Q. Our son is a six-day-a-week dedicated bodybuilder. His objectives are unclear. He reads the muscle-building magazines religiously and in the last two years he has taken increasing amounts of supplements, vitamins and proteins. Is it necessary for him to consume those large doses of protein, and can it be harmful to him?
A CONCERNED PARENT
A. It sounds as though your son has become part of the bodybuilding cult that exists in many gyms today. It brings back memories of my youth when I started lifting weights in hopes of enhancing my performance potential.
I'm sure your son has experienced the same frustrations that I did through high school, college and even graduate school. When I became interested in strength training, I was forced to learn from the only people who had any exerience in muscular development -- the weightlifters and bodybuilders. Those types often are still the "experts," the 22-year-old instructors in the gyms. Some of their information is good, some isn't. It's unfortunate that more professionals aren't interested in this field.
So, your son is (as I was) forced to turn to the muscle magazines for advice. Unfortunately much of the information he reads is biased, based on intuition, superstition and hand-me- down ideas from bodybuilders over the years. Much of it isn't based on the facts or data now available, and some is actually dangerous.
The simple fact is that there's no need for your son to ingest any additional protein to build muscle. If he's into bodybuilding, he's probably eating a balanced diet and already taking in more protein than his body can assimilate.
The body does not store protein in the same way it stores fat. Any excess protein is excreted. Experts in nutrition, exercise physiology and biochemistry laugh at coaches, athletes, bodybuilders and weightlifters who continue to consume a protein supplement. It's a joke. They don't need it.
You're probably asking why don't the coaches, physical education teachers, trainers and team doctors inform students and athletes about this expensive habit. Many do. But unfortunately many don't; they're unfamiliar with the problem or unaware of the data available.
In addition, the business of selling protein supplements generates more than $100 million annually, and there's a lot of protein-supplement advertising in the muscle magazines.
There are many intelligent people who use supplements, believing they have some value. The supplements are expensive and some people become psychologically dependent on them. Supplements add extra calories, which most bodybuilders don't want or need. They make the kidneys and liver work harder to break down the protein. And taking the supplements can cause dehydration in the very young (newborn to three years old) and aggravate liver or kidney problems in the elderly, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
The fact is that no one needs to buy protein supplements. Athletes have been led to believe that supplements are essential for maximum gains. Not so. Some companies marketing the stuff say you need more than the recommended daily allowance of protein, suggesting an additional gram of protein per pound of bodyweight. Wrong again.
The RDA standard (established by the government) is .8 gram of protein per kilogram of bodyweight. A kilogram is equal to 2.2 pounds. That means that a man weighing 165 pounds (75 kilograms) would require 60 grams of protein under the RDA guideline. And get this: Some experts state that the RDA consumption of protein is actually 30 percent too high.
I can assure you that people who can afford to buy protein supplements get more than enough muscle-building protein in their daily caloric intake. So disregard the claims made by many coaches, athletes, weightliters and bodybuilders -- and especially the companies making the stuff.
I urge you to refer to a Federal Trade Commission consumer facts report issued August 20, 1979, titled "Protein for Athletes." The purpose of the report was to determine the value of protein supplements for athletes.
The opening statement reads as follows: "True or False: Athletes need more protein than the general population. The answer, false, according to a recent Federal Trade Commission staff report on protein supplements." It continues: "But many protein supplements manufacturers use such misconceptions to promote their powders, tablets or liquids to athletes -- a group that is particularly susceptible to health and bodybuilding claims. The manufacturers make spectacular claims about their products.
"Athletes have bought the claims and the supplements. Now the Federal Trade Commission staff says the supplements are generally unnecessary and, in some instances, caused decreased muscle efficiency and performance. Coaches around the country have traditionally believed their players needed more protein. One survey showed that 75 percent of the coaches surveyed believed more protein provided more strength and 61 percent believed it increased endurance. It does neither."
I'd rather see your son using protein supplements than some of the other trash kids are pumping into their bodies. But he needs to know that they're unnecessary, a waste of money, and tax some of the body's organs.
Your local grocery store provides an abundant supply of protein of quality superior to any supplement you can buy. And it's five to ten times cheaper, too. There goes another myth right down the drain. And remember that's where those supplements are going as soon as the body disposes of them.