High protein diets really as harmful as heavy smoking?

Recent findings from University of South Carolina have shown high-protein diets may be as harmful as smoking 20 cigarettes a day.

The research has made headlines all across the UK and there have been debates on both TV and radio arguing for and against banishing protein from our diets.

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Is there a risk for cyclists? After all, protein is the staple of any healthy cyclist’s diet, essential for recovery, promoting protein synthesis, and boosting immunity. Is it really a case of ditching the protein?

The US study followed 6,381 people, aged over 50, for over 20 years, looking at the effect their diets had on long-term health. After analysing the diets and dividing them into groups based on their protein consumption, study leader Valter Logo, director of the Longevity Institute at the University of Southern California, concluded that people under 65 who ate high-protein diets, were four times more likely to die from cancer than those on low-protein ones.

Participants eating high-protein diets were also 75 per cent more likely to die of any cause. With high-protein diets being linked to increased levels of growth hormone 
IGF-1, which is known to cause cancer, those behind the study suggest that lowering the amount of protein consumed should reduce cancer risk.

The proteins linked to having detrimental effects on health were animal proteins, such as meats, eggs, milk and cheese. The majority of recovery drinks are made from forms of dairy products, which according to the results, does present a problem.

However, those who ate a high plant-protein diet, like beans and pulses, had a far lower risk of developing harmful diseases. While they may not be as practical as a recovery shake, they certainly provide an adequate source of protein, which the body requires after cycling.
But is this really the end of protein shakes? Other dieticians and researchers are skeptical about these results and are advising people not to cut protein from their diets. With cause and effect being hard to distinguish in observational studies like these, many say it’s hard to pin the harmful effects on the protein in the diets.

So, despite the findings, it’s not necessarily a good idea for people exercising to stop consuming protein. Riding regularly means you will probably need more protein than the average person, so cutting down may be detrimental to your riding. A healthy, balanced diet is still the best option, getting a range of nutrients from different sources.