Over the past few months I’ve been counting down what I believe to be the top 10 myths about fitness and nutrition – in order, from least to most pertinent. So today I reveal to you the biggest, baddest myth that is so engrained in our culture I don’t know if it will ever get put to rest: Myth #1 is that you should consume extra protein when exercising.
The makers of protein shakes, powders and bars do not want you to know this: we don’t use protein for energy during exercise. Nope- we only use fat and carbohydrate. Therefore, you shouldn’t have a need to take in a protein shake, or even a large serving of meat for that matter, just because you went for a run.
I know what you’re thinking: “what about muscle repair?” We’re taught from a young age that eating protein builds big, strong muscles. And that is true, we do need protein to gain and maintain a healthy amount of lean mass. But the reality is, the amount of protein that our bodies really need is typically 1/3 of the amount of protein that most Americans eat – so most people are already getting above and beyond what they need for muscle repair. (for those of you not in the US you can easily see how much protein you eat by entering your diet for a day into any number of free nutrient analysis programs online like https://www.supertracker.usda.gov/foodtracker.aspx).
The current recommendation is .8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. That means for a person weighing 82 Kg (180 pounds), the recommendation would be 65 grams of protein daily. One large turkey sandwich with cheese has about 40 grams of protein in it. Protein is in not only meats, but dairy products, beans and grains – even bread! And in my experience working with lots of firefighters, they tend to be big meat eaters, so they get PLENTY of protein.
The recommendation for protein does increase to 1 g per kg of body weight for heavy lifters/exercisers, however, that is parallel with a higher recommendation for calories from fat and carbohydrate too. And, again, you’re likely already taking in enough protein to meet that higher recommendation anyhow.
What about if you’re trying to lose fat but gain muscle at the same time; you should be taking protein supplements right?
Not likely. Even if you are doing resistance training, powder supplements are only needed if you can’t get in enough calories in order to GAIN mass. If you have a little extra fat to spare, those reserves will burn down so your muscles have fuel to hypertrophy (get larger) in response to resistance training. At the end of the day, in order for muscles to hypertrophy, your body just needs enough fuel (calories) to make that happen, and those calories can come in the form of fat, carbohydrates or protein. Moral of the story: Eating more protein does not magically make fat melt away nor does it equal having a muscular physique.
Now I know this topic brings up a lot of questions, and I’d love to answer them, so let me know in the comments below!
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I was curious about after workouts… What should we be doing after we complete a good workout? Certain things we should eat or drink right after? Or what about after workouts not at work, like ice bath or hot tub?
Appreciate the information,
Hey Nick, great question. You need to replenish the fluids lost from sweating. Typically you can do that with just water unless you’ve sweated a ton in which case you could eat or drink anything with a little sodium in it. You will also need to replenish glycogen (carbohydrate stores) so you will want to eat something within two hours after the workout. Eating a combination of carbs and protein is best. As far as ice baths, I believe some research just came out about the ineffectiveness of that method for reduced soreness. Either ice or a hot tub will not hurt you though, so if it feels good, go for it.
I thought I read somewhere that excess protein that your body doesn’t use gets converted to fat. Is this true?
yes it is. When you take in more protein than your body needs for tissue maintenance, it has to do something with all those amino acids. They either go into urine or they get converted into fat for storage.