The Protein Marketing Myth

Quick question – are you getting enough protein in your diet?

For most Americans, the answer is YES, more than enough. How then, can you explain the huge business that is protein supplements? All those bars and meal replacements bragging boatloads of protein? Not to mention Greek yogurts that tout their high protein count?

An excellent article in the LA Times informs us that the supplement industry’s marketing machine has protein listed as the most popular supplement by far among the fitness crowd.

This got us thinking about “protein marketing”.

What you need to know:

Our bodies need about 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight. That’s about 55 grams per day if you weigh 150 lbs. People in endurance training may need to up the number to 1.0-1.2 grams, which is 65-80 grams of protein per day. But how many of us are engaged in endurance training? Aerobics 3 times a week does not really increase your protein requirement.

Here are typical protein values for foods:

  • 4 oz chicken breast – 25 grams
  • 4 oz hamburger – 20 grams
  • Glass of milk – 8 grams
  • Low fat yogurt  10 – 12 grams
  • 1 medium egg – 6 grams
  • 2 slices of bread – 3-5 grams
  • 2 tbsp of peanut butter – 8 grams

If you start adding up all you eat in the course of a day, you’ll discover you don’t need to take any special measures to increase your protein intake. Additionally,

renowned sport nutritionist Nancy Clark [says] “Protein supplements are not a whole food and fail to offer the complete package of health that protective nutrients found in natural foods do…”

So why are people sucked into these supplement shenanigans? Probably because they are an easy fix. Why prepare a meal when you can mix some powder into a smoothie / eat a bar and be done with your nutrition requirements in less than 5 minutes…

What to do at the supermarket:

When a food boasts high protein content, don’t get blinded. Look at the ingredient list. In many cases you’ll discover a perfectly nutritious food. But in some cases, you might unearth a junky snack full of sugars and fillers that has also been pumped with protein powders.

Get Fooducated

  • Brian

    Like a lot of food recommendations from our lovely government, protein recommendations are outdated and inaccurate. To whit, does anyone think a healthy diet is one based on 60% grains? Everyone can handle AT LEAST 20% more protein, usually 50% more than the recommendation. In fact most thrive on more protein. And, research clearly shows that high intensity resistance training increases protein requirement significantly more than any endurance activity, save for a marathon or triathlon.

    If you want to bang on supplements, fine. But I’d rather have a patient consume a protein powder drink than any soft drink (diet or not), juice, or any standard smoothie.

    • Bella

      Be that as it may, it’s not really responsible to eat around 50% proteins unless they are vegetable based, meat protein puts a lot of strain on the environment you know.

      • Sebastián

        Not really. Whey protein powder (by far the most common) is usually made with by-products of the dairy industry. Yogurt and cheese manufacturing produce whey (think curds and whey) as it is rung out of milk to isolate it’s solids. Unless you are buying huge tubs of egg or beef protein powder (which tastes awful by the way) its perfectly fine.

      • Sebastián

        Not really. Whey protein powder (by far the most common) is usually made with by-products of the dairy industry. Yogurt and cheese manufacturing produce whey (think curds and whey) as it is rung out of milk to isolate it’s solids. Unless you are buying huge tubs of egg or beef protein powder (which tastes awful by the way) its perfectly fine.

  • http://www.feedyourheaddiet.com Ken Leebow

    When it comes satiety, which aids weight-loss, there are two items that are very helpful – one is protein. In my book, the more the merrier.

    Ken Leebow
    http://www.highsatiety.net

  • bill

    Ken has it right. Your numbers for protein are way off. The recommended protein amounts is more like 1g per lb of lean mass. If you don’t know what your body fat % is go with .7g to .8g per lb. This goes up for anyone trying to build more muscle mass. Anyone following this would need to eat a lot of meat or they could just replace a meal with a shake.

  • http://www.baha703ironman.com Jason Bahamundi

    While the amounts of protein might be outdated we need to educate America on how much to intake along with calories. It is not just protein.

    On my blog I just posted an article discussing the fact that when I was training i was consuming a meal replacement bar and a protein drink and never lost any weight. Now maybe the protein was what I needed but I was consuming way to many calories for me to lose any weight because I was of the mindset that I needed the protein. I ignored the calories.

    Now I take either the drink or the bar but not both and I feel stronger and leaner and have lost that weight. So while I can take in the protein it is the calories that hurt me the most.

    • Beau

      You are partly right but mostly not, you need to look at the grams of fat intake not the calories. If you take care of the the types of fat you partake in the calories will take care of themselves. How you prepare your food determines how much fat the food has. You can can poach your chicken and prepare a nice sauce for taste or you can fry the chicken in oil, or bake. The poached is less in fat. Example baked 4 oz chicken baked has 4.5 grams of fat hence 150 calories. Poached 4 oz chicken 2 grams of fat 110 calories. Also the types of fat you intake determine your weight gain. That is why the Atkins diet is you can eat as much protein as you want just not carbs. Dangerous diet but shows the types of fats and carbs have a strong weight determination factor.

