Mistake # 5: Eating Too Much Protein
One trend that I have observed among firefighters is the tendency to eat a lot of protein. Protein is abundant in a lot of foods including grains, nuts, dairy, and of course meat. In general, many firefighters over-consume protein by taking in protein shakes/supplements and eating too much meat.
There is a common misconception that eating excess protein does not lead to weight gain as does eating excess fat and carbohydrate.
That is not true; there is nothing magical about the calories in dietary protein; they contribute to weight gain just like calories coming from fat and carbs do. However protein is different in one major way; we do not use it for energy like we do fat and carbohydrate.
That should tip you off regarding another protein myth.
Contrary to popular belief, it is not necessary to take in tons more protein because you are exercising.
If you’re still shaking your head and asking “what about muscle repair?” consider this; the typical American diet consists of 3 times the amount of protein our bodies need. So, the protein that is already in your normal diet is likely enough to support changes that occur to muscle and other tissues in response to exercise.
The fact that we easily meet our daily protein requirement means that for most people it’s not necessary to take in protein supplements. The makers of these shakes and powders would have you believe differently since it is a highly lucrative industry.
But don’t be fooled, you could be wasting your money; not to mention sabotaging your efforts to achieve or maintain a healthy weight (because you are unnecessarily taking in more calories). Unless you’re eating high-protein supplements as a meal replacement, the only time you will really benefit from taking them is if you are trying to gain weight. Even then, the bottom line is that the body needs more calories to gain mass, so you really just need to increase your calorie intake overall.
Of course, the best way to do that would be to take in a variety of nutritious foods.
Another issue is that firefighters commonly prepare/eat meals that center around one big portion of meat. While there are some important nutrients in meat, such as zinc and iron, there is also cholesterol and saturated fat. Even the “lean” meats like chicken, although lower in calories, have fat and cholesterol. Long term consumption could potentially result in high cholesterol and obesity; and these are two of the major risk factors for heart disease and heart attack. Simply reducing the portion size of meat within a meal can go a long way in making the meal healthier.
Don’t get me wrong, protein is not a bad thing; we actually can’t get along without it. It’s also a major contribute to satiety (fullness) which is why some people just feel more comfortable taking in higher protein meals. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, that will still result in good health as long as the calories coming from protein is not greater than 1/3 of total calories.