4 Myths About Protein That You Need to Stop Believing

4 Myths About Protein That You Need to Stop Believing
There are lots of strange "facts" about protein. What's true and what's broscience? Learn which protein myths need to die (plus research to back it up!)

Protein is my favorite macro.

Why?

Because steak is awesome, protein shakes are the greatest invention of the 20th century, and I like building muscle.

So naturally, I get a little frustrated when people spread falsehoods about my favorite macro.

Related: 43 Easy High Protein Recipes!

Now, seeing that I am a scientist and I value the truth, I think I should stand in on behalf of protein and defend it against some of the popular myths about it.

1. Protein Wreaks Havoc on your Kidneys

“Go easy on the protein shakes bro, you are going to wreck your kidneys.”

If I had a dollar for every time I heard or read that protein was going to hurt my kidneys…. well… I would probably be retired and blogging full time.

Recently, Dr. Jose Antonio did a study to answer the following question, “Basically, if we stuff you full of protein (like 4g/kg a day) what happens to your kidneys and your blood tests?”

Well it turns out that if you take healthy young men and cram them full of protein and have them lift weights, their kidneys are just fine and it had no effect on their blood work1.

These people ate about 270 grams of protein a day for 8 weeks and their kidneys and blood were just fine.

This myth really, really needs to die.

4 Myths About Protein That You Need to Stop Believing: Protein won't hurt your kidneys

2. Protein Makes your Bones Brittle

For some reason some doctors and scientists got some nonsense in their heads about protein making your blood acidic and that it caused calcium to be “leached” from your bones to buffer out your blood, effectively making your bones brittle and weak.  Turns out, that is entirely untrue, the hypothesis has been refuted by several lines of evidence.

First, a study directly addressing this question found that a diet high in protein had no change in biomarkers of bone resorption or formation, indicating that a high protein diet has no adverse effects on bone health2. This evidence supports the notion that high-protein diets are not detrimental to bone health.

Second, we know that high-protein diets actually increase calcium absorption in the digestive tract, and increased blood calcium elicits calcitonin release from the thyroid and promotes calcium deposition in bone tissue. To this point, there have been several studies supporting the idea that increased intestinal calcium absorption due to high-protein diets may actually improve bone health3,4,5.

3. High Protein Diets make you Gain Weight

I thought of a lot of clever ways to put this, but to quote one of the most prolific high protein diet researchers in the field (Dr. Jose Antonio):

“You gain weight. No shit. If you lift weights and eat a bucketful of protein, you will likely gain lean body mass. But here’s the kicker. If all you did was overeat on protein (i.e., in our study, subjects overfed on whey protein), you would likely lose weight. And not muscle mass my friend. You’d lose fat”.

No joke, in 2 separate studies where they overfed people protein6,7, those who took in extra calories from protein lost weight. Don’t believe me? Here is the data (data is adopted from reference 6.)

Protein Myths: Effects of high protein diet on fat mass

If you look at the data, taking in extra calories from protein actually causes you to lose weight, specifically body fat.

I guess we can bury this myth as well.

4. High Protein Diets Make You Stink

Another common myth that circulates around the interwebz is that high protein diets make you smell funny. Well… this can be true but not for the reasons most people think.

First, in a lot of the anecdotal stories of people smelling bad from high protein diets, it is because they immediately assume that to eat high-protein you have to be low-fiber, low-carb, and low-fat. So yes, if you eat a high protein, low-carb, low-fat diet, your sweat might smell like ammonia due to all the urea you sweat out when you train hard.

There is a really easy solution to that. Eat some carbs and eat some fat.

Related: Why Ketogenic Diets Aren't a Fat Loss Miracle

There have also been some reports of high protein diets causing people to have bad breath… I hear toothbrushes and tooth paste work great for keeping your mouth clean and smelling fresh.

Step Your Knowledge Whey Up

You may not be the biggest and brightest bro on the block, but after reading this article, you should be armed with the knowledge to combat even the vilest science offender.

