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Congratulations on taking up an interest in your health and fitness by educating yourself with online resources such as this one.  This article will enable you to have a better understanding of adding supplements to your diet and the benefits in which it bestows. 

WHAT ARE SUPPLEMENTS?

Supplements are dietary aids that are meant to help you reach your fitness goals. They are used to either enhance or complete your solid diet and exercise routines. They are often in pure form or derivatives of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, plant extracts, or other regular dietary components. 

It is important to keep in mind that supplement companies are businesses. They carefully use their marketing and advertising to target their customers. It is a largely unregulated industry, therefor one must always be wary about claims made by such companies.

                 
   

Disclaimer: This post is not affiliated with any protein product; we simply wish to help you make the most out of your fitness efforts.

PROTEIN REQUIREMENTS 

Protein is an essential part of our diets. It helps build and repair muscles, connective tissues, support hormone and neurotransmitter synthesis along with many other benefits. A great advantage to dietary protein is its positive effect on satiety, in other words, feeling full, satisfied or avoiding hunger cravings. Protein supplements can be an important part of diets for those aiming to lose weight as it keeps the individual feeling full. It also provides an assurance that your calorie deficit will burn the fat and not those hard-earned muscles.

What is the Right Amount for YOU

In general, we should be consuming about 0.36 g of protein per lb (0.8 g/kg) of bodyweight. 

This requirement can increase quite significantly when you are training.

As a rough guide, aim for a minimum of:

  • 0.45 g/lb (1 g/kg)  if you train lightly/infrequently
  • 0.68 g/lb (1.5 g/kg) if you train moderately (lifting or moderate cardio 3 times/week)
  • 0.9 g/lb (2 g/kg) if you train heavily (heavy lifting or intense cardio 4+ times/week) 

For example, if you weigh 132 lbs (60 kg), aim for:

  • 60 g of protein/day if you train occasionally
  • 90 g of protein/day if you lift a few times/week
  • 120 g of protein/day if you do very intense lifting/cardio sessions 4+ times/week 

You may notice that these numbers fall somewhat short of the recommendations made by supplement companies and fitness magazines. Remember that they are trying to sell you a product! Consuming excessive amounts of protein, especially rapidly-digesting forms such as whey, can put a strain on your kidneys and affect calcium storage in your bones. 

WHO NEEDS TO SUPPLEMENT WITH PROTEIN? 

People who balance their meals with the four basic food groups and who portion accordingly will notice that the above recommendations are fairly easy to achieve. In this case, it may be unnecessary to supplement your diet with protein.  Protein supplements are a great way to hit your protein requirements if you are unable to meet them. Vegetarian and vegan diets are examples that would benefit from a protein supplement.  

If this applies to you, then read through the next section to educate yourself on the different types of protein supplements. Have a look at the quick 3-part checklist to help you shuffle through the labels and choose a product that's right for you.

PROS & CONS OF COMMON PROTEIN POWDERS

The most common way to supplement protein is in the form of a protein powder which can be made from many sources. These same sources are also the main constituents in protein bars, ready-to-drink shakes, gels, and many other creative delivery systems out there on the shelves.

WHEY 

Whey constitutes 20% of the total protein found in cow’s milk. It is fast-digesting and has nutritional benefits such as immune system-boosting compounds. It is the main type of protein supplement found on the market. It is usually a great choice since it is affordable, available in numerous types and flavors, and is generally considered healthy. 

A major downside however, is the large environmental impact involved in the processing. From growing food for cows to producing the milk, then separating the whey, purifying it, and pasteurizing it. Further, vegans and those with dairy allergies will not be able to consume whey protein. Those who are lactose intolerant may have difficulty with less-pure forms, such as concentrates (see below).

Whey is found in three main forms which tend to increase in price:   

  • Whey protein concentrates have not undergone extensive filtering to remove lactose, sugars, and certain fats.
  • Whey protein isolates have undergone some processing to remove a large portion of the fats and sugars, including lactose. These powders usually measure 90%+ protein by weight. People who are sensitive to lactose and want to use whey as a protein source can try a whey protein isolate first. The higher the protein concentration, up to 95%, the less lactose is likely to be in the powder.          
  •  Whey protein hydrolysates are "pre-digested" or hydrolyzed. This means that the proteins have been broken down into individual amino acids or short chains of amino acids. Hydrolysates are  fast-absorbing, and may cause blood sugar spikes. They should be avoided by people with diabetes. The price tag is often not justifiable in regards to the needs of the majority of people.
 

CASEIN

Casein is another main protein found in cow’s milk, constituting 80% of the total protein. It is a slower-digesting protein often used at bedtime for its ability to slowly release amino acids into the bloodstream. Not having an influx of nutrients overnight is a completely normal part of the sleep cycle for humans and other animals which is why I find that overnight catabolism (muscle wasting) to be unnecessary. I do not recommend its use due to speculative health concerns. However, I encourage you to do your own research and form your own well-educated opinion! 

