Fitness

Protein Supplements: Yes or No?

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Protein supplements are often used by athletes, trained and recreational, to boost their performance or help with post-workout recovery. The most common of these supplements is whey protein that is extracted from whey, which is the watery part of milk that is left when milk solids develop into curds, as in the production of cheese. Some other sources of protein in protein supplements are soy, eggs and even rice!

It wasn’t very long ago when protein supplements were all the rage in the health and fitness community. Now, that protein supplements have had their moment in the sun and the dust and hype have finally settled, some questions are begging to be answered. Are protein supplements really effective? Are they even really safe and are they necessary? Below are recent findings regarding protein supplements.

PROS

1. GOOD PROTEIN SUBSTITUTE

Protein supplements are a great way to include protein into your diet without having meat. Going vegan for example puts you at risk for protein deficiency. The symptoms of which include fatigue, skin problems, edema and muscle wasting to name a few.

What’s more, protein supplements can provide you all the essential amino acids that meat provides but without the extra fat, calories and cholesterol.

2. LOWERS COW’S MILK ALLERGIES

We all know that it is the protein in some types of food that triggers allergic reaction. The body, mistaking these proteins as harmful foreign bodies, initiates an immune campaign to neutralize these “invaders”. Surprisingly, studies have shown that when infants have whey protein included into their diet, they are less likely to develop cow’s milk allergies as they age. As to why this is the case is unclear.

3. IMPROVES SKIN IRRITATIONS

Infant formulas containing whey protein have been linked to lower incidences of eczema and psoriasis in babies at risk for these skin irritations.

4. BODY BUILDING

Body builders will typically need 0.8-1g of protein per pound in order to achieve their weight and body fat percentage goals. It is important to note that recreational athletes need much less than body builders do, around 0.5-0.6g of protein per pound a day. Protein supplements are a convenient way to deliver the necessary nutrition for body builders to reach their goals. So, instead of lugging around a huge lunch box to the gym, it’s much easier to just pack your protein powder in a small container.

CONS

1. NOT VERY EFFECTIVE AS A RECOVERY DRINK

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Despite what the media has fed us, protein supplements are actually not that effective as a recovery drink. Any boost you feel when you drink it before you work out is also likely just the placebo effect working on your mind. Studies have consistently demonstrated that protein supplements have little to no effect in the recovery of muscles after a workout. Same goes for the prevention of muscle damage. You know what’s a surprisingly great recovery drink though? – Chocolate milk.

Protein supplements have also been packaged by the media as a way to hasten recovery after an injury. Conventional wisdom would tell us that an increase in nutrition, especially protein, while the body is under stress would be a good idea, especially if the injury is muscular in nature. However, studies have shown time and time again that protein supplements make no significant difference in muscle metabolism, may it be muscle breakdown or synthesis.

2. DETRIMENTAL TO KIDNEY AND LIVER HEALTH

All that excess protein has to go somewhere right? Most people will need only about 30-50g of protein per day, but most protein supplements will contain 80g of protein per serving. Constantly consuming protein in excess is bound to put some stress on the liver and the kidneys, which have to work twice as hard to get rid of the extra protein.

In addition to that, if protein supplement dosage is left unchecked, such high doses of protein could result to other problems, which include nausea, bloating, cramps and fatigue.

3. NOT THAT SATISFYING

From a muscle building stand point, 500g of protein is 500g of protein whatever source you get it from. Let’s face it, would you much rather get your protein from steak, tuna and chicken or from a protein slush that you drink out of a straw? No chewing needed, satiety not guaranteed.

4. NO EFFECT ON WEIGHT LOSS

There is not enough evidence to show that protein supplements alone can affect your weight loss significantly. The truth is that this stuff is quite high in calories, just as protein is designed to be. Protein supplements may be able to improve muscle composition however.

5. DOES NOT SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVE ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE

With the number of athletes constantly on protein supplements you would think it improved their performance a smidge. Not according to science. There is insufficient evidence to support that protein supplements have an effect on athletic performance. However, some studies have shown that these supplements may provide benefit to recreational athletes but not to trained athletes.

Verdict 

The takeaway from all of this is that protein supplements are not inherently bad. Like most things, moderation is key with supplements. For the most part though, they are quite harmless. It must be noted that protein supplements have been found to have major and minor interactions with some drugs including Levodopa (for Parkinson’s disease) and some antibiotics. So be extra cautious with protein supplements while you’re on meds.

It is the author’s opinion that while protein supplements are not inherently harmful, they are quite unnecessary. If you feel that these supplements are working for you, by all means continue using them. It’s just that there are much more satisfying sources of protein out there that are equally just as healthy – in moderation of course!

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