Exercise science is an ever evolving field, so in order to keep up with the latest research, you must be willing to set aside your personal biases in order to question long standing myths.

Don’t just take my word for it though, dig into the studies and take the time to think critically. Information can’t always be spoon fed and if you want the full picture, it’s going to take time to dissect the details.

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About The Author
Brad is a research scientist, nutrition coach, and aspiring Olympic weightlifter. He received his M.S. in biomechanics and his Ph.D. in exercise physiology. His goal is to bridge the gap between science and the public and to bring the best information to the industry.

6 Comments+ Post Comment

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 02/20/2016 - 22:31
Marty Hughes

I'm sorry. I'm living proof that protein shakes and protein powder do cause damage to your kidneys. I had to get off of this product because it did affect more than just my kidneys. It literally wreaks havoc on your body including making you gain unnecessary weight. This all happened in my 20s when I was young and when supposedly nothing is going to bother you because you can take anything at that young period in your life. Wake up folks and just live a clean bodybuilding life by eating clean and not succumbing to all the market 'jazz'.

MikeWines's picture
Posted Mon, 02/22/2016 - 12:01
MikeWines

Marty,
If you're a healthy individual without a dairy allergy or intolerance than protein powder was not the issue. If you were gaining weight then it was due a caloric surplus, not the protein powder. The first law of thermodynamics still applies regardless of your personal biases.

Also, if you're living a "clean bodybuilding life" then you're likely eating high protein which negates any sort of argument against a protein supplement. Sure, whole foods will always be the best option when it comes to nutrition but there's wrong with whey, given the vast body of research showing its beneficial effects.

One outlier's experience doesn't determine the validity or benefit of a specific product. Look for averages, not exceptions.

MikeWines's picture
Posted Tue, 03/01/2016 - 11:02
MikeWines

Of course not, that will never be the case. Anyone who understands human physiology and nutrition would know that that is simply not the case from a logical standpoint. As I said before, whole foods will ALWAYS be your best option. (Supplemental - adj. - added to complete or make up a deficiency) Supplementation is just that, something additional which isn't always required.

There are a variety of protein "options" due to the fact that there are alot of different protein sources at present which can be manufactured into powder forms. Manufacturers have gotten smarter over the years with adding "fillers" and additional amino acids to spike the protein content within their product but those claims have slowly faded out as the industry has called for reform.

Protein powder is not any more "dangerous" to your body than a chicken breast, egg whites, or a steak. They are both broken down into their constituent amino acids within the digestive tract and processed exactly the same.

No Profile Pic
Posted Sat, 02/27/2016 - 11:34
Marty Hughes

I appreciate your comments and your opinions. I seriously do, but the fact of the matter is just look how many of these type of products are on the market today. Does that not raise a red flag for you? It's all a big marketing 'hype' to sell a product. I wasn't really speaking about just myself and how it affected me personally because it's a warning about what these products can do to anyone's body over time. If a person is truly a serious bodybuilder or simply a weightlifter then you don't need these type of products to gain size and strength. This is a documented fact.

No Profile Pic
Posted Mon, 02/08/2016 - 12:42
James

You took healthy young men in the test for kidney damage. What about healthy older men. I'm 68 lift regularly and consume protein shakes. How would this amount of protein consumption affect men of my age.

MikeWines's picture
Posted Tue, 02/09/2016 - 10:09
MikeWines

James,
As you age, insulin sensitivity, signaling pathways, and muscle enzyme activity change:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15319361
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3147900
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11134097
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16464955
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15596483

As such, slightly higher amount of leucine rich proteins should be ingested:
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16507602

Whey would be an excellent choice as it is rather rich in leucine. Here's a few other suggestions: http://nutritiondata.self.com/foods-000082000000000000000.html

Provided you have no outstanding kidney issues or a genetic predisposition to nephrology problems then you should be fine.