International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

Protein Pills, Powders and Poppycock
by Ruth E. Fleidrich. PhD - from IVU News 2001

Our bodies are built for economy...

Ruth carrying the torch at the opening of the Hawaii Senior Olympic games in June 2001

One of the most frequent questions I get from athletes is how to get more protein. In their minds they are thinking that if they stuff more protein into their mouths, that it magically goes to their muscles and they will automatically get stronger. Body builders, especially, want to see hypertrophy of their muscles (without all the work). This question is especially prevalent with vegetarian or vegan athletes because they think that without meat, egg whites, or skim milk in some form, they are at risk of having a protein deficiency.

The advertising you see in magazines and health food stores plays into this fear because there is a product to sell. Protein supplements come in many forms, all with the same goal, to get you to buy their product. The fallacy is that if you want to develop a muscle, you have to overstress it by putting more stress on it than it can handle. This is the ONLY way a muscle will get bigger and stronger.

On the contrary, our bodies are built for economy. It will get rid of anything it doesn't need. If you don't need bulging biceps (or if you already have them and are not currently using them), the body will not let that muscle get a "free ride." The most vivid example is seen when you put an arm or a leg in a cast. In this case, the body doesn't (and can't) use the associated muscles. When you take the cast off six weeks later, you will be struck with what you see. The arm or leg appears to have withered away!

Now, is this permanent? No! To re-build those muscles, all you have to do is start using them and the body responds by putting on additional muscle ONLY to the extent that it needs. So, for every day usage, a normal-size muscle is attained. With heavy, extreme usage, a bulging muscle is the result.
But where does it get the raw materials (protein) to do this if you are not eating another animal's muscle (protein)? Easy! It comes from plants. The best examples are the biggest and strongest animals - elephants, horses, giraffes, rhinoceroses - every one of them vegans!

(They also happen to be the longest-living animals, another lesson buried here.) Vegetables and grains are complete proteins which means that they contain all the amino acids necessary to build muscle from
scratch or to add on bigger, stronger muscles.

For example, the limiting amino acid in plant foods is methionine, one of the so-called essential amino acids. If you were to eat only rice for, say, a large male's 3000 calorie day's allotment, you would get 1.1 grams, way above the minimum daily requirement of .11 grams (about TEN times as much)! in fact, this points out one of the problems with consuming the excess protein you get from eating animal protein, that of getting TOO much protein. This leads to kidney disease and osteoporosis as the human body cannot store protein and is damaged when it has to break down excess protein.

So, this is the secret to greater muscular development. The more weight the muscle has to push, the bigger and stronger it will get! You get to choose!

Dr. Heidrich has a Ph.D. in Health Management with majors in Nutriuion and Exercise Phisiology. She is a breast cancer survivor and has completed the Ironman Triathlon six times, run 67 marathons, accumulated inure than 700 first place trophies, and set numerous fitness records including being named "One of the Ten Fittest Wonien in North America" by Living Fit Magazine. She is also the author of "A Race For Life" and 'The Race For Life Cookbook."

To contact Ruth with questions or for articles:
Ruth E. Heidrich, Ph.D. 1415 Victoria St. #1106, Honolulu, HI 96822
Ask Dr. Ruth:
ruthheidrich@Juno com