I wrote the first version of this article in 1995 for MuscleMedia. At that time, there was little data supporting some of my conclusions, and even less data supporting the other sides conclusions!
Almost seven years later, we now have plenty of data to support my contention that most of what people are told about the “dangers” of high protein diets is wrong. It was wrong in 1995, and it’s wrong today. In this article we will explore some of that newer research.
When it comes to the topic of nutrition there are many myths and fallacies that float around like some specter in the shadows. They pop up when you least expect them and throw a monkey wrench into the best laid plans of the hard training athlete trying to make some headway.
Of all the myths that surface from time to time, the protein myth seems to be the most deep rooted and pervasive. It just won’t go away. The problem is, exactly who, or which group, is perpetuating the “myth” cant be easily identified.
You see, the conservative nutritional/medical community thinks it is the bodybuilders who perpetuate the myth that athletes need more protein and we of the bodybuilding community think it is them (the mainstream nutritional community) that is perpetuating the myth that athletes don’t need additional protein! Who is right?
If you tell the average nutritionist you are on a high protein diet because you are an athlete they will often reply, “oh you don’t want to do that, you don’t need it and it will lead to kidney disease” without a single decent study to back up their claim!
You see they too are susceptible to the skulking myth specter that spreads lies and confusion. In this article I want to address once and for all (hopefully) the protein myth as it applies to what the average person is told when they tell their doctor or some anemic “all you need are the RDAs” spouting nutritionist that he or she is following a high protein diet.
Myth #1 “High protein diets are bad for your kidneys”
For starters, the negative health claims of the high protein diet on kidney function is based on information gathered from people who have preexisting kidney problems, which has little to no relevance to healthy athletes. You see one of the jobs of the kidneys is the excretion of urea (generally a non toxic compound) that is formed from ammonia (a very toxic compound) which comes from the protein in our diets.
People with serious kidney problems have trouble excreting the urea placing more stress on the kidneys and so the logic goes that a high protein diet must be hard on the kidneys for healthy athletes also. Now for the medical and scientific facts.
There is not a single scientific study published in a reputable peer – reviewed journal using healthy adults with normal kidney function that has shown any kidney dysfunction what so ever from a high protein diet. Not one of the studies done with healthy athletes that examined this issue, or other research I have read, has shown any kidney abnormalities at all. For example, a recent study that examined the renal (kidney) function of athletes who follow a high protein diet–that is protein intake well above the US RDA– found no negative effects of a higher protein intake on the kidney function of these athletes.
The study called “Do Regular High Protein Diets Have Potential Health Risks on Kidney Function in Athletes? (International Journal of Sport Nutrition, 10 {1}) examined the kidney function of bodybuilders and other well-trained athletes following a high and medium protein diet.
The athletes underwent a 7-day nutrition record analysis as well as blood sample and urine collection to determine if their high-medium protein intakes affected their kidney function. The study found the athletes had renal clearances of creatinine, urea, albumin, and glomular filtration rates that were within the normal range.
The authors concluded “there were no correlations between protein intake and creatinine clearance, albumin excretion rate, and calcium excretion rate.” Furthermore, animals studies done using high protein diets also fail to show any kidney dysfunction in healthy animals.
One study that looked at the effects of a high protein diet on older dogs (“Effects of aging and dietary protein intake on uninephrectomized geriatric dogs.” Am J Vet Res 1994 Sep;55(9):1282-90) found not only did a high protein diet have no ill effects on the dogs kidneys, the dogs getting the higher protein intakes lived longer! Now don’t forget, in the real world, where millions of athletes have been following high protein diets for decades, there has never been a case of kidney failure in a healthy athlete that was determined to have been caused solely by a high protein diet.
If the high protein diet was indeed putting undo stress on our kidneys, we would have seen many cases of kidney abnormalities, but we don’t nor will we. From a personal perspective as a trainer for many top athletes from various sports, I have known bodybuilders eating considerably more than the RDA recommends (above 600 grams a day) who showed no kidney dysfunction or kidney problems and I personally read the blood tests! Bottom line? Higher than RDA intakes of protein will have absolutely no ill effects on the kidney function of a healthy athlete,
period.
So far, the data continues to support what we in the sports nutrition/bodybuilding field have been saying for decades, higher than RDA intakes of protein are perfectly healthy for athletes and their kidneys. Now of course too much of anything can be harmful and I suppose it’s possible a healthy person could eat enough protein over a long enough period of time to effect kidney function, but it is very unlikely and has yet to be shown in the scientific literature in healthy athletes or “regular” people for that matter.
Myth #2 “High protein diets cause Osteoporosis”

