Should I Take Protein Powder?
Ok……I jest, but that is kind of the answer
Let’s explore though the question of do I need to take protein ? further.
Before I do that, I’m gonna humiliate myself with a couple of stories of my first foray into protein supplements when I was asking that very same question.
For many years, I stopped lifting weights because stupidly I thought they would slow me down in my martial arts training and those milliseconds would mean landing that killer blow or not. Once I saw through the propaganda passed down by the lazy Kung fu masters I decided to hit the weights hard.
This time round though I was also hit with the explosion of all these supplements companies and their amazing claims. So I did what any respectable gym goer does and I went and bought myself some protein powder to make me build muscle. Excited by the special muscle powder in my procession, I took a teaspoon of the stuff and mixed it with a bit of water and then sat back with my fingers interlocked, twiddling my thumbs like a James Bond villain and waited for it to start working its magic.
There was another time when I went into my local GNC to stock up and spent half an hour picking the poor assistants brain of which protein powder to buy.
The one with carbs?
The one without?
What about this organic one?
I ended up walking out with a headache and no protein because I was so confused.
Both instances are embarrassingly true but I’m sure pretty common to anyone new to supplements and there hyped up claims. Due to the way protein powders are promoted, most people, just like I did, assume that if you take supplements you will starting morphing into a bodybuilder.
What they fail to tell you though is that the bodied up model in the adverts has spent hundreds of hours in the gym along with possibly a cocktail of their own special supplements to actually make themselves look like a superhero.
Protein powder alone, with the absence of some serious weight training, will not give you bulging muscles. In fact, protein powders rich in vitamins, minerals and essential amino acids, actually have many health benefits and if used as a health supplement can be a great addition to a balanced diet.
I am going to try and keep it as simple as it needs to be and break down the confusion on the matter.
What is protein
Proteins are what make up the majority of muscle and tissue in the body. They produce hemoglobin ( The oxygen transporter in blood ), enzymes and hormones, and are also a secondary energy source. Proteins are metabolised into amino acids to be used by the body.
There are 20 amino acids that are needed for growth and metabolism. 11 of those are non essential, meaning that they do not need to be consumed in the diet as they are produced by the body and 9 essential, which need to be consumed in the diet. Therefore it is vital for tissue growth, repair and ,maintenance of muscle that all your protein requirements are met.
In the uk, the recommended daily intake of protein is 55g, but that would only be to maintain homeostasis. If you’re looking to recover from your workout and build lean muscle then you should really be doubling that.
For someone like me who doesn’t eat a massive amount of food, it is very difficult to achieve that especially on a consistent basis. That’s where protein supplements come into play.
I’m sure supplement companies were responsible for the idea that you need as much protein as possible to build muscle and at a minimum, 2 grams of protein per gram of body weight to start seeing results.
Let’s explore this for a second.
If you weighed 170lb, you would need to eat a massive 340 grams of protein per day
On average a chicken breast has 34 grams of protein, meaning you would have to eat 10 chicken breasts to make sure you were hitting your protein macros. That’s additional to all the other calories you’d be consuming throughout the day. That’s a lot of food , time , energy and money.
This is where the protein shake would swoop in like a superhero to save the day.
By all accounts, 2 grams of protein is completely unnecessary and potentially harmful.
1 gram is actually more than enough to feed and repair muscles to grow.
In Fact that’s exactly what Arnold schwarzenegger would consume when he ruled as Mr Universe.
If that was good enough for the terminator then I think it’s safe to assume that us mere mortals can flourish on less .
How is protein powder made?
Whey protein is a byproduct of cheese production. Enzymes are added to produce cheese curds and the leftover liquid whey is then pasteurised and dried into powder.
Types Of Protein Powder
Whey concentrate is the most inexpensive protein because of its simpler manufacturing process and contains up to 80% protein. This protein contains the most amount of lactose and not recommended for anyone who is lactose intolerant. It can been known to cause bloating and even gas and not a good choice if you struggle with digesting dairy. When I first started taking protein, I had no idea that it contain lactose or that I was intolerant and couldn’t figure out why I was always bloated and sick Being a slightly slower release protein, it will not cause massive spikes in your insulin and will keep you fuller for longer. Whey concentrate is great choice if you looking to add protein to your diet with all the additional health benefits.
If you are on a budget and have no problems with dairy then whey concentrate is a good choice.
When whey concentrate is processed even further to remove more lactose, carbs and fat you are left with whey isolate. Because of the further processing, this protein powder can lose some of the health promoting properties found in concentrates. This further processing also makes it more expensive. On the plus side though, whey isolate does have a higher concentration of protein, usually 90% and above. Whey isolate is a faster absorbing protein and is recommended to be taken after a workout to aid recovery and muscle repair.
This has always been my protein of choice as I don’t do well with dairy and because they generally contain very little or no sugar or carbs
Casein protein is a slow release protein which can take 5-7 hours to breakdown and is popular among bodybuilders who take it before they sleep to aid recovery. For anyone who isn’t a competitive bodybuilder or powerlifter, there really is no need to take a casein protein shake before you go to bed.
If you have read my blog on time restricted eating, you’ll know why forcing your body to digest and metabolise food all night is not the smartest choice in your quest is to be healthy.
One of the proteins of choice from the vegan community or anyone who is lactose intolerant. Not one I would recommend, despite the claims of its many benefits. Soy contains phytoestrogens which produce estrogen in the body. The negative for men is that you are increasing your feminine hormone but more importantly for women, you are increasing your risk for certain cancers and other hormone imbalance related disorders.
Now I’ll answer the original question of ‘ do I really need to supplement protein’.
It really depends.
If you sporadically work out and think that having the odd protein shake will make any difference, then you’re wasting your money. You first need to decide what your goals are.
Are you looking to lose weight?
If you have bought anything advertised as’ Diet whey’ thinking that it has some magic fat burning properties then you’re going to be really disappointed. Your first port of call is to eat a healthy balanced diet, be in a slight calorie deficit and follow a consistent resistance training and cardio regime to the loose the weight. If your covering all those basis, supplementing with a protein powder without added sugar or carbs can be a great addition to help you feel fuller for longer and a great alternative to the carbs or processed food you might have eaten instead.
Are you looking to add more muscle?
If you are lifting weights on a consistent basis and you have your diet in check and resting appropriately then you can definitely benefit from supplementing with protein powder. Don’t start taking protein and expect immediate results like I did. Take it consistently for at least a month and assess from there by asking question like:
- Are you making noticeable gains?
- Are you feeling like you are recovering better from your workouts?
- Are you feeling bloated ?
Below is the definition of a dietary supplement
” a product taken orally that contains one or more ingredients (such as vitamins or amino acids) that are intended to supplement one’s diet and are not considered food “
The biggest takeaway is to remember that protein powder along with any other supplement is exactly that. A supplement. It should be taken to supplement all the good things you are already doing and and is definitely not a substitute for hard work with your workouts and dedication to your diet.