Dispelling Common Protein Myths
Are These Myths about Protein Getting Between You and Your Goals?
by James LaSalandra
Myth: “You have to eat protein every two hours or you’ll lose your gains!”
Reality: Protein timing can help, but isn’t always necessary
This is probably the most reasonable misunderstanding on the list. That’s because this common refrain admittedly has an element of truth to it. Where it fails to hold up is its apparent urgency.
Studies have shown that the regularly scheduled intake of moderate amounts of protein (in this case ~30g of protein per meal) can maintain more consistent muscle protein synthesis activity over the course of the day. Dr. Jim Stoppani himself recommends eating frequent meals every three hours or so.
Taken at face value, this makes perfect sense. As renowned fitness and nutrition expert Dr. Jim Stoppani frequently points out, it takes about three grams of the branched-chain amino acid leucine to trigger muscle protein synthesis.
“Most protein sources will provide 3 grams of leucine within 30 grams of protein — dairy, most meats, fish, at 30 grams will provide somewhere close to about 3 grams of leucine,” Stoppani says. “But again, this is a theory that 3 grams seems to be the sort of sweet spot for leucine. So if you shoot for somewhere in that 20 to 40-gram range, you’re probably going to hit your leucine target.”
If your meals feature less protein than that? Muscle protein synthesis may fall off. End of story, right? Not quite.
This is where you get an even more common myth:
Myth: “The body can only absorb 30 grams of protein in a sitting!”
Reality: 30 grams is the minimum, and sufficient for most – but by no means a limit
Research similar to that cited above has also concluded that muscle protein synthesis is sustained by these regular doses of 30 grams of protein. One study in particular ventures even further with its conclusions, leading researchers to claim that intake in excess of 30 grams isn’t particularly more effective.
Does this mean you can get by on 30 grams of protein per meal? At minimum, probably — your protein needs will depend greatly on individual factors like the extent of your training, your size, and the particulars of your metabolism. Does this mean that the body can only use 30 grams of protein at a time? Absolutely not.
The confusion here stems from viewing protein as single-purpose, as if the only thing it accomplishes is triggering muscle protein synthesis. And while it’s true this is an important reason to be getting adequate protein in your diet, there’s more to it than that.
As the body breaks protein down into its constituent aminos, those molecules are used for everything from constructing new muscle tissue to building other parts of the body, facilitating bodily processes, even providing energy (which has its own myth, covered below).
The truth is, the body is far more efficient than we give it credit for, and especially in the case of protein it’s rare for our nutrition to go to waste. So what truth can be gleaned from these myths? In reality, not much.
You see, while it’s helpful to point out that meals that include at least 30 grams of protein maintain muscle protein synthesis, the truth is the average athlete is probably already getting that much, more or less. It’s true, one meal may feature more than others but, at the end of the day, net protein balance and its effect on body composition won’t really be thrown off.
In fact, a study performed by some of the same researchers concluded just that: Protein content and meal timing doesn’t typically have an effect on overall results. What matters most is hitting your protein target by the end of the day.
Myth: “You have to eat within 90 minutes after a workout or you’ll miss your anabolic window!”
Reality: The anabolic window is real – but much potentially longer than you think
A lot of people talk about the “anabolic window”, but how many could explain what it actually means? Do they believe that muscle can only be built within the hour or so that follows a workout? Some seem to think so, going so far as to call a workout wasted if they can’t get their post-workout meal down in time.
Here, the myth thrives on a misunderstanding as to what the anabolic window is. You see, it’s not simply a period of elevated muscle protein synthesis. It can also be a period of increased catabolism, or muscle protein breakdown — but only in the absence of nutrition, and this is where so many studies have gotten it wrong.
As noted in one study, a lot of research on the topic presumes that people train fasted. Without pre-workout nutrition to help stave off the breakdown of muscle, your next best option is to eat as soon as possible after a workout.
While fasted training seems to be all the rage, most of us know it’s less than ideal. Even if you’re following Jim Stoppani’s Intermittent Fasting diet you know you should train inside your feeding window for best results. Whether it’s resistance training or simply cardio, it’s just best if you never train fasted.
If you’ve made sure to get adequate nutrition before your workout, the breakdown of muscle tissue will be severely reduced, and the period of time you have to refuel following the workout is far longer.
As Stoppani explains, “In fact, earlier research from the same lab suggested that in untrained subjects, muscle protein synthesis may stay elevated for up to 72 hours after a workout.”
