Wait, protein can make me fat?

Athletes and weight lifting enthusiasts commonly have the misperception that eating as much protein as possible will give them the biggest muscles and the best performance. This is entirely incorrect.

Protein is necessary for normal function in many ways, and it certainly is critical to building muscle mass. The reality is that each person has a limited amount of protein that can be absorbed into the muscles during a given day. Genetics are a major determinant of this. For all of us, consuming protein above and beyond that limit can result in unwanted fat gain. Proteins are large molecules that take hours to digest. As such, they’re not ideal sources of energy, per se. Often, by the time they’re digested, we are no longer active and their calories have to be put into fat stores if they are otherwise unusable.

Protein supplements for post workout use are an enormous industry worldwide. Realistically, most people can only digest some 20 grams of maximum protein into their muscles following a workout. Again, the excess many gym-goers may consume can have an undesired effect in terms of fat gain long term, and abdominal gas short term, among other effects.

One of the most popular ergogenic aids (“energy producing”) for endurance athletes includes amino acid supplements. Amino acids are simply the building blocks of proteins, and they are far less quality energy suppliers than carbs and fats. Many manufacturing companies have false claims that their amino acid supplements will build muscle, help lose fat, provide energy and speed muscle repair. Another claim is that certain types of individual amino acids are the body’s preferred energy source (“branched chain amino acids” or BCAAs). This is based on small studies in rats and mice, and has never been proven in humans. While not necessarily harmful, these aids mostly help the manufacturers of them!

Supplementation of proteins, amino acids or any other nutrient can help a given individual in his/her particular situation. We believe at 4 Performance that this should only be done when your diet of whole foods is something you are unable to get to achieve the desired effect despite your best committed efforts. Supplements have a place, but there is no magic pill or bullet out there that has been proven to work legally yet! If you have specific questions about your own protein needs, Doc, our staff physician, would be more than happy to assist you. Appointments can be scheduled through Tim.

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