Myths that Just Won't Die: Protein! (2)
By Will Brink, author of:
Muscle Gaining Diet, Training Routines by Charles Poliquin
& Bodybuilding Supplement Review
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
Myth #3 "All proteins are created
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
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!
>> Click here for Will Brink's Bodybuilding Revealed
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>> Click here for Whey Protein supplements
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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, 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,
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