Why Whey Protein Powder Might Be a Muscle Building Myth

I took Optimum Nutrition whey protein powder semi-regularly for several years. See “my kind” below.

As I dug deeper into my health decisions two years ago, I started questioning everything – even once sacred cows like whey protein.

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I decided to drop my whey protein intake to 0 from approximately 2 scoops of 30 grams a day (60 total) and judge for myself whether I needed it. I ended up becoming as strong as I’ve ever been at 32 years old – WITHOUT the protein.

I didn’t even notice a difference. My strength increased despite cutting out all supplemental protein. I still ate protein heavy foods but just eliminated the powder.

I’m to the point now where I make a conscious effort to get protein but there’s no precision or regimen. I like to put a Morey’s Wild Alaskan Salmon (from Costco) on the grill for an easy, healthy protein source.  I also stock up on Chipotle Burrito Bowls.  But those are my only two near constants.

Otherwise, I add in protein rich food whenever I remember to and I’m fine.  Now that my rotator cuff has nearly healed, I’m getting stronger and stronger every workout.

I have no desire to buy any more protein powder. If it makes a difference, I haven’t been able to perceive it. I’m not saying there is no difference; just that I haven’t been able to tell.

My workouts haven’t dropped off. I don’t feel any weaker. Perhaps I have more fat on me because I get my protein from food sources now. I can’t tell you either way.

If you’re deciding whether or not you need whey protein (isolate or any other kind) in your life, here are some thoughts to mull over:

1. Why do you need whey protein? Is it because someone told you you need it or because everyone else is already taking it?

2. Why are the daily protein recommendations so high? Nowadays, I weigh between 200-220. Why do I need 200 grams of protein? Who came up with the 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight rule?

3. Is absorbing protein faster really as crucial as everyone makes it out to be?  If you drink a protein shake after a workout and I eat Chipotle, how much difference does the absorption rate make?  What is the absorption rate difference?

4. How healthy can it be for your kidneys to have to process all that protein powder every day?

The Point

These questions lead right to the dark side of the sports nutrition world where it’s really hard to tell what is real and what is manufactured.

The sports & nutrition world is a little like the government food pyramid. At the top is the truth which is a very small portion. Below that is the half-truths. On the bottom rung is just flat out bad info or lies.

Instead of looking at everything on the micro level, take a broad view of the cycle that’s going on.

First, what do guys want? They want to get big and muscular.

What sells? Nutritional supplements.  Thus, supplements are sold and create a billion dollar industry.

How do you sell more? Tell guys they need more.  What happens?  Guys take more because they’re told to from huge guys who just might be taking enhancers other than protein.

Will guys get results from the advice? Sure but what happens down the road? What happens to their kidneys after 20 years of flushing powder? And beyond that, what about the health effects from all of the energy boosters, pre-workout mixes, etc.

Also, would the results have also come after a less expensive, all-food diet?

I’ve been lifting weights since I was 15. I’m now 33. I’ve read a lot of magazines, books, and websites.  I’ve listened to a lot of smart people talk about getting in better shape.  I don’t remember one ever recommending against protein powder.

But that’s the prevailing wisdom.  Get extra protein.  You need it to build more muscle.

True, but to what extent?  Where does the law of diminishing returns fit in?

My Conclusion

I have no hard proof either way on protein powder but my instinct is it’s not worth the expense.

A heavy protein user will go through $50 of protein in a month in a half, maybe a month if they’re really loading up.  They’ll also have to filter out all that protein which I would think has to have some effect on kidney function somewhere down the road.  And beyond that, it’s a pain in the ass to continually make protein shakes on a 1-2 times daily basis.

If you just eat 4.5-5 meals a day with 110-140 grams of protein total, you probably have plenty of protein to build muscle.

There’s an entire billion dollar industry built on pushing more and more supplements.  Do you think there’s any way they don’t push not only the consumption of protein powder but the portions?

They’re going to max out whatever they think they can get away with.

Edit: A day after a wrote this post, YouTube had the video below suggested for me (ahh Internet privacy). It’s from Elliott Hulse of Strength Camp. I love hearing this guy talk fitness. His videos are completely unfiltered and he speaks a lot of truth. Anyways, he echos what I said so I wanted to add the video.

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