The Biggest Myth About Protein

The Biggest Myth About Protein
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
The Biggest Myth About Protein
AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes
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There's a reason why companies plaster the word "PROTEIN" on their products: the macronutrient has a health halo. While carbohydrates and fats have both been vilified over the years, protein has remained almost entirely unscathed. This is mostly due to an invisible insinuation that is also an omnipresent myth: eating lots of protein makes you build lean muscle.

Sorry, but that's not true.

While muscles absolutely require protein to repair and grow, consuming more protein over what is recommended will not automatically make your muscles bulk up. If that were true, then the average American would be far more muscle-bound, as we consume much more protein than we need, about 100 grams per day compared to the recommended 65.

Interwoven into our notions that more protein will make us stronger is the corollary idea that protein will not make us fat. However, like carbohydrates, protein caries four calories per gram. In the body, protein is broken down into its constituent amino acids. Any amino acids not used for the body's bones, tendons, enzymes, etc. are subsequently converted to glucose (sugar) predominantly or ketones. The glucose can later be stored as fat.

So if gobbling up protein will not chisel abs or boost biceps, then what will? The answer is exercise. Lifting weights or playing sports put muscles under stress, forcing them to adapt and grow in response to the stimuli. If you're an avid exerciser, going beyond the recommended weekly amount of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity and two bouts of strength training, a little extra protein might be called for, but surprisingly, the benefits are not clear cut. Only athletes at the upper echelon, strenuously exercising almost ever day, might actually require higher amounts of protein – roughly twice what is recommended for the average adult or 1.6 grams per kilogram of body mass. For a 190-pound male, that means eating about 140 grams of protein per day. For a 160-pound female, that means eating 116 grams. Consuming anything more than that does not appear increase mauscle mass. Considering that most of us consume around 100 grams of protein per day already, those amounts are hardly out of reach.

As has always been the case, there is no dietary panacea or single supplement that will transform your body for the better. Despite this blunt truth, seductive myths are sure to persist. Studies suggest its safe to eat as much as twice the recommended daily amount of protein over the long-term, but don't expect all that extra eating to do anything to your muscles unless you're prepared to move your body.

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