6 Myths and Facts About Protein and Supplements

Sep 01, 2016 • By • 29 Views

A photo posted by Caitlin Shoemaker (@frommybowl) on Aug 31, 2016 at 5:21pm PDT

Whether you are a vegetarian, a weight lifter, or a fitness buff, chances are you have considered taking a protein supplement to either support your overall health or to increase your muscle mass.

Online companies, salespersons, and malinformed health and exercise promoters don’t always get it right. In fact, sometimes the recommendations could be seriously dangerous.

In this article, we’ll review some of the common myths and misconceptions about protein supplements so that you can make better decisions about your nutrition and overall wellbeing.

First, let’s take a look at protein basics…

Proteins are made up of compounds called amino acids. The sequence of different amino acids determines the structure and function of proteins. The human body uses amino acids to make proteins that help the body digest food, grow, repair itself, and perform a range of other bodily functions.

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Some amino acids can be made by the body -- these are called non-essential amino acids.  The amino acids that cannot be made by the body are called essential amino acids; these have to come from the food we eat, and these are the most important ones to keep an eye out for if we have special protein needs.

Protein doesn’t only make up muscle. Hormones, enzmes and even parts of our blood are made up of protein. When we don’t get enough of it, not only do our muscles start to atrophy (get smaller), we could also have a range of illnesses due to a significant shift in the hormonal or enzyme balance in our bodies.

Ok, so not that we have that out of the way, let’s take a look at some common protein myths and facts.


A photo posted by Kelly Jones (@____lovebug____) on Aug 31, 2016 at 9:20pm PDT

Fact #1: Only animal proteins are “complete” proteins

Foods that contain all essential amino acids are called “complete” proteins. Only animal proteins are complete proteins (including egg and milk) but plant foods can be combined to make complete proteins.

For this reason, when you hear that peas have 8 grams of protein in a cup, it is not safe to assume that it contributes the same amount and quality of protein as a cup of Greek Yogurt, for example, just because it lists about the same amount of protein on the package. Green peas are missing some essential amino acids that are found in Greek yogurt.

Fact #2: If you consume too much protein, you can get sick

This is very true, and an important piece of information for those people who take protein supplements on a regular basis.

Only the liver can metabolize and synthesize proteins and the kidney removes circulating amino acids from the body. The recommended amount of protein for the average person with a sedentary lifestyle is 0.36 grams per poind of weight. This is amounts to about 56 grams per day for the sedentary man and about 46 grams per day for the average sedentary woman. If you work out and want to biuld muscle, a common recommendation is upping the amounf of daily protein to 1 gram per pound of weight. Only endurance athletes are expected to consume significantly more, at 0.65 grams per pound, about double the amount for the average, sedentary person.

Studies conflict each other on this subject, but in general they reveal that there is evidence that consuming significantly more protein than this could damage your liver and/or kidneys, and if you already have a liver or kidney health condition, you could induce organ failure when overdosing on protein.

Fact #3: Plant protein has more health benefits than animal protein

If you aren’t a vegetarian, you might be itching to challenging me on this one. However, recent research as demonstrated that people who consume plant protein have lower rates of heart disease and high cholesterol, in part because it delivers protein without the fat. Additionally, plant protein doesn’t have methionine, an essential amino acid that, when consumed in excess, is associated with premature ageing and cancer. The type of meat that is associated with the highest rates of illness is red meat.


Myth #1: If you depend on plant-based protein, you have to pair foods at every meal

It is true that plant-based protein sources do not have all of the essential amino acids. It is also true that in order to get the necessary amino acids you have to eat a combination of foods – like rice and beans, pasta a peas or whole wheat bread and peanut butter. However, research shows that it is no longer neccesary for you to eat these foods at the same meal. The most important thing is that you eat a variety of foods, inlcuding those that complement each other over the whole day.

Myth #2: If you work out, you need  protein supplements in order to build muscle

It is completely possible to get all of the protein you need from your food, even if you follow a high-protein diet. A 5-ounce serving of beef, for example (much less than the average serving) already has 30 grams of complete protein.

Myth #3: Protein can’t turn into fat

Protein has energy just like dietary fat and carbohydrates. In fact, it has as many calories per gram as carbohydrates – four per gram. The body doesn’t like using protein for energy as much as it likes using carbohydrates and fat, but if there is a surplus of protein, it will be metabolized and stored as fat.

For this reason, it is important to consume just as much protein as your body needs, so as not to pack on the pounds in fat, instead of muscle.

Do you have any more myths or facts I haven’t mentioned here? Share below!

About the Author

Sasha de Beausset Sasha de Beausset

Sasha de Beausset is a Nutritional Anthropologist with a B.A. from Tufts University, an M.Sc. in Food and Nutrition from the University of...