  • WilliamB

    I used to lift intensely and with competitive lifters. They really do need 1-1.5g per lb to maintain or improve their lifting. What I didn’t get was why the smaller lifters (myself included) were encouraged to consume a powder rather than eat another chicken breast or a shake with cottage cheese. PS: the powders usually taste terrible too, unless they’re oversugared.

  • Jason

    The big issue is balance. While many may get enough protein in a day, they probably take in too much (like carbs and fats) in one setting.

    A reasonable amount (10-30g) of high quality protein (generally not the powders because they are too processed and have too much other junk in them) incorporated in EVERY meal can do wonders for diet. It will also cut down on the carb/fat overload, a much bigger issue IMO.

  • Tyrone

    Protein powders are typically marketed to those involved in heavy resistance training–people who need supplemental protein to meet their hugely increased requirements. For such persons not only are the powders useful for their convenience and easy digestibility(an attractive alternative to eating pounds of meat every day), they’re economical. Slamming on such supplements just because they’re not practical for most people is completely ridiculous.

    • Beau

      tellem brother

  • nat

    Your calculations are correct and some of these other commenter are way off. People do not need more than 10-20% of their daily intake to be protein, from all sources. Some people need less, some people need more. Protein doesn’t burn fat and it’s not a clean burning fuel with the nitrogen group attached to the protein molecules. If you eat too much of anything, including protein, where does the excess go? To your ass or wherever one tends to store body fat.

    • Beau

      your a moron.

  • Kirk

    @WilliamB: Protein suppliments are a matter of convenience. Some people don’t have time to cook and eat chicken every day. And you are eating the wrong protein shakes if you think they are terrible. There are many out there that taste great.

    @Jason: There is no difference between protein powders vs “real” protein like chicken, eggs, tuna, etc as far as nutritional value. Yes they are processed but all the nutrients are the same. And no, there isn’t “other junk” in them. A protein shake is often healthier than most meals you can eat on the go; they are low in fat, sugar and carbs and contain many vitamins and minerals you won’t find in a southwest chicken salad from wendys.

    @nat: Protein is the only food that doesn’t turn to fat in your body. Your body will dispose of the excess via the toilet. Also, protein does, in a sense, burn fat. Muscles are the highest consumers of body energy and the digestive process to break down protein in amino acids costs more energy than any other food.

    • Kevin

      Wrong. Excess calories are converted to fat. Period.

  • RG

    A lot depends on who you hang out with. A lot of my Asian family is vegetarian, and only gets 60g of protein on days when they supplement. Finding painless ways to up this (greek yogurt and whey protein) is important. (10 g from milk/yogurt, 15 from beans, 10 from vegetables/ grains is a typical day.) Even though they eat a lot of whole grains, oatmeal and whole wheat only get you so far. Also, beyond the “minimal”, if you’re trying to lose weight, you need extra to make sure you don’t lose muscle. Finally, what’s the damage from eating 20 extra grams of protein? Aside from satiety, protein seems to help with muscle repair, stress, etc.

  • TayElissa

    Being in a family who is health crazed and are strongly affiliated with exercise, I can tell you that well, for my mom and I, we do not use protein powder and stalk the super market to find high protein foods for their ‘muscle building’ powers or anything like that. We look for them because to put it simply, protein keeps you FULL and keeps you from eating more than you NEED. I am displeased that you missed this point in your post because it’s one of the most OBVIOUS reasons people opt for protein rich foods if they’re in the ‘fitness crowd’.

    Also, it depends on what type of diet you follow in general. If you feel a low carb diet helps with any kind of fitness standard you’re trying to meet, you’re going to up your fat and protein intake. High protein diets lower fat and carbs, obviously. And there are such diets as high fat ones, even though they’re not recommended.

    As for myself, I use my GNC brand vanilla casein protein powder to keep myself from getting too hungry like I mentioned before. Casein is a slow digesting protein. I have a banana and a protein shake every night around 8 o’clock and that’s my last food for the day because not only will that slow digesting casein protein keep me from becoming hungry in the middle of the night, it’ll keep my metabolism at “day-speed” instead of “night-speed” because, like I said, it’s slow digesting. So I’m burning more calories as well as not eating eating more.

    I’m sure anyone who has no knowledge about protein and are just starting to care about their eating habits may come here and believe everything you said without an original thought in their minds, but I hope they’ll pause and read these comments and also realize that the daily recommended amounts you posted about are not for everyone.

  • Reed

    I agree with Tyrone. I don’t consume meat, milk or eggs. My diet consists of mainly fruits, vegetables, some grains & nuts. I am into resistance & aerobic training more than 3 times a week so I NEED supplements. It is a necessity in a diet like mine to consume protein drinks. I also read labels prior to buying the mixture & if it has HFCS in it I definitely pass.

  • michelle

    Interestingly enough, a recent study showed that women who had diets high in non-meat protein (approx 90 grams a day) showed far slower rates of bone density loss.

