Protein Consumption Information
One of the most common reasons people give for consuming what I believe is an excessive amount of protein is to enhance athletic performance. Many people are being told by personal trainers, coaches, and other fitness experts, that increased protein consumption will help them to become more muscular and improve performance.
This is a myth, and a dangerous one, and it is generally perpetuated by people with little or no solid nutrition training.
Overall, protein recommendations are too high. Studies documenting human protein requirements have consistently found them to be at around 10-35 grams per day. The average American consumes 100-120 grams per day. In North America, 70% of protein consumption is in the form of animal foods – elsewhere, 84% comes from plant foods. Even people who consume a completely vegan diet are consuming around 60-80 grams of protein per day, much more than is required.
A bodybuilder only needs about 7 grams of additional protein per week in order to build more lean muscle mass. However, rather than increasing just the protein component in the diet, the body builder needs more calories overall – when more calories are consumed, more protein is automatically consumed, but the ratio remains the same.
We are particularly concerned about teenage athletes, many of who take a diet already lacking in fruits and vegetables and make it worse by adding more protein, usually animal protein, to the diet. Teenagers tend to build muscle when they combine resistance training with growth spurts. In other words, there is only so much muscle development that can happen for some bodies at some times. This is seldom taken into account when dietary recommendations are made.
A varied diet containing fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts and seeds will provide about 50 grams of protein for every 1000 calories. Green vegetables are almost 50% protein, and consuming them does not increase the risk of cancer, heart disease and other degenerative conditions like consuming animal foods does.
Whey protein drinks and supplements are often touted as beneficial for athletes. Remember that whey protein is dairy, and, in my opinion, there is not a worse food for human consumption. According to Dr. Joel Fuhrman, one of the country’s leading experts on diet and health, whey protein added to the diet of rats increased cancers and tumors. Not surprising in view of the fact that there is enormous evidence linking dairy consumption to prostate and breast cancer. Smoothies are great foods for young athletes but the protein source should be plant-based.
Consuming more protein than your body needs is a health hazard. Excess protein is stored as fat or excreted through the kidneys. Eliminating the excess nitrogen it produces is stressful to the kidneys and can cause de-mineralization of the bones and tissues. Animal protein increases acidity in the body which promotes bone loss and helps disease thrive. A healthy body is alkaline.
In addition to increasing protein, athletes are often encouraged to take a variety of supplements and steroids. This is an equally bad plan, as some of these supplements are dangerous.
Young athletes, particularly serious ones, often make terrible choices about diet in order to improve performance in the short term, without regard to the long-term consequences. By way of example, out of the more than 600 German Olympic athletes on the 1964 team, fewer than 10 are still alive today. Based on the average age of athletes participating in the Olympics, this represents an enormous number of people dying prematurely.
The proper way to develop a muscular body is to combine resistance training with a healthy, plant-based diet. Athletes who choose to practice vegetarianism can become just as muscular as their meat-eating counterparts and many famous, world class athletes have been vegetarians. A diet that is 90% plant based with small amounts of animal origin food has been found to be healthful and consistent with disease prevention. It is not necessary to destroy one’s health in order to enhance athletic performance.
Prepared by: Toni Branner, MA Exercise Physiologist/Tina Marie Mendieta, MS,RD/LDN