From carrots improving night vision and crunches giving you a six-pack to carbs making you gain weight, let’s face it: we’ve all heard, and probably believed, at least a few health-related myths in our time.
But when it comes to protein, the string of widely believed misconceptions seem to be never-ending. Keen to find out what’s fact from fiction? Here are 4 so-called ‘facts’ about protein you probably didn’t know were incorrect:
Myth #1: Protein should only be sourced through food, not supplements
Well, there is certainly some truth to this statement, but there’s far more to it. Do people need to take protein powder? Absolutely not. Technically speaking, if you have a balanced and healthy diet that meets your protein requirements, then no, protein powder probably isn’t a requirement for you as you’re sourcing what your body needs from whole foods (plus, food will also provide your body with other essential micro and macronutrients). However, that’s not to say people can’t take protein powder in addition to eating protein-rich foods. After all, it’s called ‘supplementation’ for a reason. Here’s why supplements can also be beneficial for reaching your protein requirements:
Believe it or not, your body requires a fair bit of protein to function and perform at its best (likely more than you actually realise, especially if you’re an active person). The problem? For many people, consuming their daily requirement of protein from whole foods might make them feel lethargic due to the filling nature of protein-rich foods, or might simply not fit into their daily schedule (ie shift workers, busy parents etc.). On the flip side, a WPI shake is a fast-digesting protein source that might be ideal for those with higher daily protein requirements who don’t like feeling full for too long. Or, for those short on time who want something more satiating, Evolve 3 Whey might be just what they need to hit their daily protein requirements. It’s worth noting, protein requirements will vary from person to person, meaning some may not find sourcing protein from their food difficult. However, those who engage in regular exercise (ie athletes) may need to call on the assistance of their good pal, protein powder.
A protein shake is easy to work with if you’re counting macros - Unlike whole foods where you also need to consider the amount of sugar, fats, carbs etc. you’re consuming in a meal, protein powders are easy to adjust to meet your macros. Whether you’re wanting to build muscle or lose weight, there are various protein powders to select from that allow you to choose between high-carbohydrates, low fats, low sugar and high protein. For those who are strict with reaching their macros, opting for protein powder may simply be an easier option, particularly if you exercise regularly and have higher protein requirements than the average person.
Protein powder is ideal for those who are short on time - The convenience factor is a big one for many of us who are constantly on the run and juggling various commitments. Let’s be real: mixing one scoop of protein powder with water or milk is undoubtedly easier than poaching chicken, roasting veggies and cooking rice.
Myth #2: Drinking protein shakes will make you bulky
Wrong, wrong, WRONG! It’s no secret that the words ‘protein’ and ‘bodybuilder’ are often used together, leading many to believe that protein, therefore, must translate to mass gains. It makes sense, right? After all, our muscles are literally made of protein. However, while protein is an important ingredient in the muscle-building process, it’s not the main one and certainly can’t facilitate muscle gain on its own. The two most important interventions for muscle gain are diet and training, meaning you need to be in a calorie surplus (consuming more energy than you burn) and engaging in strength training.
According to Nutritionist, Brian Rigby, a great analogy to better understand the role of protein in muscle growth is the process of building a brick wall. Think of protein as the bricks in this scenario. When building a brick wall, you’re going to need a lot of bricks, but if that’s all you rely on, you’ll have an unsteady wall that won’t last long. If you want a brick wall that will last and serve its purpose, you’ll need other tools and supplies, too. Much like building muscle, while the protein is important, you’ll also need to ensure you’re eating enough and training correctly (which will become your blueprint for your brick wall). Simply put, if you don’t train accordingly, you won’t get bulky. If you don’t increase your caloric intake, you won’t get bulky. And if you don’t consume enough protein, you also won’t get bulky. Think of them as the trifecta for building muscle. Much like all supplements, protein will only do the work if you do!
Let’s use cyclists as an example. They’re constantly exercising and likely eat just as many, if not more, calories than bodybuilders. Yet, the average cyclist’s physique is quite lean and athletic, as opposed to bulky. Why? Because the type of training they engage in doesn’t focus on building their biceps, back, shoulders etc. Instead, their type of fitness requires them to be ‘cardio fit’, while simultaneously focusing on thigh and calf strength to help them propel forward with more intensity and speed.
Myth #3 Protein is purely for muscle repair and growth
Nope, that might be an important one, but it’s certainly not the only benefit of protein. Protein is imperative to good health. Simply put, protein is a vital component of every cell in the human body. Not only does your body use protein to build and repair muscle tissue (as it’s most commonly known for), it is also required for the growth of your hair and nails and to make enzymes, hormones and other chemicals in the body. Likewise, protein is also a building block of bones, muscles, skin, blood and cartilage. As protein is a macronutrient, it means our diet needs to include a fairly large amount of it. However, unlike its other macronutrient counterparts, fat and carbs, your body cannot store protein, meaning it cannot simply call on it when required, which is why it’s important to ensure you’re consuming enough of it daily. This alone should also bust another common misconception that you only need protein if you exercise. As previously mentioned, protein is extremely important for those who workout, but it’s not only important for that - it’s an essential macronutrient that everyone needs as a staple part of their daily diet. Without it, we quite literally could not exist!
Myth #4: Reducing my protein intake will help me lose weight
Due to the common misconception that protein alone will make you pack on muscle and mass, it makes sense for many to also believe that a lack thereof will result in a slim and lean physique. The truth? Both statements are incorrect. When it comes to the science behind weight loss, it’s simple: the body needs a negative energy balance, whereby your body burns more calories than its digesting. Here’s a quick rundown on how energy works: after finishing a meal, your metabolism converts the carbohydrates you’ve just eaten into a usable form of energy, and the excess carbohydrates are converted into stored fat. For your body to call on the stored fat as an energy source, you must limit your caloric intake (or exercise more to ensure your body is using more calories than its consuming). When your stored fat is used as energy, the fat cells begin to shrink and this is where the magic happens. As the cells shrink in size, you’ll lose weight and appear leaner. On the contrary, when you consume more calories than you burn, your fat cells will become full, resulting in weight gain.
The point of all this? Technically, weight loss isn’t necessarily about what you’re eating (or not eating), it’s about how much you’re consuming versus how much you’re burning. But, that’s not to say that you should cut out important macronutrients like protein, as this will ultimately impact your body’s functionality (ie fatigue, weakness etc.) and health (ie lowered immune system). So technically, yes if you reduce your protein intake, you may appear to have lost weight temporarily (if you’re in a calorie deficit), but it’s not necessarily what you think. If you’re not eating enough protein, the chances are, you’ve actually lost muscle, not fat. Ready for the plot twist? Protein may actually help you lose weight. According to CSIRO, here’s how protein can help:
It may increase satiation - protein is filling, which means it will keep you satiated for longer, reducing hunger and snacking.
It may boost metabolism - protein is suggested to burn more kilojoules and reduce the slowing of metabolism that generally occurs when you lose weight.
It may improve body composition - high protein diets are known to result in higher fat loss and lower muscle loss, helping you to achieve a more toned and defined figure when paired with exercise.
Thinking of adding a protein supplement to your exercise regime but aren’t sure which one best suits your lifestyle and goals? We’ve got you sorted. Whether you’re trying to lose weight or build muscle, there’s a protein powder for just about every goal and requirement. Here are our current top protein picks:
For a quality plant-based protein that supports muscle growth and recovery, we love Project U Plant:
To help maximise your post-workout recovery, our go-to supplement is Evolve Reload:
To help build lean muscle, our top pick is Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Isolate