If you're a fitness-conscious person, protein is the nutritional foundation of your physique, your performance, and your overall wellness. As such, you probably think you know everything you need to know about protein. You might be wrong. Here are eight widespread myths about protein that may be keeping you from achieving your goals.
Protein isn’t as important for breakfast as it is for other meals.
When you wake up in the morning, you're at the end of your longest fast of the day. In addition to being a little dehydrated and suffering from low blood sugar levels, your body is in a negative nitrogen balance, which means it's already starting to break down muscle tissue for fuel. Given this state of affairs, a blueberry muffin or a bagel with a spread of cream cheese is not going to fill the bill for muscle support.
Breakfast offers an invaluable opportunity to maintain muscle mass while also spreading out your protein intake over a wider portion of the day. Since you can assimilate only about 20 to 30 grams of protein at any one meal, loading up on extra protein at lunch and especially dinner, while shortchanging yourself at breakfast, makes little nutritional sense since a portion of that overload of late-day protein is only going to waste. Front-loading protein intake earlier in the day will also keep you satiated longer, which will reduce the temptation to indulge in empty-calorie snacks later on. So what to do? The proliferation of microwaveable scrambled egg bowls in various recipes has made it easier than ever to augment morning protein intake. And you're not just limited to eggs and bacon or ham, either. Try adding some protein powder to your pancake batter or morning smoothie. Plant proteins like quinoa and wheat germ are fair game, too. Or you could simply drink a high-quality whey protein shake. Try to shoot for 20 grams of protein, just like you would at any other meal.
Eating protein at night will make you fat.
The golden rule that eating before you go to bed (or after 8pm) will make you fat is largely true ... if you're eating carbs. Excess carbs that are not needed for energy expenditure (as in when you're asleep) will be primarily stored as fat. Late-night protein, on the other hand, doesn't correlate with fat gain to nearly the same degree and may even help you get and stay lean. If you eat your last meal at 6pm, the protein in that meal will have been processed and assimilated by midnight. After that, your muscle tissue is bereft of amino acids and protein synthesis rates in that tissue will fall off a cliff. To avoid this fate, try adding 10 to 20 grams of a slower digesting protein like milk isolate or casein to your meal regimen just before bedtime. A superior-quality protein bar or casein formula will raise amino acid levels in your bloodstream throughout the night and maximally stimulate protein synthesis.
Egg whites are better for you than whole eggs.
The fear of egg yolks dates back to some mostly discarded beliefs about dietary fats and cholesterol prevalent in the '80s and '90s. The yolk of an egg contains almost all of the fat in an egg, about 4.5 grams, which is much more likely to be utilized by the body for energy than stored as body fat. Indeed, the consumption of healthy fats has been linked to increases in good cholesterol, decreases in bad cholesterol, and even a decreased risk of heart disease. The most recent research tells us that moderate consumption of eggs does not have a negative impact on cholesterol. The yolk of the egg is also where most of the nutritional value in an egg resides, including significant amounts of iron, folate, selenium, phosphorus, and choline. And finally, it's where a lot of the protein is. If you're tossing out the yolk, you're tossing the protein out too, without gaining anything in overall wellness. As with any aspect of diet, you don't want to over do it with eggs, but four or five eggs over the course of a week have a lot of nutritional benefit to offer (at just about 55 calories an egg) and are a lot tastier than those dull egg-white omelets you've been eating.
Most people get more than enough protein from their basic three meals a day.
Even if you are getting your full complement of protein at breakfast (see Myth #1), you've still got a challenge to face during the rest of the day when it comes to consuming enough protein. Most sports nutritionists agree that highly active people should aim for about 0.77 grams of daily protein per pound of body weight. That’s 130 grams for a 170-lb man. (Or to put it another way, that's almost 30 eggs!) And then, of course, you have to gauge assimilation over time, since a single 30-gram serving of protein will trigger a surge of protein synthesis that will last approximately three hours, but any more than that will go to waste.
So clearly, piling up steaks on your plate at dinner is not the way to go. Instead, the wise strategy is to emphasize modest portions of whole foods at meal time (chicken, fish, red meat, complex carbs) and support that regimen with targeted highly nutritious between-meal snacks. These snacks are your chance to get creative. A handful of almonds (about 20) contains a sizable 5 grams of protein. A standard 170-gram container of unsweetened Greek yogurt contains 17 grams of protein. A 100-gram serving of oatmeal offers 16 grams of protein. Not all of these food sources contain complete profiles of amino acids, but consumed in tandem with meats and whey-protein-sourced foods, they will certainly help you achieve your protein intake goal for the day, while providing needed variety to your healthy daily meal plan.
