost to wholefood recipes and complement the existing diet. Protein powders can be cheap, convenient and an excellent way to ensure you are consuming high-quality protein.   

 

REFERENCES:

  1. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14(1):20. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8
  2. Shams-White MM, Chung M, Du M, et al. Dietary protein and bone health: A systematic review and meta-analysis from the National Osteoporosis Foundation. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017. doi:10.3945/ajcn.116.145110
  3. Cuenca-Sánchez M, Navas-Carrillo D, Orenes-Piñero E. Controversies Surrounding High-Protein Diet Intake: Satiating Effect and Kidney and Bone Health. Adv Nutr. 2015. doi:10.3945/an.114.007716
  4. Antonio J, Peacock CA, Ellerbroek A, Fromhoff B, Silver T. The effects of consuming a high protein diet (4.4 g/kg/d) on body composition in resistance-trained individuals. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11(1):1-6. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-19

 

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