Protein Myths

Protein Myths

August 8, 2019

by our Sports Scientist Stephen Morehen

 

In the last few blogs we have learnt the basics of protein – what it is, how much we need and the different types we encounter in our diet. Before moving on to a new topic, I thought it would be good to address some myths and misconceptions about protein that we may hear from time to time.

Protein builds muscle… and nothing else.

Whilst protein is indeed critical for the synthesis of new muscle fibres, it has numerous other roles in our bodies. Protein is the second most abundant molecule in our bodies, after water. The amino acids which make up protein are found in the structure of bones, ligaments, tendons, hair, nails, hormones and enzymes – it’s a busy nutrient! This means that everybody needs protein in their diets – even though it’s become a buzzword for the fitness and sport industries in recent years.

Consuming too much protein will make me gain weight.

This is true, in the same way that consuming any food in excess will elicit weight gain if the calories you consume exceed the calories you burn throughout the day. This is where careful consideration of protein sources is important as some sources will be more calorific and higher in fat than others. Lean protein sources such as skimmed milk, poultry (without the skin), egg white, peas, lentils, beans and white fish are a great way of meeting your protein goals without stacking up the calories.

Gram for gram, protein is actually more satiating than fat or carbohydrate – this means it makes us feel full after we consume it. Research suggests that this effect of protein can actually be used in weight management strategies as it promotes feelings of fullness and subsequently reduces desire to over-consume, assisting conditions such as obesity and metabolic syndrome [1, 2].

Everyone should be using protein supplements

Going off the reference nutrition intake (RNI) of 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight in the UK, a lot of people will meet or exceed this on a daily basis. For an average 80kg person, this is only 60g protein in a whole day – there’s 62g of protein in a 200g chicken breast!

Protein requirements are, however, dependent on activity level. As an example, elite athletes who are exercising several hours a day will aim to consume upwards of 2.0g of protein per kg of bodyweight or 160g for an 80kg individual [3]. In these instances where obtaining these numbers from food may not be achievable, then protein supplements are a handy way to meet the quota.

Furthermore, some experts do suggest that the current RNI is simply too low and that we should aim for close to double the RNI in order to effectively maintain a positive net protein balance – meaning that we are synthesizing more protein than our body is breaking down. A review from Philips et al (2016) concluded that 1.2-1.6g per kg of bodyweight is recommended to optimise healthy aging, weight managements and goals aligned with athletic performance. [4]

Take home messages:

Protein is essential for so much more than just building, maintaining and repairing muscle.

Protein is not linked with weight gain when obtained from a variety of sources and not in excess.

Protein can actually help in weight-management strategies due the feelings of fullness it promotes.

The current RNI of 0.75g/kg bodyweight may not be sufficient for optimal athletic performance.

Protein supplements are useful for those with increased protein requirements due to higher activity levels or those who struggle to obtain sufficient protein through their diet.

  1. Westerterp-Plantenga, M.S., S.G. Lemmens, and K.R. Westerterp, Dietary protein – its role in satiety, energetics, weight loss and health. Br J Nutr, 2012. 108 Suppl 2: p. S105-12.
  2. Westerterp-Plantenga, M.S., et al., Dietary protein, weight loss, and weight maintenance. Annu Rev Nutr, 2009. 29: p. 21-41.
  3. Jager, R., et al., International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr, 2017. 14: p. 20.
  4. Phillips, S.M., S. Chevalier, and H.J. Leidy, Protein “requirements” beyond the RDA: implications for optimizing health. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab, 2016. 41(5): p. 565-72.

 

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