Protein seems to cop a lot of misunderstanding. It’s seen as an essential food source but often only thought of as being important for only body builders. So, what is right and wrong in the world of protein? Here are 5 common protein misconceptions.
Myth 1: I only need to eat more protein if I want to bulk up
Put simply, we all need to eat enough protein regularly for muscle repair, maintenance and growth, along with hormone and enzyme production and skin repair. Every cell in our body has - and needs - protein. We may need more protein at various times during our life, such as for wound healing, recovery post surgery, during growth spurts and as we age to maintain muscle mass. So extra protein is required for those that want to bulk up, along with many other times in our life too. (1)
Myth 2: muscle loss is just for the oldies
It’s commonly thought that muscle loss only affects you later on in life. Not true, your muscle mass starts to decline after the age of 30 years! Age-related muscle loss is called sarcopenia and, although loss of muscle is slower in your earlier years, it is still a downhill trend, unless you take steps to try and combat it. (2)
So, what can you do to try and reduce this? The simple answer is eating enough protein and total kilojoules to fuel your body and spare protein for muscle building and repair along with taking part in regular exercise. Keep active, eat well and combine formal planned exercise like strength and resistance training with general daily activities.
Myth 3: more protein equals more muscle
Your body needs around 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, depending on your life stage - with some people requiring greater protein amounts than others (e.g. children, pregnant women, intense strength training devotees, people experiencing sickness and those over 70 years of age).(3)
However, you only need to eat enough protein to meet your daily requirements. Once this requirement is achieved, you are unable to stimulate your body to continue to produce more muscle simply by eating more protein.
Recent studies suggest that 0.25-0.4 grams (4) of protein/kg of body weight/meal is the dose needed to stimulate muscle growth. Ingesting more than this in one sitting will not produce further muscle growth.
Myth 4: I eat meat every day, so I get enough protein
If you weigh 75kg and your body needs 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, then your daily protein need is around 120 grams. (3)
A 150 grams serving of meat will provide about 30 grams of protein, which is enough for one meal but not for the day. You will need another three 30 grams serves to achieve your optimal daily protein requirement. You can get protein from a number of other sources, such as fish, cereal and cereal-based foods, dairy foods, legumes, nuts and seeds, for a variety of ways to increase your protein intake as part of your fitness regime.
Myth 5: eating one protein meal per day is sufficient
It is best to spread your protein intake out into doses over the day. This helps to reduce muscle breakdown and stimulate growth. Try 20-40 gram doses of protein 3 or 4 times across the day (5). Breakfast can be a tricky time to get your protein fix, especially if you usually just have toast with a spread. Try adding milk, yoghurt, eggs, nut spread, baked beans and…even oats and some cereals are great sources of protein.
- Carbone JW, Pasiakos SM. Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit. Nutrients. 2019;11(5):1136. Published 2019 May 22. doi:10.3390/nu11051136
- Volpi E, Nazemi R, Fujita S. Muscle tissue changes with aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004;7(4):405-410. doi:10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2
- Schoenfeld, B.J., Aragon, A.A. How much protein can the body use in a single meal for muscle-building? Implications for daily protein distribution. J Int Soc Sports Nutr 15, 10 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12970-018-0215-1
- Vliet SV, Beals JW, Martinez IG, Skinner SK, Burd NA. Achieving Optimal Post-Exercise Muscle Protein Remodeling in Physically Active Adults through Whole Food Consumption. Nutrients. 2018;10(2):224. Published 2018 Feb 16. doi:10.3390/nu10020224
- Loenneke JP, Loprinzi PD, Murphy CH, Phillips SM. Per meal dose and frequency of protein consumption is associated with lean mass and muscle performance. Clin Nutr. 2016;35(6):1506-1511. doi:10.1016/j.clnu.2016.04.002