Remember the show Mythbusters where two guys would go around testing ridiculous myths and movie stunts to see what was really possible? Well, we are going to try our own myth busting here at the Daily Tonic every now and then and tackle some misconceptions that are floating around in the health space. There will be less explosions and high speed stunts in this version of Mythbusters, but we are excited nonetheless. First up—protein. Let’s dive in.
As a Daily Tonic reader, you probably already know that protein is a very important macronutrient when it comes to optimizing your health. If you are aiming for fat loss, protein will help keep you satiated and make it more difficult for you to overeat.
If you are trying to build or maintain muscle mass, protein is essential since it serves as the building block for lean muscle. Truthfully, this specific goal shouldn’t really be an “if.” We should all be working to build or at least maintain the muscle mass we have in order to build a hedge against the musculoskeletal degradation that is inevitable as we age.
And even if fat loss or muscle gain aren’t big focuses for you and you are just trying to feel good and eat for longevity, protein consumption will be key since it plays such an important role in hormone function.
So what are some of the myths around protein that we can start busting?
One “fact” that gets thrown around is that you can only absorb 30 grams of protein per meal. As with so many things health or nutrition related, protein absorption actually varies widely and is highly dependent on the individual protein source. For example, you could have a post workout meal that contains over 50g of protein, yet some of that could come from a slow digesting piece of steak and some of that protein could come from a faster digesting protein shake. It is silly to say that you will only absorb 30g of protein from this meal, because different protein sources will digest at different rates.
To put it simply—there is no real set cap to protein absorption based on intake. Is there a point where you are simply getting too much protein in one sitting? Sure, but this number will depend on many factors. 30g of protein is actually a pretty good minimum for most people to aim for at every meal, rather than some imaginary ceiling capping how much your body can use at any one time.
Which leads us into the next myth to bust—too much protein can be bad for your kidneys. Ehh… There is actually zero evidence that protein can harm a healthy kidney. Even in cases of people with kidney disease, it isn’t clear that low protein diets help reduce mortality, but more research is definitely needed. If your kidneys are healthy, this myth is pretty much busted.
You would need to be consuming an excess of 3 to 4 grams per kilogram of bodyweight to even begin to challenge the kidneys ability to process excess nitrogen. That would mean that a 175 lbs person would need to consume 240g to 320g of protein to get into an area that would maybe raise some red flags. If you have never tracked your macronutrients before, let’s just say that is A LOT of protein… like 5-6 steaks a day worth of protein.
And finally, here is a vegan friendly myth we can bust. You will hear a lot in the carnivore and keto crowd say that you cannot build muscle on a plant-based diet. Well, it turns out that you can consider that myth busted as well. Studies have shown that total protein intake is what matters when it comes to building and maintaining muscle, not so much whether that protein comes from animal or plant sources.
Now, the problem with plant-based diets and protein intake is that it can be very difficult to hit the adequate amount of protein without over consuming calories or simply struggling to put down the amount of food you would need in order to hit your protein goal. After all, there are only so many lentils one can eat. Animal-based protein sources are better for a variety of reasons, but at the end of the day it is possible to build muscle using plant-based protein sources.
The key takeaway? We have said it many times and we will say it again—protein is so important for all of us to prioritize when building our meals. With that said, there can be a lot of conflicting information out there to navigate through.
So remember—there is no set cap on how much protein you can absorb per meal, too much protein does not actually tax your kidneys, and while not ideal, it is possible to build and maintain muscle using plant-based protein sources.