Protein: Myth v. Reality
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4 myths about this all-important nutrient that every runner should know
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This article was produced in collaboration with Vega. Vega’s free nutrition and training plans can be found here.
Protein—rightly—gets a lot of attention from runners and other athletes. But not all the information out there is correct. In order to help you make the right diet choices, here’s the truth about four common misconceptions about protein.
Protein Myth #1: Men need more protein than women.
Protein Truth #1: Not necessarily. Male or female, the more active you are, the more protein you need.
When talking specifically about protein, typically we assume that men and women require different amounts because “men have bigger muscles” or strive for a more “built” look than most women. But the truth is, your protein needs are actually not determined by your sex, and instead depend on your physical size (height and weight), exercise level and overall health goals.
Here’s how to calculate your personal protein needs1:
1. Convert your weight to kilograms by dividing your weight in pounds by 2.2
2. Next, multiply your weight in kilograms by a figure that relates to your activity level:
- For a baseline active lifestyle: Multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8.
- For moderately active (think 30 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise 3 to 5 days a week) multiply weight in kilograms by 1.0.
- For high-intensity, daily exercise, multiply weight in kilograms by 1.3 to 1.5 (the more you strength train, the higher the number, which can increase up to 2.0).
- The number you calculate is the grams of protein you need per day.
There’s protein in just about every food out there, so the good news is that if you eat a well-balanced diet you shouldn’t have any trouble reaching your daily protein needs.
Protein Myth #2: Women who eat too much protein will bulk up
Protein Truth #2: Women aren’t built like men; simply eating more protein will not make you bulk up
Men produce higher levels of testosterone than women, and it’s testosterone that’s responsible for promoting a large muscle mass and lower body-fat percentage. Since women have lower testosterone levels and higher estrogen levels, they don’t bulk up in the same way as men.
To build muscle, you need to eat more calories than you burn metabolically and through exercise. Because protein is a building block of muscle tissue, a diet rich in lean protein will help women build muscle, though not at the same rate as men. In addition to protein, to gain mass and support muscle growth reach for whole foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts.
Protein Myth #3: You should eat primarily protein if you want to build lean muscle and reach optimal weight
Protein Truth #3: While protein is a critical player, a balanced diet is the key to building muscle and reaching optimal weight
A healthy balance of protein, carbohydrate and fat is important for building muscle, fueling your workout and reaching optimal weight. Although consuming protein-rich drink (or food) post-workout is critical for muscle repair and recovery, the repair process actually starts as soon as you’re done working out. Within 20 minutes of completing a workout, it’s important to begin the refueling process by pairing protein with a carbohydrate. Eat foods such as a trail mix rich in dried fruit or nut butter on sprouted-grain toast for a four-to-one carb-to-protein ratio to initiate both muscle glycogen replenishment and protein synthesis.
Beyond post-workout meals, protein can help manage calorie intake because it is highly satiating. However, don’t completely cut out carbohydrates from whole grains and fruits, or healthy fats in nuts, seeds and avocados. Carbohydrates give you immediate energy to expend during a hard workout, and fats help regulate changing hormone levels and slow your digestion, giving you longer-lasting energy than carbohydrate alone.
Protein Myth #4 Plant-based proteins won’t help me gain muscle or maintain weight.
Protein Truth #4: You can build strong, lean muscles on a plant-based diet.
The notion that plant-based diets lack adequate protein, and that athletes cannot build enough muscle on a plant-based diet, could not be farther from the truth. Many athletes successfully transition to a plant-based diet and continue to build and maintain their strength and muscle mass.
Regardless of whether you’re male or female, a diet rich in plant-based protein, paired with a balanced carbohydrates and healthy fats, can support both strength and endurance performance.
This article was produced in collaboration with Vega. For more nutrition and training tips, as well as fueling plans for your workouts, visit VegaSport.com.
A runner, cooking enthusiast and plant-focused flexitarian, Kim McDevitt, M.P.H, R.D., Vega National Educator, has passionately built her career in nutrition. Noticing that her running performances were closely tied to what she was eating, Kim decided to study nutrition and pursue advanced degrees in Dietetics and Public Health, to better understand the power of food in performance. Today, Kim specializes in sports nutrition to enhance athletic performance and focuses on realistic and approachable ways for improving health through educated dietary choices within an active lifestyle
1. Rolfes, S. et. al. (2009). Understanding Normal and Clinical Nutrition. Wadsworth, Cengage Learning. 8th ed.