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When Good Protein Goes Bad … How Much Is Enough?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A recent article in Consumer’s Reports caused quite a stir, for example see blog link below:

The issue was the amount of heavy metals found in supplements. Just for the record, it seems that the “culprits” were supplements that included not only whey proteins but other ingredients to provide a supplement mix. I didn’t see any mention of products just with pure whey/proteins as being problematic. This doesn’t mean there was a serious problem with the products cited since there have been challenges to the methodologies used for that research.

What I found more interesting was the other buzz around the article implying that too much protein was bad for your health and nobody needs extra protein in their diet. I may be over simplifying but I believe the overall message most people would take away from the article is avoid protein supplements and avoid eating too much protein … both are bad for you.

Consumer Reports aren’t alone in the belief that too much protein is bad for you, a 2009 article cited a long list of statements in educational materials warning of the dangers of excessive protein (Lowery, L. M. & Devia, L. (2009). Dietary protein safety and resistance exercise: what do we really know? J Int. Soc. Sports Nutr, 6, 3). These ranged from kidney damage, liver damage, loss of calcium from bones, dehydration, to plain old weight gain. Of course too much of anything is likely to have undesirable effects but does one have to be very careful not to exceed recommended daily allowances? What is safe?

So here is the Coles Notes Version of What I Learned:

1. This topic has been around for some time back, as far as 1865, even the League of Nations (1936) came up with a recommended daily amount.

2. The recommended daily amount for health adults is 0.8g/kg or just under 0.4/lb (1kg = 2.2 lb).

3. According to the International Society of Sports Nutrition, this amount is not sufficient for people who are engaged in regular exercise or sports – an amount of 1.4g to 2.0g/kg (0.6g to 1.0g/lb) is safe and may have desirable benefits.

4. The amount of protein required varies by the type of exercise. For endurance exercise the recommended range was 1.0 to 1.6g/kg (0.5g to 0.7g/lb), for intermittent sports like soccer, basketball, mixed martial arts recommended level was 1.4g to 1.7g/kg (0.6g to 0.8g/lb) and for strength/power exercise the range was 1.6g to 2.0g/kg (0.7g to 0.9g/lb). Note the amounts recommended in the magazines for bodybuilding/power lifting tend to be in the 1 to 1.5 g per pound range.

5. Protein intakes at these levels for active individuals are not harmful to kidney functions or bone density.

6. You can get all the protein you need from whole foods, but protein supplements can help ensure you get all you need.

7. Protein doesn’t hang around so distribute intake during the day to ensure an adequate supply for your needs. Of course more is needed around training times/post-training.

8. Whey powders don’t taste like chicken!

The above points are based on a position statement published by the International Society of Sports Nutrition (Campbell, B., Kreider, R. B., Ziegenfuss, T., La, B. P., Roberts, M., Burke, D. et al. (2007). International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: protein and exercise. J Int.Soc.Sports Nutr, 4, 8). A similar finding conclusion that there was no concrete evidence that protein at these levels was harmful is also included in the Lowery and Devia (2009) article, but with less certainty about the safety.

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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    great blog! very informative!
    2775 days ago
  • ELLIE381
    Thanks for the great information.
    I like my protein bar after a workout but prefer real protein the rest of the day.

    Great blog! Keep them coming. I really enjoy reading them. emoticon emoticon
    2778 days ago
    I just buy whey powder from my Health Food shop and add my fruit, yoghurt, milk etc. How does this go in the whey of things?

    Thanks for the terrific information.
    2780 days ago
    Again, so much conflicting information out there! Thanks for taking the time to sort through it!
    Loving my Herbalife Chocolate Protein Powder drink mix - great recovery drink after a hard workout! Gonna have to check out the label for undesirable additives when I get home - hope I won't find anything disturbing!
    2780 days ago
    Thanks for the research, especially as my husband is thinking about some protein supplements. I also appreciated the 40 super food tip sheet you handed out (although I was unable to bring myself to eat the kiwi skin this morning!).
    2780 days ago
    Excellent blog, Silver! I've heard similar comments about having too much protein. Specifically, when I went to the hospital for kidney stones, I was told that too much protein and too much calcium were known culprits (along with lack of fluids). Oy. I agree that moderation is key for just about every circumstance, while it also makes sense for higher amounts with intense workouts.
    2780 days ago
    you are like a Professor! I can definitely see where your brilliant children get their mad academic skills!

    I think my take away from your recap is to eat sensibly, mostly real food, a variety of it.
    2780 days ago
    emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2780 days ago
    Thanks for the notes, Great Professor Ape!
    2780 days ago
    I could not agree more with the above. You brought up a good point about the additives that were included, along with the whey powder. I woukd be interested to see if various blends of cardio and strength training requires different amount. Like does running and heavy power lifting require different amounts than heavy bike running compared to HIIT strength training.
    2781 days ago
    Interesting blog ! I think I probably fall into the .4 to 1.5 range , depending on the day and my activities emoticon .

    Oh is whey powder great mixed in things, like oatmeal or shakes. Or one can have our low fat chocolate milk or Greek yogurt.

    Thanks, Silver!!
    emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon
    2781 days ago
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