So what about the osteoporosis claim? That’s a bit more complicated but the conclusion is the same. In fact, recent data not only totally debunks this myth, but shows it may be the other way around!
The pathology of osteoporosis involves a combination of many risk factors and physiological variables such as macro nutrient intakes (carbs, proteins, fats), micro nutrient intakes (vitamins, minerals, etc), hormonal profiles, lack of exercise, gender, family history, and a few others.
The theory is that high protein intakes raise the acidity of the blood and the body must use minerals from bone stores to “buffer” the blood and bring the blood acidity down, thus depleting one’s bones of minerals. Though some early studies appeared to show higher protein intakes caused an excretion of calcium, which would ultimately lead to bone loss, recent studies have debunked that assertion and do not support the claim that higher than RDA intakes of protein will lead to bone loss (“Excess dietary protein may not adversely affect bone.” J Nutr 1998 Jun;128(6):1054-7).
Even if there was a clear link between a high protein diet and osteoporosis in all populations (and there is not) athletes have few of the above risk factors as they tend to get plenty of exercise, calories, minerals, vitamins, and have positive hormonal profiles.
Fact of the matter is, studies have shown athletes to have denser bones than sedentary people, there are millions of athletes who follow high protein diets without any signs of premature bone loss, and we don’t have ex athletes who are now older with higher rates of osteoporosis. What about regular people? One prominent researcher did an exhaustive review of the literature called “Optimal Intakes of Protein in the Human Diet” (Millward DJ .Proc Nutr Soc 1999 May;58(2):403-13) and came to some interesting conclusions on the issue. The study outlined an extensive body of recent data showing that high protein diets may in fact be beneficial for reducing blood pressure and stroke mortality. On the matter of bone loss, the review paper concludes “For bone health the established views of risk of high protein intakes are not supported by newly-emerging data, with benefit indicated in the elderly.”
Interestingly, a large body of research is now showing that the elderly may in fact require higher intakes of protein that is currently being recommended (“Increased protein requirements in elderly people: new data and retrospective reassessments.Am J Clin Nutr 1994 Oct;60(4):501-9).
Of course some will tell you that eating meat will increase bone loss, but a recent study 572 women and 388 men between the ages of 55 and 92 years, actually found animal protein consumption was associated with an increase in bone density over vegetable proteins! (Am J Epidemiol 2002;155:636-644.). So how long will it take for the conservative medical/nutritional community to give up on this myth that higher than RDA intakes or protein will make your bones turn into saw dust? I have no idea but clearly it’s untrue.
Myth #3 “All proteins are created equal”
How many times have you heard or read this ridiculous statement? Here has been such a plethora of research over the years showing different proteins can have different biological effects, I think even the most conservative people are letting go of this myth.
For example, whey protein has been shown to improve immunity to a variety of challenges and intense exercise has been shown to compromise certain parts of the immune response that whey may combat, and we know proteins such as soy, casein, etc. have many of their own unique effects.
So, this may be one myth that is finally put to rest with 99.9% of the myth perpetrators, but I am sure there is one die hard out there some place.
Myth #4 “Athletes don’t need extra protein”
Interestingly, there has not been much new research of note on this topic since I wrote the first version of this article in 1995. Now the average reader person is probably thinking “who in the world still believes that ridiculous statement?” The answer is a great deal of people, even well educated medical professionals and scientists who should know better, still believe this to be true.
Don’t forget, the high carb, low fat, low protein diet recommendations are alive and well with the average nutritionist, doctor, and of course the “don’t confuse us with the facts” media following close behind.
For the past half century or so scientists using crude methods and poor study design with sedentary people have held firm to the belief that bodybuilders, strength athletes of various types, runners, and other highly active people did not require any more protein than Mr. Potato Head…..err, I mean the average couch potato.
For those of you who may need a brush up, one review paper on the subject by one of the top researchers in the field (Dr. Peter Lemon) states “…These data suggest that the RDA for those engaged in regular endurance exercise should be about 1.2-1.4 grams of protein/kilogram of body mass (150%-175% of the current RDA) and 1.7 – 1.8 grams of protein/kilogram of body mass per day (212%-225% of the current RDA) for strength exercisers” (“Is increased dietary protein necessary or beneficial for individuals with a physically active life style?” Nutr. Rev. 54:S169-175, 1996).
Another group of researchers in the field of protein metabolism have came to similar conclusions repeatedly (“Evaluation of protein requirements for trained strength athletes.” J. Applied. Phys. 73(5): 1986-1995, 1992.) They found that strength training athletes eating approximately the RDA/RNI for protein showed a decreased whole body protein synthesis (losing muscle jack!) on a protein intake of 0.86 grams per kilogram of bodyweight.
They came to an almost identical conclusion as that of Dr. Lemon in recommending at least 1.76g per kilogram of bodyweight per day for strength training athletes for staying in positive nitrogen balance/increases in whole body protein synthesis.
They concluded “In summary, protein requirements for athletes performing strength training are greater than sedentary individuals and are above the current Canadian and US recommended daily protein intake requirements for young healthy males.”
This same group found in later research that endurance athletes also need far more protein than the RDA/RNI and that men catabolize (break down) more protein than women during endurance exercise. Although there has been some well thought out criticisms of the above conclusions for a variety of reasons, and the exact amount of protein each person needs depends on many factors (i.e. intensity and duration of exercise, age, whether the person is a beginner or experienced athlete, etc.), that people engaged in regular exercise require greater than the RDA in protein to get optimal effects, is without question in my view.
Conclusion

