People love supplements. It’s an easy way to add some nutrients to the diet. But the answer to the question: “Should I take a protein supplement?” is: Probably not. Very few people NEED a protein supplement and a well-balanced diet is usually sufficient.
Protein supplements are useful for people who have increased requirements for this macro-nutrient. People who are trying to gain muscle mass such as athletes and bodybuilders; people who are trying to reduce disease or age-related muscle mass loss such as patients with AIDS, serious burns or after surgeries and older people.
Scientifically, protein is a series of amino acids linked together like a chain. The links that hold these amino acids together are known as peptide links. Amino acids are the primary source of nitrogen in the body. Having a positive nitrogen balance is essential for proper muscle growth and repair.
‘Should I take a protein supplement?’ is a very common question asked by my clients and I have to admit, that most people who are working out at the gym are taking at least one supplement.
Is it dangerous to have too
Too much protein has not been proven to be dangerous in healthy people. The exception is those with certain health conditions (liver and kidney problems). However, in a healthy individual, any excess protein is likely to be passed through in urine, used as fuel, or potentially stored as fat. Also, there is no evidence to indicate that higher protein intake is beneficial to gaining muscle.
However, overconsumption may lead to an increased risk of
certain side effects:
To avoid the side effects you need to drink plenty of water, avoid caffeinated beverages and increase your fiber intake.
WHEN to have it?
In the interest of performance/building muscle, the general consensus is to space out your protein intake throughout the day at regular intervals, having about 15-25g of protein per meal/snack. The ‘anabolic window’ (the period around exercising where you make gains) is actually 24hrs and not a strict deadline so don’t panic too much if you don’t get protein right before or right after you exercise. The optimal time to consume proteins is up to one hour after the workout.
Types of protein supplements
Okay so you’ve decided you should take a protein supplement – but where do you
On the market you can find protein supplements in different forms. Powders are the most common and the easiest to absorb. Bars are popular (and quite tasty), but they tend to have a lot of added sugar and other additives. There are also ready to drink liquid proteins, which are a medical food developed for the dietary management of conditions requiring supplemental protein.
On the market you can also find pills, which are actually convenient (you can easily pack them and drink them down with some water after the workout), but they are relatively expensive and it takes longer to absorb them.
For day-to-day supplementation I would recommend protein powders, which are either animal-based proteins or plant based. They also may have added extras eg. vitamins, minerals, greens, fiber or carbohydrates.
Animal-based protein powders are complete protein source, as they contain all essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. Whey and casein are both milk proteins. Casein is considered slow protein as it is absorbed and digested at a slower rate (which is why it is recommended before bed). Whey is considered a fast protein – it is digested an absorbed quickly. Whey is probably the most researched of all the protein supplements and is generally considered superior in terms of muscle building. It’s not suitable for vegans or those with a dairy intolerance. There are some factors to consider when buying a protein powder. Casein is generally more expensive than whey. Moreover, whey often has a better consistency and taste better than casein. I recommend to find the one without any additives and artificial sweeteners like TGS All Natural 100% Whey Protein Powder . You can mix it with water or milk (shake will be sweeter and thicker), add your favorite fruits and blend it to have a delicious protein shake. I like to add banana, strawberries and a handful of spinach leaves to increase the veggies intake.
Egg protein powder is an animal-based alternative without dairy/lactose. It actually has the highest biological value because of essential amino acids and sulfur-containing proteins naturally occurring. It easily mixes with any liquid, and actually tastes better than traditional egg white proteins.
Plant-based protein powders
These are on the rise and more sustainable. However, in isolation, most plant-based proteins fall short one or two amino acids and do not stimulate muscle protein synthesis to the same effect as animal-based proteins. Due to this fact, most are now sold as blends of a few plant proteins (e.g. pea and brown rice) so that they have a more complete amino acid profile, for example Alaya Organic Vegan Protein Powder. The main 3 types of plant protein powders are:
Peas and legumes – A good source of proteins that are higher in
branched chain amino acids and lysine (plays a key role in triggering muscle protein synthesis) but lack methionine.
Brown rice protein isolate – A source of protein that is higher in methionine,
but lacks other amino acids including threonine, leucine, and histidine.
Hemp protein – Contains complete amino acids without the psychoactive effects of cannabis. Hemp also contains plant-sourced omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids.
Generally, plant-based protein powders have their own unique flavor and aftertaste, and as a result often contain a lot of food additives to hide their real flavor. Be aware of artificial food additives and select protein powders with a shorter ingredient list.
Should you take a protein supplement?
I hope this article was helpful and you already know the answer for the question ‘Should I take a protein supplement? The key to finding the best option for you is to be informed about your own health. But always remember, FOOD FIRST. Protein supplements are rarely essential.
What is your experience with protein supplements? Please share in the comments below.