The window does shorten for advanced athletes, though. “However, after 8 weeks of weight training, the elevation in post-workout muscle protein synthesis may only remain for about 16 hours. In other words, the more trained you are, the smaller the anabolic window appears to be.”
So how short can the anabolic window get, and what can you do about it? “ If you truly want to maximize muscle mass gains, you’re far better off getting ample quality protein and carbs as soon as possible after your workout. Numerous studies not only support this for muscle growth and even fat loss, but also for faster muscle glycogen recovery,” says Stoppani.
So it’s clearly important to get some post-workout nutrition as soon as possible. Still, the fact remains that for all but the most advanced trainers, the anabolic window is likely longer than 90 minutes.
Myth: “The body doesn’t use protein for energy!”
Reality: Amino acids – the building blocks of protein – are excellent sources of energy
As Dr. Stoppani often remarks in his talks and explains in his Muscle Building Nutrition Rules, while there are essential amino acids (protein) and essential fats — there are no essential carbs. “Our body makes carbs quite effectively. Even our kidneys can perform gluconeogenesis. We’re well equipped to provide glucose to our body.”
While this is an important fact when it comes to low-carb dieting, it’s also important to remember when confronting this myth. When the body breaks protein down into its constituents — amino acids — it’s providing itself not only with raw material for building muscle, but also fuel that can be used for energy.
A lot of this myth is based on a misunderstanding regarding how the body responds to different forms of training. For example, during high-intensity exercise like resistance training, the body tends to rely on glycogen in muscle tissue to produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP), while aerobic activity like low-intensity steady-state cardio relies more on oxygenation of free fatty acids released from stored fat.
However, as referenced above, protein serves more purpose than merely triggering muscle protein synthesis and providing material for muscle repair, a fact borne out by studies that have proven higher protein intake boosts endurance during high-intensity training.
So while you can’t blame a low-energy day squarely on the shoulders of a low-protein diet, it could well be one reason why your energy levels are failing you during your workouts. Simply put, once broken down from whole protein, amino acids fight fatigue and contribute to your overall energy levels.
Myth: “You should cut protein if your goal is fat loss!”
Reality: A high-protein diet can actually boost fat loss
This myth is particularly egregious, as believing it could have the opposite of its claimed effect. Not only does protein rarely contribute to fat gain, the opposite is true — a high-protein diet can boost your fat-loss efforts.
In one study cited by Dr. Stoppani, “trained subjects were given one of two daily protein intake levels — 1 gram per pound of bodyweight or 1.5 grams — while following an 8-week training program. Because of the higher protein intake, the 1.5-gram group also consumed around 500 calories more per day, which makes sense.
The results of the study showed similar muscle gain between those consuming 1 gram of protein per pound daily and those consuming 1.5 grams — both groups gained an average of about 3 pounds of muscle over the eight weeks.
But here’s the key results from the study: The 1.5-gram group lost an average of 5 pounds of body fat during the eight weeks in addition to gaining muscle, while the 1-gram group showed no significant fat loss. Let me repeat these facts for emphasis: The group consuming 50% more protein and 500 more calories per day lost an average of 5 pounds more body fat.”
Not only does adequate protein intake increase satiety — the sense of feeling full — thereby reducing appetite between meals, the digestion of protein increases thermogenesis, the body’s production of energy in the form of heat. This means that eating more protein boosts your metabolism, compared to a diet that’s low in protein and higher in fats and carbs.
Myth: “Dairy proteins will make you fat!”
Reality: Not only are dairy proteins not shown to contribute to fat gain, studies show the opposite to be true
This myth stems from the fact that dairy foods contain ample amounts of fats – especially saturated fat. However, as Dr. Stoppani has always said, saturated fat is essential for healthy hormone production. What’s more, fats like those found in milk have actually been proven to have a positive effect on health, including increased muscle growth.
The real clincher here is a recent study seeking to test the question of the myth itself: Does dairy protein lead to fat gain? What they found instead was the opposite – diets that included healthy amounts of milk, cheese, yogurt, etc. actually correlated to leaner overall body composition by all measures.
So not only is dairy protein great for muscle growth — in fact, easily the most anabolic source of protein available – but it turns out eating dairy can help keep you lean.
Myth: “Whole food protein sources are better than protein powders!”
Reality: Especially where pre- and post-workout nutrition are concerned, protein powders can be as good as – if not better – than whole food sources.
