In the 21st Century the popularity of healthy protein supplements in the form of drinks, bars and other tempting goodies has soared.
It has become one of the largest areas of the entire fitness, health and training industry.
However, it seems that there are a growing number of people who look at protein supplements for the wrong reasons i.e. for quick-fix solutions or in some cases meal replacements.
The use of protein supplements
Ultimately it is these sorts of misconceptions that lead to the improper use of protein supplements and, for many, the feeling of discontent when they do not achieve the results they anticipated.
It is therefore necessary for people to make sure they undergo some sort of research into what they’re buying in order to ascertain whether or not it is right for them.
In this article I will cover a number of questions that people may have and try to shed some light on the multi-billion pound supplement world!
Are they really necessary?
I wish I could answer this question with a simple Yes or No but unfortunately it is not as easy as that, much of the research to date argues that:
“Currently, it is not possible to form a consensus position regarding the benefit of protein or amino acid supplements” – Wolfe, 2000
However, while this may be true to some degree, there is a plethora of research that argues against this, especially the work undertaken by Stuart Phillips (2013) in ‘Protein Consumption and resistance exercise: Maximizing anabolic potential’ .
There are a number of variables that people need to take into consideration when assessing the use/need of protein supplements for them and that is why it is so hard to give a Yes or No answer.
Protein rich diets
Many individuals consume enough protein from their diet alone but still consume a protein supplement throughout the day.
There are certainly two sides to this, with some research suggesting that consuming protein supplements over natural protein-rich foods does not provide any added benefit (Duellman et al.2008).
Therefore, if you are considering purchasing some sort of protein supplement, it would be wise to evaluate your diet and see if you are consuming the correct amount of protein – 0.8g per kg/body mass (authoritynutrition, 2014).
Effect of exercise on the need for protein supplementation
In light of this, it is also necessary for people to assess their activity level, especially those who partake in regular resistance training and for individuals who want to build and maintain muscle mass.
The recommended protein intake for these people as stated by Phillips (2013) is much higher than the normal RDA; it should be “in the range of 1.4-1.6 g protein/kg body mass/d”.
This contrasts much of the research and in essence, highlights the need for protein supplements for some individuals, not only due to the fact that it may be hard to get enough protein from natural food sources but also due to other factors such as timing, leucine content and forms of consumption (liquid), all of which will aid in the recovery process.
Other needs for protein supplements
There are many other sub-groups that would be suited to protein supplements such as those with nutrient deficiencies, however the main message to take from this is that it all depends on the type of lifestyle you live and also what you are trying to achieve.
If you have an individual with a particularly bad diet but they want to consume a protein supplement, the logical thing to do would be to advise them away from protein supplements as the effectiveness of the supplement alongside their diet is likely to have a very small/ negligible effect.
And it would also save them money.
I would recommend they clean up their diet first and then progress from there; it is all about being logical!
When should you consume protein supplements?
For those using protein supplements as a way to meet adequate daily needs, there is really no best time to take them, however, one factor to consider is to not consume them with other protein sources.
Protein supplements do not come cheap, therefore to get the most of out them in terms of digestion and daily needs, it would be wise to consume them on their own with a time gap between meals and supplement consumption.
While timing may not be vital to some individuals, for those trying to build muscle or recover after resistance training, it will have a considerable effect.
Protein consumption immediately after resistance exercise (Breen & Phillips, 2012; Churchward-Venne et al., 2012) has been shown to help to stimulate maximal muscle protein synthesis and having a protein supplement to hand is much easier and far more convenient than consuming protein from food.
Moreover, liquid forms of protein are beneficial as they digest much faster (Phillips, 2013); this is another area that is arguably in favor of protein supplements.
Which protein supplements should you take?
Finally, with so many different types of protein supplement on the market it can be hard to choose the right one.
However, for those wanting to stimulate protein synthesis, I would strongly recommend a whey protein source because of its high concentration in the amino acid leucine (Phillips, 2013).
If it’s a late night snack before bed that you are looking for, casein may be your best choice due to its slow digestion rate, however other sources will still help that late night craving just as well!
I hope that this article will help eliminate some of today’s confusion regarding protein supplementation and also help to highlight that when it comes to protein supplements, they may not be for everyone!
Connect with Expert Jamie Kiff.
2014. Protein Intake – How Much Protein Should You Eat Per Day? [online]. Authority Nutrition [viewed 28/10/15]. Available from: http://authoritynutrition.com/how-much-protein-per-day/
Breen, L., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Nutrient interaction for optimal protein anabolism in resistance exercise. Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care, 15(3), 226-232.
Churchward-Venne, T. A., Burd, N. A., & Phillips, S. M. (2012). Nutritional regulation of muscle protein synthesis with resistance exercise: strategies to enhance anabolism. Nutr Metab, 9(1), 40.
Duellman, M. C., Lukaszuk, J. M., Prawitz, A. D., & Brandenburg, J. P. (2008). Protein supplement users among high school athletes have misconceptions about effectiveness. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 22(4), 1124-1129.
Phillips, S. (2013). Protein consumption and resistance exercise: maximizing anabolic potential. Sports Science Exchange, 26(107), 1-5.
Wolfe, R. R. (2000). Protein supplements and exercise. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 72(2), 551s-557s.