Now my intention of presenting the above quotes from the current research is not necessarily to convince the average athlete that they need more protein than Joe shmoe couch potato, because they already know they do, but rather to bring to the readers attention some of the figures presented by the current research since I wrote the first version of this article.
How does this information relate to the eating habits of the average athlete and the advice that has been found in the lay bodybuilding literature years before this research ever existed?
With some variation, the most common advice on protein intakes that could be-and can be- found in the bodybuilding magazines by the various writers, coaches, bodybuilders, etc., is one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day.
So for a 200 pound guy that would be 200 grams of protein per day. Although a tad higher than the research we have to go on at this time, it’s still an easy to follow time tested formula that clearly has no negative heath ramifications. Over the years the above myths have been floating around for so long they have just been accepted as true, even though there is little to no research to prove it and a whole bunch of research that disproves it!
I hope this article has been helpful in clearing up some of the confusion for people over the myths surrounding protein and athletes.

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20 Comments
  1. Branden Beder 9 years ago

    Hey, I’m having difficulties loading your web site. Only close to 50 percent of this post appears to load, and the rest is just blank. I’m not really sure why…. but you might want to look it over. I will check back later on, that could be just a temporary server error.

  2. Zack 9 years ago

    I've heard people say the norm is 1 gram per pound of lean mass, and NOT per pound of body weight. Due to how much fat they have. So a 200 pound guy if he's at 20% body fat, needs 160g of protein, not 200. Should it be per pound of weight or per pound of lean mass? Wouldn't the numbers be a little out of proportion if a person were really heavy? Does a 260 pound fat man need the same protein as a 260 pound bodybuilding competitor? Doesn't fat play a role in protein needs?
    Thanks!

    • Author
      willbrink 9 years ago

      As the vid covers, it's a moot issue as you have to get calories from some place anyway. 160 vs 200, is 40gram difference, which is just added to the total cals you have to take in anyway. Yes, the 1g per lb of BW is generally intended for lean athletic types where calculating it on LBM would make a minor difference, if the person is lean. Article above gives specific figures based on the studies, but the point of the vid was, people over think the issue!!!

  3. Sean 9 years ago

    Good post to debunk those myths. Like you said, I can’t believe that there are medical professionals still believing some of these. My personal experience is that whey pre and post workout with waxy maize or dextrose works great. I also do another post workout shake 45-60 mins after the first one. Whenever I do that it feels as though I keep the pump a lot longer and feel fuller for the next couple days as long as the rest of the eating schedule goes well. If I don’t have the whey shake but instead get a typical high protein, high carb meal I don’t feel nearly as full.
    I judge everything by the hanes t-shirt test. If it feels tighter that means I’m bigger and whatever I’ve done something right =)

  4. bob johnson 8 years ago

    wow this is a great blog! i love your theme, did you have to pay for it? or was it free?

  5. Andy 8 years ago

    Your argument to me is quite ignorant. How long have you gone without meat? Maybe you should let go of what you believe and experience it and see how you feel! I am proud to say that I still believe in the protein myth – what a lot of shit it is to believe that we need to eat animal protein every day. What deep deep ignorance! Unfortunately, most meat eaters are simply conditioned to eating meat and they will keep repeating old information to support their views.

    • Author
      Will Brink 8 years ago

      My “argument” is backed by the science that exists. Yours, not so much, Supply the hard data that counters anything I said if you have the science/med background, and keep your personal hyperbole vege positions to yourself please.

      • Oliver 6 years ago

        Will, if you really had science behind you – you would know that we make our own proteins – you can’t use the protein molecule from a cow say, in your body – it don’t work that way. Sorry to turn your whole protein world upside down – but, that’s chemistry for you.

