Take a look at these popular myths and the research that squashes them. If you believe any of these myths, you may be sabotaging your capacity to make great improvements.

Myth: A high protein intake causes kidney dysfunction/damage.

That is, you take a healthy person and put them on a high protein diet, the protein will somehow negatively influence kidney function, damage this organ and promote disease.

Fact: Absolutely no data suggests that a high protein intake promotes any renal (kidney) dysfunction in healthy people. There aren’t even any studies that suggest this may happen. In fact, there is evidence that refutes this notion directly.(1)

Protein metabolism experts (scientists that have devoted their careers to this area of research) now urge health care professionals to change their restrictive (unfounded) views on protein intake. These experts provide three important reasons why.

1) We know very little about the important functions of various amino acids at both the mechanistic and quantitative level. Our knowledge on protein requirements to improve health is very limited.(2)

2) Based on poor analysis techniques, previous recommendations are probably well short of the mark.(3)

3) As no evidence suggests that increasing protein intake will cause harm, when healthcare professionals caution healthy, active people about the perils of a high protein diet, it’s ignorance of the worst kind. This is misinformation that may contribute to poor health.(2,3,4)

4) A high intake (2 to 3 times the basic allowance) of low-fat protein does not promote any adverse effect in healthy people. In fact, scientists leading the way in this field research suggest the opposite; increasing the proportion of protein in the diet is a strategy that will promote health and better results from exercise training. (4,5,6)

Myth: High protein diets are harmful to your bones.

Fact: Dietary protein can increase urine acidity, and calcium may be drawn from the bones to buffer the acid load. However, its been acknowledged the earlier studies that reported this effect did not use appropriate research design and methodologies.(9)

We now know that the phosphate content of protein-rich foods (and supplements) negates this effect. More recent, well-designed research has found a positive relationship between protein intake and bone health. In fact, not enough protein is deleterious to bone health. Several recent epidemiological studies have shown that a reduced bone density and increased rates of bone loss in individuals that consume low protein diets.(10,11)

Myth: Performing exercise on an empty stomach burns body fat.

Some believe that simply by exercising first thing in the morning on an empty stomach this will burn more body fat. Ah! If only it were that simple, we wouldn’t have an obesity epidemic!!

Fact: Human physiology is a little more complicated. For most people, workouts constitute less than 5% of the week (that’s 3-6 hour-long workouts a week). The total amount of energy burnt during a workout constitutes a small percentage of the day, (around 17%). Therefore, the type of fuel utilized during the workout is inconsequential.

Fact: For years we’ve known that intense exercise after fasting (such as sleep) promotes the catabolism (destruction) of precious muscle tissue and creates a metabolic environment that makes improvements virtually impossible.(7)

Conversely, the correct nutrition flowing through your system during exercise will amplify results. The key here is timing – the strategic consumption of the right nutrition before and immediately after exercise. Performed correctly, the strategic consumption of the right nutrition before and immediately after exercise can improve results in body composition (more muscle, less fat) by 100%.(8) Be sure to read the Anabolic Nutrient Timing Factor.

Myth: Drinking coffee is harmful to your health.

Coffee and caffeinated beverages have been blamed for everything from high blood pressure and heart problems to strokes and even cellulite. The fact is, there isn’t one shred of science-based evidence that links coffee to any of these.

Fact: An ever-growing amount of scientific research now supports an unlikely concept, coffee is good for you.

Several long-term studies on large populations across Europe have confirmed that coffee has a remarkable, beneficial effect on insulin metabolism. For instance, the first was an eight-year-long study completed on 900 adults, and it showed that regular coffee consumption reduces the risk for type-2 diabetes by a whopping 60%. Another study involved an even larger group and reported that heavy coffee drinkers (six or more cups a day!) are half as likely to develop diabetes as people who consume two cups or less a day. Coffee is probably the second most frequently ingested beverage worldwide (second to water), it has a significant antioxidant activity, and appears to reduce risk of type 2 diabetes.(12)

Myth: Caffeine-containing beverages cause dehydration.

Fact: The idea that coffee or caffeine-containing beverages promote dehydration is not supported by research. Several studies have debunked this myth directly. For example, one investigation determined if three levels of caffeine consumption affected fluid-electrolyte balance and kidney function differently. Healthy participants consumed 3 mg caffeine per kilo body weight per day on days 1 to 6 – (a caffeine dose is equal to around 3 cups of coffee).  On days 7 to 11 (treatment phase), subjects consumed either 0 mg, 3 mg, or 6 mg caffeine per kilo of body weight per day in capsules, with no other dietary caffeine intake.

