There has been a lot of hype in the past few years about the potentials of protein powder for building lean muscle mass.
As a fitness enthusiast, I have often asked myself if this hype is true. Or is it just another means by which the multi-billion dollar supplement industry continues to rake in money from unsuspecting, uneducated people by playing on their dreams and desperation?
Well, we have done a little research and here are the facts.
Protein, as you well know is the building block of the human body. Just about every tissue, organ and system in our bodies is made of protein and is regulated by different proteins.
It is obvious to us that protein is very important for optimal body function.
In the world of fitness, sports and bodybuilding protein is the holy grail of building muscle, repairing tissue and recovering from workouts.
Many athletes, body builders and sports-persons make it a habit to chug down protein mixes several times a day.
But is this necessary?
The daily recommendation for protein intake by most nutritional organizations is between 0.6 and 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
The variance seen in the quantity of protein you should consume is dependent largely on lifestyle choice and level of activity.
If you have a sedentary lifestyle, you will need to take about 0.6 grams of protein per kilogram of your weight. People who are elite athletes on the other hand need as much as 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
What this translates to is that a healthy man who weighs fifty kilograms and lives a sedentary life will need about thirty grams of protein every day. The more you weigh the more protein you have to eat.
Note that if another man who also weighs fifty kilograms but is an elite athlete calculates his recommended protein intake it may be as high as 75 grams of protein a day.
Generally, most individuals fall into the categories of sedentary, active and very active. If however you fall into any of the categories discussed below, it is likely that your protein needs will be different from what is recommended in the above paragraph.
- Life Stages:
Your body needs the most protein in its growing years. From infancy through puberty, protein recommendations are higher than the norm for adult individuals.
Infants between birth and twelve months of age need about 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight
Toddlers between one and three years old need approximately 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
Protein requirements remain high at about 0.95 grams per kilogram if body weight between four and thirteen years of age.
The protein requirement decreases from fourteen years onwards and remains at about 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight until full maturity is attained.
- Disease Conditions:
Several disease conditions can affect the metabolism of protein in our bodies. Some conditions can even make our bodies unable to produce some non-essential amino acids making it imperative to get these from food or supplements.
The essential amino acids are Isoleucine, Leucine, Lysine, Methionine, Phenylalanine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Valine and Histidine.
All other amino acids can be produced by our bodies.
When Do You Need Protein Supplements?
Protein supplements are not necessary for everybody. In fact, the majority of Western adults eat more protein than they need daily.
Having established that, it is also important to note that even when people consume protein in excess, they may not get all the amino acids they need from it.
This is because most people tend to eat the more processed forms of protein and in the wrong quantities.
Few people actually aim to get a good mix of protein from a variety of foods. In addition to this, protein bioavailability may be limited in people who live off of junk food and fast food.
Furthermore, the need for protein is increased as the intensity and length of workouts increase.
Athletes, body builders and sports persons may need to supplement their nutrition with additional protein to ensure that their body is yanked out of a catabolic state after intense training.
For individuals who are unable to modify their lifestyle to meet their protein needs, protein supplements may be necessary.
Protein supplements may be necessary at several stages of fitness and body building and in some cases in our day to day lives.
Infants, toddlers and teenagers generally need more protein than adults because their bodies are still growing. Adults who aim to grow bigger muscles will need more protein than sedentary adults.
In essence, to achieve any kind of growth, protein is necessary.
- Beginning a New Exercise Program:
If you are new to the gym or starting resistance training or strength training, you may need to increase your protein intake just a tiny bit to make up for the breakdown of muscle fiber you will be experiencing.
Ensuring that you get adequate quantities of protein is one way to promote anabolism (build-up of muscle) and loss of fat.
- Increasing Your Workout Output:
If your body is accustomed to working out for thirty minutes daily and you have now decided to run a 5k, your body is definitely going to need more protein than you ordinarily take.
- Recovering from An Injury:
Protein is the building block of all tissues and organs in the body. It is necessary for the repair of skin cells, healing of injuries, scrapes, cuts and burns.
- Veganism/ Vegetarianism:
People who choose to live a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle eliminate a number of common protein sources from their diet, including meat, chicken, and fish, and sometimes dairy and eggs as well.
Usually, those beginning this lifestyle will have to find alternative sources of protein in quinoa, hemp, etc.
However, if a vegetarian decides to engage in physical activity, chances are that they will need more protein.
How to Choose Protein Supplements
- Do the Math:
You now have a rough idea of the amount of protein your body needs daily. To build a pound of muscle, your body needs about ten to fourteen additional grams of protein per day.
Note that consuming an excess of protein can lead to or exacerbate several health conditions such as kidney disease and liver damage.
Also, a deficiency in the quantity of protein you consume daily can lead to fatigue, irritability and several other unpleasant health conditions.
It is important to get your protein requirements just right and keep them in a healthy range. Excessive consumption of protein supplements can work against all your fitness goals. Keep it in the safe range.
- Pick The Right Brand:
There are tons of options for protein supplements in the market now.
The FDA does not regulate the manufacture of supplements as closely as it does the manufacture of drugs so you must be careful when picking brand.
Some tips to keep in mind when choosing a brand include;
- Read reviews about the product. Though it may not seem very important at first, taste, texture and solubility are three huge factors that will determine whether or not you will enjoy using a product.
- Ask questions of people at the gym or sports center where you train.
- Check out the brand itself. Is it a notable and trustworthy brand? Do they have a history of sharp practices or mislabeling? Make sure you know.
- Read the French label. Labeling in the EU has stricter regulations and can usually help you determine the ingredients that the companies may try to hide to improve their sales. Also, EU labeling can help you see the amino acid profile of the supplements.
- Talk to your doctor about any new supplements you are considering to ensure your own safety
- Avoid milk based products if you are lactose intolerant. You may consider using whey isolate but you should do a test run first.
- If the brand offers a mixed protein option, make sure all the ingredients are ideal for your use
- Avoid powders with tons of additives. Flavor, color, essence, and sweeteners can compromise your goal of achieving your healthiest, leanest body.
- Pick The Right Time:
Several protein supplements are best consumed within a certain time frame.
Whey protein is best consumed immediately before, during or after your workout or training.
This is because whey protein is digested within one hour of consuming it and has a very fast rate of uptake into the muscles.
Within that time frame, muscle fibers that have been broken down can get a new infusion of amino acids and begin to build themselves back up. The result is bigger and stronger muscles.
Casein on the other hand is a slow release protein that is broken down over a number of hours. It provides your body with a sustained slow release of amino acids over time. Casein is best consumed right before bedtime as it promotes growth overnight.
The other types of protein including soy, hemp, pea, rice, potato and sacha inchi can be consumed throughout the day in small quantities.
The times you should take your protein supplement will also vary depending on the individual, his lifestyle and his fitness goals.
- Pick the Right Mixture:
When choosing protein supplements, you should ensure that whatever brand you choose has all of the essential amino acids.
Plant based protein powders are often mixed to achieve this goal. In choosing a mixed powder, always make sure that your taste buds are happy with the choice you have made.
One of the best determinants of whether or not you will be able to sustain using protein powder supplements is the taste, texture and varieties available with the product you use.
Some products will mix well with water, juice, hot chocolate and even milk. Other products might form lumps and clump up when you use them.
You can also cook and even bake with some really good products. Variety can help you stay interested in and committed to using your protein supplement.
In conclusion, protein supplements are not necessary for everybody.
If they are indicated as a means of optimizing your diet, you should make sure you choose the right products for you and use them correctly.