What if I told you that protein powders like JYM Supplement Science’s deliver proteins that are commonly used as food sources of protein? Many people like to argue this point, as if protein powders are some form of synthetic protein, but the truth is these powders are derived from food sources, and as such constitute food themselves. Here’s how.
There are many types of foods that are used to make protein powder. The most popular, and effective, based on research with active people and elite athletes come from milk. These foods are the source materials for powdered versions of Whey Protein Isolate, Milk Protein Isolate, and Micellar Casein.
In fact, a popular choice for advanced athletes, who want to maximize muscle gain and fat loss, is to combine these animal proteins into a blend. That’s because there is a growing body of research that now confirms that combining fast-digesting whey with at least casein protein, a slow-digesting source, is more effective for muscle growth than chugging whey protein alone, Stoppani says.
On the other hand, when looking for maximizing protein quality, while minimizing carbohydrate and fat intake, many fitness enthusiasts choose whey protein isolate, because they can get 20 grams of high-quality protein into their diet for roughly 90 calories.
Stoppani says. “Whey protein isolate, which is extremely easy to digest, contains no lactose and keeps calories low per gram of protein, has been a boon for women who realize the need to meet protein and calorie targets to build and maintain a lean body.”
Finally, fit minded people today can also meet their protein requirements with protein powders derived from real vegetable sources, such as pea, rice and soy. These whole food plant sources are then isolated to remove excess carbohydrates and deliver a cleaner tasting, easy to mix powdered product.
As you can see, by taking whole food sources of animal and plant proteins and isolating them into the proteins themselves — common challenges to maintaining a healthy high-protein diet can be avoided — namely the coincidental intake of excess fats and cholesterol.
But…make no mistake, isolating these proteins from real foods doesn't change the fact that these are the same proteins you’d be getting if you ate the foods themselves. What’s more, these powdered forms of protein are more easily digested and absorbed by the body, meaning ultimately they’re more easily utilized. In general, this isn’t so important for your daily diet, but when it comes to getting protein around your workouts it’s crucial for maximizing results. So while a varied diet is important, there are arguably times when protein powder is a better source of protein than whole foods, especially as part of a high-protein diet.
Bottom line, at the end of the day protein is protein, and protein powders are made from food sources of protein.
Myth: “High-protein diets are bad for you!”
Reality: Studies suggest that not only is a high-protein diet safe, it’s probably better for you than the current recommended daily allowance
This last myth is probably the most serious, with some going so far as to suggest that a high-protein diet will kill you Some of this is based on misunderstandings as to how the body functions, and some — as in the case cited by Dr. Stoppani – is based on plain bad science.
One of the most common forms of this myth is the idea that “protein is bad for the kidneys”. This stems from the fact that one of the kidneys’ functions is to rid the body of the waste produced from the breakdown of proteins in the body. More protein in the diet means more waste produced, meaning more work for the kidneys.
What’s often misunderstood here is the resilience of the kidneys. In study after study it’s been proven that for those with healthy kidneys, a high-protein diet has no negative effect on renal function. While those who suffer from impaired kidney function or kidney disease should be mindful of their protein intake, as the strain of increased demand on ailing kidneys could be problematic, in healthy individuals a high protein diet is safe.
As far as the study Dr. Stoppani cites, it claimed that a high-protein diet is dangerous for those aged 50–65. The flaws in this study, as Stoppani explains, are many. The data was cherry-picked, relied on the subjects’ own accounts of their diets, neglected a host of variables — but of course, the claim was sensational, and so it spread.
And that’s the case with most of these myths – they’re perpetuated because they get attention. Nearly every one of these claims sounds as if it would turn the fitness world on its ear with some amazing revelation. Sometimes it’s about going against the grain, other times it’s about strictly adhering to this or that “rule”, but at the end of the what none of them really have going for them is proof.
Without research or science to back them up, these claims fall apart under the least bit of scrutiny. But it’s a lot of work sifting through countless – and sometimes conflicting – studies in hopes of getting to the truth of the matter. Especially in the modern age, where the internet is awash in varying opinions all clamoring for attention, a little clarity can mean more than a little piece of mind.
The articles available at JimStoppani.com on topics like this provide clear arguments — supported by ample scientific evidence — that debunk and dispel every myth and rumor out there so that you can move forward with confidence, not confusion. With Dr. Stoppani’s help, arm yourself with knowledge. Reach for your goals. Get the results you deserve.
*These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease