Nutrition Myths and Mistakes about Protein, Carbs and Cholesterol Debunked

The Science of diet is not a static discipline. The nutrition and training corner is no different. What you thought was a law written in stone five years ago might be nothing but a polished surface ready to be re-sculpted now.

Nutrition Myths and Mistakes
Nutrition Myths and Mistakes

Metaphors aside, it’s important to keep up with the current perspective on these matters lest you stick rigidly to a habit or belief that is not serving you well, or worse, having a negative impact.

Classic examples that you hear every day; “cholesterol is terrible so don’t eat egg yolks”, or “you are what you eat, fat makes you fat”, or “don’t eat carbs at night”, and my personal favourite. “I have decided to cut out all carbohydrates.”

That last one…zero carbs…yeah good luck with that!

It’s like saying, I’ve decided to remove oxygen from the mixture of gases I breathe! Let’s meet back here in a few weeks and compare notes.

So, here is a small run-down of some of the more common mistakes people are still making, based on old science or just old wives tales.

For the most part, this run of articles is centred around the macro-nutrients, Protein, Carbs and Fat. Specific training mistakes (to do with movements etc.) is another article altogether

There is nothing wrong with taking 30g of protein immediately after a workout

PROTEIN – The Anabolic Window

Quite a few years ago, I had it on good authority that the anabolic window, in which to consume a protein shake, only lasted twenty minutes post workout.

Secondly – and perhaps worse – I believed that the quicker I got the protein in to me, the more advantageous it was. This was plant based or non meat protein.

I was like a cartoon, dropping the last dumbbell on the rack and barging to the locker room thinking for all the world that my muscles were in atrophy unless I saved them with my chocolate fudge protein elixir.

And woe betide any man, woman or child that got in my way. If there was someone on the locker next to mine when I reached it, they’d get all manner of hurry-up vibes from me; don’t even get in between me and my anabolic window.

Of course, I was clearly wrong, and being ridiculous, but that’s the thing; it was written in weight-lifting lore at the time.

Now, however, the more evolved idea is to take your whole day into account with respect to protein intake. Smashing 30 grams straight after working out will mean relatively little if you don’t have a decent balance over the day.

I should mention, there is nothing wrong with taking 30g of protein immediately after a workout, but don’t skip your twenty minute fat-burning cardio session after the weights because you think you are on the clock.

“Watch Your Kidneys Son”

That’s the advice I received one day in the gym, after hustling to get to my protein shake (see above) and coming back out to the floor to chat with a friend.

“Watch your kidneys son,” interupts a fairly mature gentleman, who later regales me with his wisdom on how you build muscle when you’re 65 years old (or more). It’s the last sentence that stuck in my mind.

“I buy this testosterone gel off the internet and rub it all over my chest…”  He may have said more but I was like roadrunner on speed by the time he got to the word chest.

Was roadrunner ever sick in his mouth?

I’m not sure.

Anyway, regardless of that unfortunate exchange (which has haunted me for decades) I still held on to the belief that a surplus of protein can put too much pressure on your kidneys. And of course, it is still a widely held belief.

Your kidneys are like filters. Your blood passes through them and they remove the substances that you don’t need.

And they are pretty good at this. An alcoholic can abuse them for years before one or both of them shut down. A bit of extra protein is nothing to these machines.

I’ve had kidney stones, and they are bad, baaad, baaaaad! Seriously. Bad! The pain is like nothing else I have ever or will ever experience. If you’ve had the painful ones then you know what I’m talking about. If you’ve had the smoother, less painful ones then you probably think I’m a wuss. I care not!

These little jagged-edged crystals of agony were partly due to improper hydration during a period of acute endurance training.

NOT too much protein, NOT creatine use, but lack of enough water. And kidney stones are only one of the repercussions of improper hydration. There are faster, more serious penalties to pay.

So, if I have any advice on high protein, high training-workload lifestyles, it’s to drink lots of water.

I take on about 3 litres a day, give or take. Higher protein diets do mean additional work for your kidneys but it’s nothing they can’t handle with good hydration.

Excess Protein Turns into Fat

I’ll tell you now – I used to ignore this one completely, but apparently it’s still a thing so, here it is.

The myth exists that there is an arbitrary maximum serving of protein per meal, and if you exceed it then the rest of the protein that ‘you don’t utilize’ turns to fat. The arbitrary number rests at about 30 grams.

It’s not true.

Protein can theoretically be converted to sugar, and then potentially be stored as fat, but its really an emergency process your body triggers if it really needs to.

It also takes a long time and takes its toll on your body (not great, as emergency plans go), so it won’t be the go-to response by any means.

You are far more likely to store fat due from eating an excess of simple sugars.

Protein in abundance – aka a high protein diet – might be necessary for improving muscle protein synthesis.

The researchers are figuring out what quantities prevent muscle protein breakdown and what amounts trigger synthesis. It seems to lie somewhere between 30g and 70g per meal, for someone who regularly engages in resistance training.

His bones don’t look weak to me though

Strong Muscles but Weak Bones

This mythology has great sounding science behind it sometimes.

Just wait until you get a chesty bro tell you in the gym that high protein diets strip calcium from your bones to neutralize the excess (amino) acid. It’s like being in the twilight zone when that happens.

Wait…he’s saying I should limit my protein because my bones will be stronger for it. Well, I assume that’s also why he looks like he’s skipped the last eighteen hundred leg days.

Studies are fairly conclusive when it comes to this. Higher protein diets, i.e. when replacing some calories of carbs with protein, are synonymous with increased bone strength, and the growth hormone axis responsible. [source: Rizzoli, R., & Bonjour, J. P. (2004). Dietary protein and bone health. Journal of Bone and Mineral Research, Vol 19, Issue 4, p527-531]

Up next is the section covering Carbohydrates and Fat.

and, PS. How gross are egg-white omelettes!?

PPS. Don’t just say you like them because you’ve been eating them for 30 years, thinking you were being healthy. And for the record, you liked whatever sauce you added to that tasteless wobbly rubber, not the egg-whites.

Just saying.

Nutrition Myths and Mistakes – Carbohydrates and Fiber

Let’s start this article off by naming some of the most dangerous substances on earth. You’ve got Polonium-210, Fluoroantimonic acid, carbohydrates, chlorine gas…wait a minute!

A nice platter of carbs

Okay, perhaps that example is bit over the top, but talk to some dieters and they really believe carbohydrates should, and can, be eliminated from your diet due to their downright wickedness…

They’re the scourge of the food groups, they cause cancer, they make you fat, they cause diabetes, they might be why sociopaths become serial killers and they are definitely what started World War II.

Got carried away again there, sorry. The point is, carbs have got this stigma attached to them that makes no sense when you really open the issue up.

Therefore, to follow up Nutrition Mistakes and Myth – Protein, here’s the carbohydrate instalment.

Zero Carb Diets

Every time someone tells me they are on a zero carb diet, I die a little inside.

I have a thousand responses rattling around in my head but to save myself from the slippery slope of becoming a patronizing ass, I opt for sincerity…most of the time. Something like:

You mean high-glycemic carbs, or fast carbs. Not like fruits, vegetables, and beans and stuff, right?

Right, yeah, of course.

Phew! Good, because that’s all I mean when I say it can’t be zero carbs!

Carbohydrates are tricky because they are categorized under that one name, but they cannot all be judged the same way.

Carbohydrates Differ – A Lot

You wouldn’t put a creamy cake next to an apple and compare them, or a floret of broccoli in the same column as a candy cane, for the same reason you wouldn’t put hydrogenated vegetable fat in the same sub-group as omega-3 krill oil.

Carbs are technically carbs and fats are technically fats but sub-categories are everything here, because that’s where the differences are.

The way your body processes high glycemic index carbohydrates is so different to low GI carbs that the question of whether they are even related at all could be asked. And that’s why people forget it when it comes to their diet.

High GI and Low GI Carbs

When they say they are cutting carbs, they really mean the faster digested high GI carbs, like fruit juices, sweets and candy, cookies, white bread and anything else made with white flour.

Fast (simple/high GI) carbs are digested fast, meaning the glucose from them is released into your blood quickly, which in turn means your insulin levels will spike.

Insulin is the hormone which amongst its other jobs whips sugar away for storage or use as energy.

This action can leave you pretty drained because the insulin takes sugar away that might keep you energized.

If insulin becomes too desensitized through repetitive consumption of fast carbs, it will just start taking sugar out of your blood and indiscriminately storing it in fat cells for later.

The more sugar, the more it fills up the fat cells. Diabetes is a long term risk.

There is one or two times a day when fast/simple carbs will work out for you, and that’s when you have just finished a workout, and sometimes just after you wake up if the previous day was pretty heavy.

Here, the sugar is used as direct energy and there isn’t the risk of fat storage or insulin desensitization.

The bulk of your carbs should be low to medium GI, such as most vegetables, brown rice, beans, sweet potatoes and whole fruits.

No Carbohydrates Before Bed
Is this picture proof of the old adage – no carbs before bed?

No Carbohydrates Before Bed

…because it’ll make you fat?

The problem with this theory is the myth of metabolism, i.e. it slows way down during the night. That is not the case, in fact your resting metabolism is not that different to your daytime metabolic rate.

The truth is that exercise during the day will increase your metabolic rate in general, including at night.

A lot of the fat you burn during the 24 hour period is as a result of your overall activity level.

To further throw a spanner in the works of the ‘no carbs before bed’ myth, it is demonstrably better to eat at least half of your daily allotment of carbs in the evening if you workout regularly, because it helps your muscles grow and recover overnight. Also, it’s just annoying going to bed hungry – you might become ‘hangry’ – so it’s great that there’s a positive reason not to.

[Source – Mischler, … & Fellmann, N. (2003). Prolonged daytime exercise repeated over 4 days increases sleeping heart rate and metabolic rate. Canadian Journal of Applied Physiology]

Carbs and Counting Calories

4 calories per gram, to be precise. If you are counting calories, then they all need to go on the total day’s amount, fiber and all.

And that’s a good point about fiber; they don’t impact blood sugar like high GI carbs do, but they still contain calories.

Just about the only foods truly free of calories are leafy greens. And with respect to leafy green vegetables – go nuts!

The main point here is this: if you are really counting carbs, count them all.

Nutrition Myths and Mistakes – Fat and Cholesterol

It killed Elvis!

Fat is just bad, OKAY!

Nope, not true, incorrect, wrong, I’m afraid. Fat is not only good for you, it’s necessary!

It’s a bit like carbohydrates, in the sense that there is more than meets the eye.

Fat is a lovely, concise three letter word, but it can’t hope to convey the reality that there is good fat, bad fat and somewhere in-between fat. Oh, and then there’s cholesterol. Boo, cholesterol, right?!

Also wrong. Again, cholesterol is not only…blah blah…it’s necessary.

As with the previous articles covering a little about protein and carbohydrates and the myths and mistakes clouding their reputations in the

Fat Makes You Fat

Ah, fat. If only it could be called something different. And fatty acids sounds even worse! That’s two harmful substances put together.

The problem here is obvious. Too much fat can make you fat. Sure, but too much of anything containing calories can make you fat. And some of those things can make you sick, let alone bigger.

  • Energy Consumption > Energy Expenditure = Fat Gain
  • Energy Consumption < Energy Expenditure = Fat Loss

Wrap your head around these formulae and you have the raw maths of dieting for weight loss.

Carbs, fat, even protein in some circumstances will add to your fat storage if the calorie count going down your neck is higher than the calorie count you are burning off. And burning off mostly refers to your base metabolic rate (BMR), and then you can add a bit for exercise.

Calories are the energy unit of food we consume.

All foods contain energy, some contain negligible amounts, some contain so much you’d be amazed how many can fit in such a small volume.

The Skinny on Fat

Now, taking all this into account, there is no way that fat simply translates to fat storage. It is only when you factor in the calories from fat PLUS the calories from everything else that you can determine whether your diet is making you fat.

Don’t stop reading there, though. There’s more to the fat story, and it gets a lot more interesting.

Moderate level fat diets are better for losing weight than low fat diets! How, because fats actually satisfy hunger more than the other macros.

Yes they contain more calories per gram but when you combine a healthy source of fat with a lean protein option, then you will be far less prone to snacking in-between on junk calories.

What’s more, unsaturated fats, i.e. mono- and poly- that are in nuts, olive oil, fish and the awesome power fruit – avocados – ahev many healthy benefits linked to them, such as brain health and metabolism.

Yes, these fats are actually easier to burn off than horrible trans fats, which you should avoid.

In recent years, even saturated fats have been vindicated. You need to moderate saturated fat more than their unsaturated cousins but they are not bad for you.

Cholesterol = Unhealthy

This is one of, if not the most, prevalent misconceptions in the diet and nutrition realm.

The boycott on egg yolks are the best example of the near half-century of misguided health advice from authoritative bodies such as heart foundations and food health organizations.

Over forty years ago, the link was made between elevated dietary cholesterol levels and high blood cholesterol, and thus heart disease and related problems.

Cholesterol is actually an essential molecule, important for the most basic of cellular functions.

Good and Bad Fat

There are however, two forms of lipoprotein – High Density and Low Density (HDL and LDL) – which carry fats around the body.

LDL can deposit the fat in artery walls and is thus considered to have a negative impact when present in higher than normal levels.

HDL, on the other hand, takes the fat from these artery walls and ships it away to be wasted. As cholesterol is one of the types of fat molecule that can be deposited, LDL is sometimes referred to as “Bad Cholesterol”, and because every villain needs a hero, HDL is the “Good Cholesterol.”

Confusingly, LDL levels are higher in western culture because of the overconsumption of trans fats and saturated fats.

Now, trans fats should be avoided completely, but saturated fats are okay in moderation (unless you have been advised by a doctor that you are have high natural cholesterol).

Overconsumption is the issue, not cholesterol per se, but as with most cases of habitual behaviour leading to bad health, the root cause is not the focus of scientific papers. And so, dietary cholesterol was culprit that seemed to correlate with the findings.

eggs are good
Eggs – friend or foe

Egg whites are okay, they are the leanest of lean when it comes to a rich source of protein.

Whole eggs, however, contain vitamins and nutrients including omega-3, choline, B6, B12 and more B vitamins, and even more protein. And they have been associated with increased levels of High Density Lipoprotein. The good guy!

Ref:Andersen, C. J., Blesso…(2013). Egg consumption modulates HDL lipid composition and increases the cholesterol-accepting capacity of serum in metabolic syndrome

Provided you don’t have a specific medical reason to do so, don’t avoid the yolk. Enjoy eggs that taste of something!

About Tony Jay

Tony Jay (CEO of AGJ Media, CPD certified in Diet and Nutrition) Tony is a fitness enthusiast, writer, and entrepreneur. He’s been active in the health and wellness industry since 2007 and firmly believes correct nutrition is the key to good health. A workaholic by nature, Tony uses power yoga to keep his mind sharp, maintain physical subtlety, and keep fit. LinkedIn

Leave a Comment