Many young men want the muscular physique that signifies masculine strength and virility. They may also be seeking a bigger presence on the football field or more power behind their faster pitch on the baseball mound.
But chasing after bulky muscles flexed by professional athletes is akin to the starvation diets favored by young women wanting to look like a super model. Our children are measuring themselves against an unrealistic ideal, and potentially harming their health in the process.
With youth comes hubris as well as short-term thinking. What adolescent or even 20-30 year old gives much thought to their long-term health? As we all did, they take their youth and vitality for granted.
We all know the drill. The favored method teenage boys use to bulk up involves hitting the gym, hard. Weight lifting tears down muscle fiber. When it rebuilds, the tissue becomes stronger, denser and for males with testosterone, larger.
Yet there’s a new piece in the equation – protein supplements, usually in the form of protein powder. Sure, growing boys require a lot of calories, much of it coming from meat. But the thinking now veers toward “the more protein the bigger I’ll get.” This simply isn’t true and is a dangerous way of thinking.
We are all getting plenty of protein. Consuming more protein will not increase the size of our muscles. Exercise is the mechanism that increases muscle mass and strengthens bones. As we replenish the calories burned during exercise, protein from our food provides the amino acids we need for our muscle tissue to repair and grow.
According to “International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism,” protein should make up 25 percent of your daily calories, which translates to 136-170 grams of protein per day for a 150-pound person. If you’re an endurance athlete, you’ll be consuming more calories, but the ratio of protein to overall calories remains the same.
Protein powders are highly processed food supplements that can be sold without FDA approval for safety or effectiveness. Whenever a food source is highly processed in order to isolate a single nutrient (protein), the result is a product devoid of most other nutrients, particularly fiber, and one that is high in calorie, particularly when sweetened or flavored. Some brands add fiber back in, but again, it’s usually a processed source when getting your fiber naturally along with other nutrients inherent in that food is the best way to go.
The best recommendation I’ve heard from personal trainers is replenishing the body with a protein-rich meal or snack one-two hours post workout, This will maximize your body’s efficiency in using the protein to repair the muscles post –workout.
If you’re still a fan of protein powder, I recommend checking out your favorite brand on the app Fooducate. See how it scores for artificial ingredients, processing, added sugars, fiber, etc. If the findings are less than good, see what better options this helpful app suggests.
If you are trying to cut back on animal products avoid whey protein (derived from cow’s milk). Try vegetable based proteins like hemp, pea or the Vega Sport brand that mixes various vegetable protein sources. Dr. Joel Furhman recommends avoiding soy protein powders because they are unnaturally concentrated sources of soy protein and are highly processed leaving little of soy’s natural nutritional properties intact. Eating actual soybeans, edamame, tempeh, tofu and unsweetened soy milk are smarter options to obtain soy protein.
Excess Protein and Disease
In response to consuming protein, especially animal protein, our bodies produce IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor). Early in life, this hormone is crucial to our growth, but once we’ve stopped growing, IGF-1 promotes aging, and has been linked to the proliferation of cancer cells in the body. This is underscored by the growing evidence published by T. Colin Campbell, John McDougal, and Joel Furhman and many others, that animal products are disease promoting.
When we eat more protein than our bodies can use, we don’t store it, it is either converted to fat or eliminated through the kidneys. This causes our higher concentrations of calcium to be excreted in our urine, which can lead to lower levels in our bones as well as kidney stones.