T/F – You need lots of protein to build muscles.
T/F – If you don’t get enough protein, you’ll be weak and frail.
T/F – You need to eat meat to get a complete protein.
T/F – If you are vegan/plant based, food combining is important to get a complete protein.
T/F – High protein diets are the best way to lose fat and build muscle.
T/F – If you are vegan/plant based you probably need protein bars/powders to supplement.
So, which of the above statements are true?
I’m going to take this time to go into a little greater depth about what is fact and what is fiction with regard to protein. There is a lot of information to dispel here, as the protein industry is highly contaminated with fallacy and has been for decades. These protein myths have been created by the meat and dairy industries years ago, and still have quite a tight hold on many of us.
Each protein is made of a unique strand of amino acids. While there are literally billions of different proteins, there are only 20 different amino acids. Each one of these 20 amino acids is a nitrogen-based compound (as opposed to the carbon-based carbohydrates) with a unique molecular structure. Think of the amino acids like letters of the alphabet, and proteins like words or phrases that are spelled out. Of the 20 amino acids, 11 can be synthesized within the body with raw materials, and 9 must be taken in from dietary sources. These 9 essential amino acids are histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine.
With most things in nature, the production of amino acids is an incredibly complex miracle. As I mentioned, amino acids are nitrogen-based compounds. The nitrogen to create amino acids comes from the earth. Nitrogen is taken up through the roots of plants and ‘fixed’ into amino acids by bacteria. Our existence on this earth is dependent upon the symbiotic relationship between these soil borne bacteria and plants. Most plants contain all 20 of the amino acids, synthesized with the help of the nitrogen fixing microbes. The amino acid content in plants is obviously dependent upon the nitrogen content in the soil. Side note: When farming/gardening, this is the reason why composting is so crucial, as it reintroduces nitrogen back into the soil, along with other essential minerals and bacteria that support this process.
If you’re still with me, I hope you are asking yourself, “but, I thought protein is in meat, not plants.”
If you’ve followed the basic facts about amino acid production, then you can come to the conclusion yourself that eating meat is not necessary to get dietary protein. If you do eat meat, it is simply a middle man to your protein source.
It has been known for over 100 years that animal products are associated with acid production in the body. This is due to the shear volume of amino acids in meat, as well as the high prevalence of sulfur containing amino acids, methionine and cysteine, which create sulfuric acid when broken down. Chronic exposure to such “acidic foods” (as in the standard american diet of our times) causes a low grade metabolic acidosis. This physiologic state is far from optimal. In fact, it is known to result in increased calcium and phosphorus loss from bones, ultimately leading to osteopenia/osteoporosis and increased fracture risk. Additionally, a state of metabolic acidosis from diets high in animal protein actually cause breakdown of muscle! Muscle proteins are broken down to release ammonia to buffer the acid and excrete through the urine.
The better question is, “How much protein do I really need?” This is a great question! The RDA for protein is .8 grams per kg body weight. They used to say that the average man was about 70kg/156lb (I don’t know how long ago this statistic was determined!). Nowadays, the average male is 195.7lb. Humans are growing, and it is not in height or muscle mass! Do we need to increase protein requirements to meet our increased body mass? I don’t think so. In fact, doing so can be detrimental to health.
If you’ve made it this far, you have learned that protein supplementation is not needed, and could, in fact, be counterproductive and detrimental. Even if your goal is muscle building, it is important that you fuel your muscle cells with their preferred fuel source, glucose from carbohydrates. You will not be deficient in the amino acid building blocks required to build muscle.
The protein and supplement industry continues to capitalize on a brainwashed society. When you look at almost any food label you may see high protein as a selling point for many products. Don’t be fooled! While protein is not inherently bad, you now know that excess protein is simply not needed, and can actually be detrimental.
When I eat food, my main consideration is how is my food going to create cellular energy. Knowing that carbohydrates/glucose is the preferred fuel source by all cells of the body, I choose foods accordingly. I eat foods that create cellular energy while also bringing vitamins, minerals, and essential phytochemicals into my body. Protein is never a focus for me, as I trust the foods that I eat will provide the amino acids my body needs for growth, repair, and optimal physiologic function.
The RDA for protein is .8 gram per kg body weight (about 50 grams for a 150 lb adult) – this amount is very easy to obtain with plants alone!Protein needn’t be the focus of any healthy diet. Instead, simply shift the focus to whole plant foods – you surely will NOT be protein deficient. High protein diets are associated with most every chronic disease as well as decreased kidney functionMinimize animal protein consumption to achieve your health goals – these protein sources are highly correlated with cancer and heart diseaseProtein is not needed to build big muscles – instead focus on whole food sources of carbohydrates, minerals, hydration, and most importantly, using your muscles!
Blessing of Health,
Dr. Benjamin Alter