Are you getting enough protein in your diet? If this question sounds familiar, it should. That’s because protein intake is one of the hottest topics in nutritional science these days. Not only that, in recent years protein has become the most popular nutritional additive not only in foods at your favorite health food store, but also in common foods like pizza, muffins, and toaster pastries.
As a health advocate, you know that protein is vital for health, fitness, and longevity. Yet, while the research that supports getting adequate high-quality protein in your diet has made the mainstream, many myths about this essential macronutrient persist. In this article, we’ll review 6 common misconceptions about protein intake, and bring to light insights on additional health benefits protein can add to your health, and wellness regimen.
1. Protein only builds muscle
As an essential nutrient composed of building blocks known as amino acids, protein is not only a component of muscle, but also of bone, joint, tendons, ligaments, hair, antibodies, hormones, enzymes and more. Protein also supports a healthy immune system, and plays a role in body composition, and as you’ll soon learn, can regulate blood sugar.
2. Eating too much protein causes kidney disease
Numerous studies have shown that consuming excess protein only harms the kidneys if you have underlying kidney or liver disease[i]. That’s because healthy kidneys are very good at removing the extra nitrogen that comes with eating lots of protein.
3. Eating less protein is a good way to lose weight
For this we must shout, FALSE because the opposite is true. Not eating enough protein can make it harder to lose weight since it helps keep you full and your metabolism boosted. It also has the highest ‘thermic effect’ of all macronutrients (carbs, fats, and proteins). Typically, 10% of calories you eat from protein get used to metabolize it.
Pretty cool, right?
But that’s not all. Often, people who do lose weight by cutting protein, are losing muscle – not fat. That’s because when lowering calories, the body uses stored fat for energy (what we want) but if calories are too low, it will also break down muscle into amino acids to make energy.
What’s important to know is that since muscle is active (fat is not), for every pound of muscle you have you burn 50 more calories per day. Put another way, if you lose 20 lbs but 10 lbs is from muscle you will burn 500 less calories per day which is enough to gain back a pound of fat per week. This means maintaining your new weight will be very difficult, if not impossible, to do.
4. You can’t get enough protein on a plant-based diet
Because most plant foods do not contain the same quantity of protein as animal products, and may not contain all the essential amino acids, it’s important to eat a variety of protein from plant sources. You would not want to eat only lentils or rice, but the combination of lentils and rice is great. Why? If over a 24-hour period your diet does not contain all the essential amino acids, muscle protein repair and synthesis cannot occur
5. For maximum benefits, don’t worry about when or how you consume protein, just eat enough of it
People tend to eat most of their protein at lunch and dinner, but to maximize muscle protein synthesis (building muscle, for a healthy metabolism), research has shown it is best to eat about 20 to 30 grams per meal (in addition to a level of carbohydrate and fat that I appropriate for your diet). If you eat protein at lunch and dinner, consider changing your breakfast to something with Greek yogurt, eggs, veggie burger patties, or turkey sausage.
6. Protein turns into sugar
Our final myth really flies in the face of good evidence.
The claim is this. Protein-rich foods and some protein supplements just turn into sugar (glucose, or blood sugar to be exact) and are just a waste of time and money.
First, you need to know that protein from food and most supplements are digested slowly because the body must break it down into useable amino acids for its many functions. The reality is that research has shown that meals that contain 25-40% percent of total calories help maintain health blood sugar levels. This is the main reason why reducing carbs and replacing them with protein and healthy fats has brought millions of people improved health.
But what about protein supplements
The idea that protein turns into glucose has been the target of popular protein supplements made from whey. This was born from the fact that this protein source is highly bioavailable and rapidly absorbed––a main reason it is a favorite of those working to build their body. So, does rapid absorption cause the protein to be made into glucose? In a word, NO.
As with several of our myths, the opposite is true. Recent research suggests whey protein that is minimally processed and undenatured. We recommend MaxLiving’s Grass-Fed Whey Protein, which also provides enzymes, probiotics, and prebiotics to improve digestion and overall health.
Prevent blood sugar spikes from meals with carbs
Instead of protein that turns into sugar, or wreaks havoc on your blood sugar levels, MaxLiving Grass-Fed Whey Protein can prevent blood sugar spikes from foods that contain carbs. Plus, it doesn’t matter if they are clean health promoting carbs or heavy ones like mashed potatoes, pasta, or sweets.
Researchers say the results suggest that whey aids in blood sugar regulation by stimulating the production of the hormone insulin in the pancreas. Insulin helps the body regulate blood sugar naturally[ii].
As you can see, there are a lot of myths about protein that simply aren’t backed up by facts. Nevertheless, you have the evidence you need to get the greatest, health, wellness, and fitness benefits from the protein you eat.
About the Author
Zach Zovath graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Exceptional Education from the University of Central Florida. He continued on to receive his Master’s degree from the College of Education and Human Performance at the University of Central Florida. He is a master level personal trainer, coach, and health consultant. In addition, his specializations include corrective exercise, performance enhancement, prenatal/postpartum core stability, and exercise therapy. As a result of his education and experience in the health and fitness industry, he has developed fast and effective exercise programs for health care facilities.
[i] Bilancio, G., Cavallo, P., Ciacci, C., & Cirillo, M. (2019). Dietary protein, kidney function and mortality: Review of the evidence from epidemiological studies. Nutrients. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11010196
[ii] Petersen, B. L., Ward, L. S., Bastian, E. D., Jenkins, A. L., Campbell, J., & Vuksan, V. (2009). A whey protein supplement decreases post-prandial glycemia. Nutrition Journal, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/1475-2891-8-47