All protein bars are essentially the same.
If you're laboring under the misapprehension that all protein bars are the same, you're missing out on one of the most exciting developments in modern sports nutrition science. The newest and most advanced protein bars contain blends of the highest-quality, ultra-hydrolyzed whey protein and cold-processed, micro-filtered whey protein isolate, protein sources chosen specifically for their complete and highly-bioavailable amino profiles. They tend to be lower in sugar content and refreshingly free of the bulk fiber, sugar alcohols, and cheap fillers that gave the earliest protein bars a bad rap. Best of all, advances in ingredient quality and processing standards have resulted in a new generation of protein bars characterized by truly great flavor and texture. If you haven't bought a protein bar in quite some time, the best brands in the category are going to really surprise you!
Protein is only good for building muscle.
Yes, protein is the powerhouse of muscle gain and maintenance. But it's also a pretty handy tool for fat-loss as well. At the most basic level, protein simply requires more energy to digest. Its thermic effect is higher than that of carbs or fats, meaning that you're actually burning more calories while you're digesting it. It can also even out and alleviate the energy crashes and cravings associated with carb intake. Eating proteins in tandem with carbs slows down the absorption of sugar from stomach to bloodstream, which helps keep you satiated for longer. Finally, in the largest sense, you need muscle to turn fat into energy, and you need protein to sustain muscle mass. When you diet, your body will shed metabolically expensive muscle mass before it will sacrifice fat stores. Combining resistance exercise with increased protein intake will help to flip that script, incentivizing your body to shed fat.
You need less dietary protein as you grow older.
False! In fact, you need more. Sacropenia, or the gradual loss of muscle tissue in people over age 50, is associated with a host of health problems including insulin resistance, low bone mineral content leading to fractures, and even death. The less muscle tissue you have, the less you can do and the less vital you are. However, researchers are discovering that increased protein intake (especially when combined with resistance exercise) can help older people gain and maintain more muscle, surprisingly quickly.
At the University of Arkansas, researchers examined how four different eating plans affected the muscular health of 20 healthy adults ages 52 to 75. The researchers randomly assigned participants to one of four groups: Two groups followed the current recommended daily allowance of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The other two groups ate double the RDA (1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight). After four days, researchers found that the more protein participants ate – no matter the timing – the better their bodies were at building muscle. Specifically, those who ate double their RDA of protein increased their rates of muscle protein synthesis (the process by which cells use protein to build muscle) and improved their net protein balance (the difference between muscle protein synthesis and protein breakdown). After just four days!
Your muscles are subjected to all kinds of debilitating stress, and aging is probably the worst of them. Combine that stress with a poor diet lacking in protein and you've got a recipe for disaster. Getting up there in years? Eat your protein!
Whole food protein sources are superior to protein formulas.
If you're one of those whole foods absolutists who believe that all formulated foods are inferior, then you're ignoring the biological value of whey protein. Biological value (BV) is a measure of the proportion of absorbed protein from a food which becomes incorporated into the proteins of your body. In the whole foods realm, there are plenty of highly efficient sources of protein. Lean beef, for instance, rates an 80 on the chart. Tuna comes in at 83, chicken breast 79, milk 91, and oatmeal 55. You might think eggs top off the chart at a BV of 100. You'd be wrong. Whey protein isolate is the heavyweight of the Biological Value chart with a score of anywhere from 104 to 159, depending on purity and processing quality standards.
Have you ever had a cup of raw whey? We don't suggest it. It's a pretty bitter experience. However, whey protein isolate, as contained in the best protein formulas and protein bars, is an MVP in the dedicated athlete's nutritional arsenal. Whey protein isolate and whey protein hydrolysate contain more than 90% protein, virtually no lactose or fat, and are superior in generating increased protein synthesis and muscle recovery response. Best of all, the most advanced formulas and bars are an absolutely delicious addition to your meal regimen that you can take anywhere you go. So the answer to the Whole Foods vs. formulated proteins question is pretty simple. Both have their advantages and both will help you achieve your nutritional, physique and performance goals.
Il-Young Kim, Scott Schutzler, Amy Schrader, Horace Spencer, Patrick Kortebein, Nicolaas E. P. Deutz, Robert R. Wolfe, Arny A. Ferrando. Quantity of dietary protein intake, but not pattern of intake, affects net protein balance primarily through differences in protein synthesis in older adults. 01 Jan 2015, Amer Journal of Physiology: Endocrinology and Metabolism. doi.org/10.1152/ajpendo.00382.2014.
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