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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 

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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 A 
complete guide bodybuilding supplements and eating to gain lean 

Diet Supplements Revealed A review 
of diet supplements and guide to eating for maximum fat loss

He can be contacted at: PO Box 812430 Wellesley MA. 02482. Email: [EMAIL PROTECTED]

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

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