  6. Cisco 7 years ago

    Thanks for sharing this information – so whats your take on protein per kg bodyweight? I read an article earlier this week whereby this guy recommends way more like 1.6-1.8 gr protein per lb bodyweight – what do you think about that? thanks and looking forward to read more informative articles by you thanks
    cisco

  7. harry 7 years ago

    hi! will nice article as always…but what about the new trend of the protein absorption? limits the whey consume up to 15gr per dose for 90 minutes? does this rule applies to a 300lbs monster like ronnie coleman and a 170lbs athlete? isnt the body a great machine that adapts to new stimulants and states? (doses,portions,etc.)
    thanks a lot!

  8. Kevin 7 years ago

    I read a book by former professional bodybuilder Mike Mentzer titled “Heavy Duty Nutrition” and as much as I appreciate that most people say that a bodybuilder needs a gram of protein per pound of bodyweight, Mike Mentzer maintains that we only need 1 gram of protein above our recommended daily allowance on page 5 of his book. Have you seen his physique!

    • Author
      Will Brink 7 years ago

      As he’s been dead for a number of years, his physique is probably not looking so good. But seriously, he wrote his book many years ago and his recs debunked by the science totally since then. As for his physique, great genetics and plenty of steroids is not proof of concept. Other larger and better bbers ate far more protein, does that mean they know more than Mike? Nope… 🙂

  9. Oliver leslie James 7 years ago

    The true myth about protein — is that protein only comes from within – the body makes it, only. Protein is a product of RNA/DNA translation dynamics put forth by genetic coding.Your body makes all the proteins it needs and relegates them around the body to perform their specifc functions – collagen, testoterone, insulin etc. You can’t eat a protein and it will go to make your hair do what ever or your muscles grow.
    The question to vegetarians as to how they get their protein without having any animal foods is really ignorant based on decades of false marketing and true chemists stepping up and saying wait a minute…
    A lab can make protein as well (enzymes, steroids, insulin etc) but it must be used, in the case of steroids and enzymes, by injection directly into the blood, tissue or muscle. And even then the effect is challenged.
    Hate to restructure your thinking of seven plus years but you will benefit in the long run to know the truth about protein and pretty much all nutrients which are made the same way.

    • Author
      Will Brink 7 years ago

      Your comments are nonsensical and show a sever ignorance of basic human physiology and even basic nutrition. If you think humans can survive on no protein (and no, vegetarians don’t do it either BTW…), try zero protein diet for a while and see what happens.
      Please supply any published data in a modern peer reviewed sci med journal published by said “true chemists” showing humans require no dietary protein.
      I suggest you try a basic Nutri 101 course.
      Good luck

      • Oliver 6 years ago

        You want data in a science peer reviewed journal? Try any book on chemistry. Nutrition 101 books are written by nutritionists – who are not chemists or biologists etc. They may have taken a crash course in science for their degree requirements but years of study, research and lab work they have none!
        Which protein is not made in the body – Keratin, collagen? How about insulin? Over 120,000 proteins are made in the body by the body for the body.
        Pick a protein, any protein – and google “How is keratin (say) synthesized in the body”. There you will see your answer laid out in science terms – terms not familiar to nutritionists.

  10. Doug 7 years ago

    you comment that Soy protein has unique qualities of its own. My wife has just gone Paleo, and she wants to switch to Soy protein. She is trying to lose weight.
    What do you think?

  11. Wallace Viagas 6 years ago

    HI Will, great article!
    there are a couple of things about protein that im trying to get clear as i get conflicting opinions and i thought you are the guy for this. When total calories and carbs are low does the body use the process of gluconeogenesis? Does this happen when in ketosis too ( fats pretty high) ?
    and if too much protein is consumed in one meal, say approx 50g with a starchy portion… how does body metabolize this protein? is excess stored as fat? is it excreted in form of urea? does it also go through gluconeogenesis or simply used up as less protein, say 20g?
    thnks for your support Will
    Wallace

  12. Oliver 6 years ago

    The only myth is that people still think we get our proteins from our foods – wrong – our bodies produce, synthesize each and every protein we have and need – all that is required is a glucose source (something that converts to glucose – vegetables, fruits, -wheat, corn, pasta, bread, potatoes, rice, etc.) Fatty acids are essential as well.
    Our cells make our proteins with mRNA dynamics.

    • Author
      Will Brink 6 years ago

      So you came back to my web page to repeat the same inaccurate claims prior made before? Please find another page to troll on. Thanx

      • Doug 6 years ago

        Who IS this Oliver guy? he sounds like the evil scientist in some of the cartoons my kid watches. Talk about comedic relief!

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