How safe are protein drinks and powders?

By Joel Fuhrman,

Dr. Fuhrman Exposes The Facts And Fantasies Surrounding Protein Supplementation .

Q. I went to the gym and started working with a personal trainer. He advocated I eat more protein and advised I consume about 150 grams of protein a day, including the use of protein drinks with whey protein. Is this advisable?

A. Unfortunately, most trainers and bodybuilders are influenced by what they read in exercise and bodybuilding magazines. This is worse than getting nutritional information from comic books. Look through any current bodybuilding magazine; what is the vast majority of advertisements selling? Supplements! Most of the pages in these magazines are devoted to pushing worthless powders and pills. Supplement companies slant the opinions of the magazine article writers. The articles in the magazines are geared to support their advertisers.

Our entire society is on a protein binge, brainwashed with misinformation that we have been hearing since childhood. The educational materials used in most schools have been provided free by the meat, dairy, and egg industries for more than seventy years. These industries have successfully lobbied the government, resulting in favorable laws, subsidies, and advertising propaganda that promote corporate profits at the expense of national health. As a result, Americans have been programmed with dangerous information.  

Proteins are made up of amino acids, and help build muscles, blood, skin, hair, nails, and internal organs. There are twenty amino acids required for growth by the human body, and all but eight can be produced in an adult body. These eight amino acids are called essential amino acids and must be supplied by the foods we eat. The twelve “non-essential” amino acids are manufactured within the body, but both essential and non-essential amino acids are necessary for the synthesis of tissue proteins. Almost all Americans get more than enough protein each day.

Protein Myths At Work

The average American consumes about fifty percent more protein than the recommended daily amount. Yet we often see—in addition to misinformed athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and bodybuilders— businessmen and women, homemakers, and those seeking to lose weight turning to protein powders, drinks, and nutritional bars in their quest for even more protein.

It is true that resistance training and endurance workouts can break down muscle protein and increase our need for protein to fuel repair and growth. But the increased need of protein is proportional to the increased need for calories burned with the exercise. As your appetite increases, you increase your caloric intake accordingly, and your protein intake increases proportionally. If you meet those increased caloric demands from heavy exercise with an ordinary assortment of natural plant foods—vegetables, whole grains, beans, and nuts, which contain more than 50 grams of protein per 1000 calories—you will get the precise amount of extra protein you need.

Plant Proteins

A typical assortment of vegetables, nuts, seeds, beans, and whole grains supplies about 50 grams of protein per 1000 calories. Keep in mind, green vegetables are almost fifty percent protein, and when you eat more vegetables it does not promote cancer or heart disease, like it does when you increase consumption of animal products. Plus, the additional calories from plant food will give you much more than just protein; they will supply you with the antioxidants that can protect against the increased free radicals generated by the exercise.

Whey Too Much Protein

Consider that the maximum muscle mass the human body can typically add in one week is about one pound. That is the upper limit of the muscle fiber’s capacity to make protein into muscle; any protein beyond that is simply converted to fat. It also is not necessarily advisable to gain a pound of muscle per week. Although athletes have a greater protein requirement than sedentary individuals, this is easily obtained through the diet. The use of protein supplements is not merely a waste of money, it is unhealthy.

Studies on supplemental amino acid consumption have not supported claims that such supplementation increases growth hormone or provides other touted benefits. In fact, increased whey protein added to the diet of rats increased tumors and cancers.

Little Safety Assurance

Nutritional supplements can be marketed without FDA approval of safety or effectiveness. Athletes who choose to ingest these supplements should be concerned with the safety of long-term use. They are low-nutrient, low-fiber, highly processed, high-calorie “foods,” whose consumption reduces the phytochemical density of your diet.

Ingesting more protein than your body needs is not a small matter. It ages you prematurely and can cause significant harm. The excess protein you do not use is not stored by your body as protein; it is converted to fat or eliminated via the kidneys. Eliminating excess nitrogen via your urine leaches calcium and other minerals from your bones and breeds kidney stones.

Bad Amino Acid Trips

Vegetable foods are alkaline. Animal products are acidic foods that require a huge output of hydrochloric acid from the stomach for digestion. This acid tide in the blood after a high-protein meal requires an equally strong basic response by the body to neutralize the acid. The dietary-derived acid load from high protein animal foods must be buffered, and to do that your bones dissolve and release phosphates and calcium. The alkaline phosphate then buffers the acid. This is a primary step in bone loss that leads to osteoporosis. High salt intake also contributes to flushing your bone mass down the toilet bowl. Excessive stimulation of bone turnover also causes an increase in bone breakdown and remodeling, which can lead to osteoarthritis and calcium deposits in other tissues. The presence of this bone material in the urinary tract also lays the foundation for calcium based kidney stones.

Exercise—not extra protein— builds strength, denser bones, and bigger muscles. When you artificially stimulate growth through overfeeding and excessive animal product consumption, you may achieve a heightened body mass index unobtainable by other means, but you will add fat to your body as well. Let me remind you that higher body mass index, even if that additional body mass is a mixture of extra muscle and fat, is a strong indicator of premature death.

Racing To The Grave

Out of more than 600 Olympic athletes on the East German 1964 Olympic team, fewer than 10 are still alive today. Promoting muscular growth with supplements and steroids doesn’t seem too wise in that context. Excessive body mass and even excessive muscular development, gained by gorging on high protein animal products is a risk factor for heart attacks and other diseases later in life.

Measuring relative physical size is not a good way to measure health. Health must be judged by measuring strength per body weight, resistance to serious illnesses, longevity potential, and maintenance of useful vigor into your later years.

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