By Michael Ormsbee, PhD, Florida State University
Edited by Kate Findley and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Wondrium Daily
Protein has many benefits when it comes to achieving your ideal body composition, helping you to build or maintain muscle mass while speeding up your metabolism and burning fat. Can you have too much of a good thing, though? Professor Ormsbee takes a look at popular protein myths.
High-Protein Diets and Kidney Damage
Many myths have been circulating in the popular media surrounding high-protein diets. Have you heard that a high-protein diet will destroy your kidneys? This sort of statement has been brought to our attention over the years from many media outlets.
However, you would be hard-pressed to find any reputable scientific research to support this notion, with one major exception: people who have pre-existing kidney disease. Because of this major caveat, it’s important to meet with your physician before drastically changing anything in your diet. Everybody is unique, and you want to be sure that you know what’s right for you.
Nevertheless, the media have blown this issue so far out of proportion, which has led many people to be frightened of eating or drinking protein. For the majority of the population, diets with higher amounts of protein than typically recommended are safe and effective for improving body composition.
“I’ve seen this first–hand in a number of the research studies that I’ve either directed or helped with,” Professor Ormsbee said. “And adding more protein to your diet is really a good idea.”
American Diet Protein Myth
This leads to another common myth surrounding high-protein diets. Have you heard that most people already eat a high-protein diet—particularly in the United States?
Since Americans are known as meat-eaters, and generally eat large portions, it is common to think that Americans do, indeed, eat more protein than needed. While this may be true for some individuals, we need to consider that recommendations are based on your body weight and not a one-size-fits-all recommendation.
Therefore, some Americans may eat more protein than they need; many people don’t, however. A much larger person, for example, needs to eat more protein than a smaller person just to meet the very lowest recommended protein intake.
Protein and Obesity
“For example, I collaborated on a research project where we studied middle-aged people with class 3 obesity, which is the highest level of obesity,” Professor Ormsbee said. “This means that each person in the study had a body mass index, or a weight-to-height ratio, that was greater than 40.”
Some of the people in the study did eat normal amounts of protein, but because of their large body weights, they were only eating about a quarter of the recommended daily allowance for protein, which is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.
In this scenario, despite these obese people eating protein regularly—and likely in an amount that is normal for an average-sized person—it was far too low when body weight was taken into account.
It didn’t even meet the lowest recommended dose to avoid diseases. When you consider the fact that many more recent studies tell us to eat more protein than is currently recommended—especially if you are active—then many Americans are not eating enough protein.
Therefore, although you should consult with your doctor before embarking on a high-protein diet, don’t let the myths scare you away from eating more protein. Besides helping you to build muscle and lose body fat, protein can also give you more energy throughout the day.
In other articles in this series, Professor Ormsbee explains precisely how to decide how much protein you should incorporate into your diet. You can start, though, with the minimum recommended daily allowance for protein, which is 0.36 grams per pound of body weight.
This article was edited by Kate Findley, Writer for Wondrium Daily, and proofread by Angela Shoemaker, Proofreader and Copy Editor for Wondrium Daily.
Michael Ormsbee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food, and Exercise Sciences and Interim Director of the Institute of Sports Sciences and Medicine in the College of Human Sciences at Florida State University. He received his MS in Exercise Physiology from South Dakota State University and his PhD in Bioenergetics from East Carolina University.