  • Jill Brock

    Thanks. I really believe this. In fact too much protein is also hard on the kidneys. The one thing with protein though is that as we age we do need more as our bodies don’t process it as easily.

    • Beau

      In fact you are mostly wrong. In healthy individuals, increasing protein intake doesn’t harm your
      kidneys, but if you have early deterioration of your kidneys,
      high-protein intake can lead to further damage. Do your research before you make a off hand comment with no knowledge of what you are talking about.

      Find out more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/369234-is-protein-hard-on-kidneys/#ixzz2cB7h3vnZ

  • Balanced Intellect

    I just recently got turned on to this site and I have to say that this article quickly turned me back off. This type of inflammatory blasting is as narrow minded as the lies printed on most junk food boxes. It’s clear how much thought you have put into “protein marketing”, since most of these powders are marketed as supplements, not meal replacements. The word supplement implies that you would use it in addition to a well balanced diet. The reason why protein is the most popular supplement is because it is the most fundamental part of any program and generally more affordable than the other highly specialized products. You don’t start supplementing with creatine and ZMA stacks without already using protein regularly. Additionally, there are many different types of protein, which you completely neglected to discuss. Most bodybuilders and fitness geeks that buy these products are smarter than the misinformation you have posted here. Your entire blog seems to be more focused on ripping things apart and disagreeing with statements than offering alternatives or suggesting healthy practices. If that is your plan then you should change your slogan from “eat a bit better” to “why be a consumerist sheep when you can be a reactionary hypocrite?” Most arguments are stronger if you actually consider the pros and cons of a given idea, not just slander against anything with a printed package.

  • Wellness/Nutrition Coach

    This is a horribly written article! Whoever wrote this should consider picking up a nutrition book, or taking an actual nutrition class! First of all, 55gms of protein/day for a 150 lbs. person is not accurate…first of all how much exercise does this 150 lb subject participate in, how much muscle do they already have to support, and build more healthy muscle, how tall are they, what is their current bone density? If they are working out, that’s a factor! If they are male or female, that is also a BIG factor! 150 lb male will need to consume more protein than 150 lb female…this is just one of the many flaws in this article. Also, anybody that has REAL training in helping someone figure out how many grams of protein they need should also know that it is ALWAYS to be figured out by how many lbs of muscle the test subject has to support! Protein DOES NOT store in the body!!! It is our energy, which means we use it up, which is why it needs to be replaced throughout the day. No disrespect intended, however if you are going to write an article that aims to help people, maybe you should be better educated on the subject! Stop spreading uninformed lies to the public regarding health issues, there are already enough LIARS regarding our food supply here in the USA! I also happened to notice the BIG business/corporation sponsors you have located at the bottom of this article…How much $$$ did you get from them to spread more lies to the general public???

    • http://www.fooducate.com/ Fooducate

      Calm down “Wellness/Nutrition Coach” and have a protein shake:
      1. Of course there are differences in nutrient requirements between men and women, and based on age, and exercise level. The post did not claim otherwise. 2. What corporate sponsors at the bottom of the post are you talking about??? There are no ads on this blog and we have no sponsors, corporate or otherwise. 3. For someone who “did not mean any disrespect”, you sure did

  • http://twitter.com/nizerifin nizerifin
  • Big d

    Your muscles are made of mainly protien so in order to rebuild damaged musle tissue after a work out you need protein and any trainer or nutritionist will they’ll you it is 1-1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight this person is a fucking idiot

  • registered nutritionist

    I really wish people would understand that Carbohydrates do not necessary mean grains. Many foods contain carbohydrates that are full of essential vitamins and minerals, fruits, vegetables, yogurt, milk, whole grains and some protein containing foods, such as beans and lentils. When the recommendation is for our total energy intake to be between 40 – 60% from carbohydrates that does not mean from grains s only. You should have a balance of many different foods and it is actually recommended to have twice as many vegetables than grains/starches and meat/protein at meals. Yes, you should have more protein if you are an athlete however, research shows that many people do not even meet the recommendations for activity, which is about 150 hours of activity a week or 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day, 5 days a week. For those people, no, more protein is not better. And If people would like to feel full longer, try choosing foods that are a great source of fiber. Fiber has a wealth of proven health benefits in reducing the risk of developing diabetes and heart disease. So load up on your veggies, and try a whole grain such as quinoa!

  • Christine

    First; not all proteins are created equal – whey, chicken meat fish etc. Two. 50% of your dry body weight is protein. Three: every single – every single mechanism in your body including the blink of an eye to the wiggle of a finger – requires protein. Our need for protein is not hyped – what is hyped is the garbage soy and over processed whey protein that you buy off the shelf, most of which is full of additives and artificial sweeteners. Fact: your muscles atrophy at an early age and it is strong lean muscle that holds bones together. Whey protein is a food.

    “Overall, the research shows that increased dietary protein as WPC, contributes to a mix of metabolic outcomes beneficial to fat loss and retention of lean muscle mass.” . Anderson GH, Moore SE: Dietary proteins in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans. J Nutr, 2004;134 :974S– 979S.