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         FITNESS TIPS FOR 12/29/2003                

Nutritional Myths that Just Won't Die: Protein!
by Will Brink

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 diseases. 

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 

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 exercise. 

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 variables. 

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 carbohydrates." 

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 (3500x
30% = 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, which is a large 
percentage of the bodybuilding/strength training community. 
There 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 

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 

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 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! 

About the Author - William D. Brink 
Will Brink is a columnist, contributing consultant, and writer 
for various health/fitness, medical, and bodybuilding 
publications. His articles relating to nutrition, supplements, 
weight loss, exercise and medicine can be found in such 
publications as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag 
International, The Life Extension Magazine, Muscle n Fitness, 
Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only, Body International, 
Power, Oxygen, Penthouse, Women’s World and The Townsend 
Letter For Doctors. 

See Will's ebooks online here: 

If you want to see his opinion on the best ways to use fat burning 
products, avoid side effects, etc, should read  his book 
Diet Supplements Revealed

If you want more of his opinions on supplements that build muscle 
mass you can find that information and in his latest ebook 
Muscle Building Nutrition 

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, 1992 

4 Phillips, SM, "Gender differences in leucine kinetics and nitrogen 
balance in endurance athletes." J. Applied Phys. 75(5): 2134-2141, 

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

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