See Also:
12 Mistakes That Will Stop Your Muscle-Building Gains Dead in Their Tracks

Results showed caffeine had no effect on body mass, urine osmolality, color, volume, sodium or potassium excretion, creatinine, blood urea nitrogen, serum osmolality, hematocrit, and total plasma protein. According to the authors, these findings refute the notion that caffeine consumption acts as a diuretic.(13)

Myth: Creatine causes muscle cramps, tears, renal problems or heat-related injuries.

If you believe the mainstream press reports about creatine, you’d be convinced that taking this supplement will cramp you up like a slug that just had salt poured all over it, and your kidneys would receive a beating worse than Manny Pacquiao could ever give you. The mainstream press rarely does its homework when it comes to the facts about sports supplements. I mean why let the facts get in the way of a good story, right?

Fact: Creatine is a naturally occurring compound found in small quantities within the brain, liver, kidneys, and testes (in men). However, approximately 95% of creatine stores are found in skeletal muscle. This is probably due to its vital role in all cellular energy (ATP) production and transfer pathways. Creatine’s vital importance in cell function has been studied since 1914.

Creatine supplements are often consumed in amounts of up to 20 g/day for a few days, followed by 2-10 g/day for weeks, months or even years. Liver and kidney function have been examined during short-term (a few days), medium term (4-9 weeks) and long-term (up to 5 years) investigations. No adverse effects of any kind have been documented (14,15,16).

Regarding increased risk of muscle cramp and heat-related injuries, several studies have refuted this directly. In fact, one large study on top-level Collegiate athletes discovered that creatine users had significantly less cramping; heat illness or dehydration; muscle tightness; muscle strains; and total injuries than nonusers. Extensive investigations demonstrate creatine consumption does not cause harm and in fact, may have a protective effect against certain exercise-related injuries.(14,15,16)


1. Poortmans JR, Dellalieux O. Do regular high protein diets have potential health risks on kidney function in athletes? Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2000b;10(1):28-38.

2. Reeds PJ, Biolo G. Non-protein roles of amino acids: an emerging aspect of nutrient requirements. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care 5:43-5, 2002.

3. Millward DJ, Layman DK, Tomé D, Schaafsma G. Protein quality assessment: impact of expanding understanding of protein and amino acid needs for optimal health. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1576S-1581S.

4. Layman DK, Clifton P, Gannon MC, Krauss RM, Nuttall FQ. Protein in optimal health: heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 May;87(5):1571S-1575S.

5. Layman DK. Protein quantity and quality at levels above the RDA improves adult weight loss. J Am Coll Nutr 23;631S-636S, 2004.

6. Farnsworth E, Luscome ND, Noakes M, et al. Effect of a high-protein, energy-restricted diet on body composition, glycemic control, and lipid concentrations in overweight and obese hyperinsulinemic men and women Am J Clin Nutr 78:31-39, 2003.

7. Biolo G, Maggi SP, Williams BD, Tipton KD, Wolfe RR. Increased rates of muscle protein turnover and amino acid transport after resistance exercise in humans. Am J Physiol. 1995 Mar;268(3 Pt 1):E514-20.

8. Cribb PJ, Hayes A.Effects of supplement timing and resistance exercise on skeletal muscle hypertrophy. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2006 Nov;38(11):1918-25.

9. Ginty F. Dietary Protein and bone health. Proc Nutr Soc 2003;62(4):867-876.

10. New SA. Do vegetarians have normal bone mass? Osteoporos Int 2004; 15(9):697-688.

11. Kerstetter JE, O’Brien KO, Insogna KL. Low protein intake: the impact on calcium and bone homeostasis in humans. J Nutr. 2003;133(3):855S-861S.

12. Ranheim T, Halvorsen B. Coffee consumption and human health – beneficial or detrimental? – Mechanisms for effects of coffee consumption on different risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Mol Nutr Food Res. 2005.

13. Armstrong LE. Caffeine, body fluid-electrolyte balance, and exercise performance. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2002;12(2):189-206.
Poortmans JR, Francaux M. Adverse effects of creatine supplementation: fact or fiction? Sports Med. 2000a;30(3):155-70.

14. Kreider RB, Melton C, Rasmussen CJ, et al. Long-term creatine supplementation does not significantly affect clinical markers of health in athletes. Mol Cell Biochem. 2003;244(1-2):95-104.

15. Greenwood M, Kreider RB, Greenwood L, Byars A. Cramping and Injury Incidence in Collegiate Football Players Are Reduced by Creatine Supplementation. J Athl Train. 2003;38(3):216-219.

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Nutrition Myths That Too Many Athletes Think are Real.

by Paul Cribb Ph.D. CSCS. time to read: 8 min
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