BEEF

Believe it or not, the protein from beef has made its way into powder form and can even be found in strawberry flavor. The advantage is that it is a robust protein with a complete amino acid profile, and may contain other compounds found in beef, such as iron, minor amounts of creatine, and taurine. Disadvantages include its cost and its extreme environmental impact.

EGGS

Yes, eggs too can be turned into a powdered protein supplement. The yolks are separated, therefor, egg protein powder is typically from egg whites and is a very pure, complete source of protein. It also contains some vitamins and minerals. It is quite expensive, however, if it fits your budget, it is a great choice if you want to avoid dairy. The environmental impact will still be greater than the vegan sources discussed below. 

SOY

Soy protein can also come in concentrates or isolates and is often the cheapest vegetarian/vegan protein option available. Soy has a complete amino acid profile but may generate a chalky taste to your drinks. Further, there are inquiries about the isoflavones in soy, which have estrogen-like effects in the body. This should not be cause for concern if consumed in moderation. A large portion of soy is now genetically modified, which has implications in farmer welfare, ethics and biodiversity. If you do opt for soy protein, there are a few reasons why soy concentrates are sufficient and possibly better than soy isolates, including the fact that they are less expensive.

VEGAN PROTEIN SOURCES

These include numerous plant-based proteins, which are extracted and concentrated forms of the proteins naturally found in the foods described below. Vegan protein sources are a great option for vegetarians and vegans, along with meat-eaters, as they pack a hefty punch of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Plus, their environmental impact is lower than proteins produced from milk. In the past, these proteins were associated with having chalky textures however it is rapidly changing with new production and blending techniques. 

Sources of vegan proteins include:

  • ·Rice ,often brown rice, as it has a decent amino acid profile, and can be quite inexpensive              
  • ·Pea is a well-rounded and inexpensive protein.
  • ·Hemp has a complete amino acid profile, healthy omega 3 fats, and a lot of fiber and minerals. Hemp is an optimal choice but may be a little bit more expensive.
  • ·Chickpea flour is provided as an example of the numerous plant-based sources of protein supplements. 
                 
                

If you have a food processor, you can make "flour" out of peanuts, almonds and other nuts, chickpeas and seeds by simply blending them up.

Replace part of the flour in your recipes with these, add them to shakes, or use them to thicken sauces. 

Get creative! Nowadays there is no excuse to fall short on protein requirements with a vegetarian or vegan diet.

CHECKLIST FOR CHOOSING A PROTEIN POWDER 

I am going to save you a lot of time with this one. Most protein powders in the same category (i.e., whey protein isolates) are more or less the same. It is all a marketing game. Most well-known brands follow strict quality control which is very beneficial to the consumer. You may want to avoid buying proteins from companies that do not offer valid information. Those companies may be cutting corners by skipping on quality control, bulking with cheap amino acids like glutamine, or sourcing from very poor suppliers. 

If you have decided that taking a protein supplement is right for you then go shopping in stores and online to find a protein that fits the following three criteria.

1. Budget-friendly. The protein powder should end up costing you ideally much less than $1 per scoop and provide 20-30 g of high-quality protein.                                                                                                            

2. Minimal ingredients list. The first ingredient should obviously be protein. Common additives include: Soy or sunflower lecithin, which helps to improve the miscibility of your shake. These are largely accepted as being safe for your health and even have some benefits.

Sweeteners: sucralose, acesulfame potassium, acesulfame K, stevia, aspartame
Flavor compounds: artificial colors and artificial flavors, vanilla extract or vanillin, cocoa or cacao, etc. 

There really is no need for much else to be in the protein powder. If you are looking for “natural” proteins, stevia is the closest to natural you will find in the sweeteners. Better yet, try an unflavored protein and mix it with fruit juice. The amounts of artificial sweeteners and colorants/food additives are generally regarded as safe in moderate consumption. If you will be consuming multiple scoops per day, it may be best to avoid high intakes of artificial sweeteners from certain powders. Remember, we are trying to supplement with protein and not an array of potentially harmful substances. 

3. Enjoyable taste.  Since you will be consuming this frequently, make sure to get a flavor you enjoy. I always opt for naturally-flavored powders. An unflavored powder will give you the purest and most concentrated protein. The flavor is easily masked in a smoothie but may not be ideal on its own. Again, try it out for yourself! Many stores will hand out sample packs of products they carry, and online stores often have “flavor packs” that you can buy to sample different flavors. Ask, try, and then decide.

I hope this article gave you a bit more insight on protein supplements.

Do you already use a protein supplement? Have you noticed any benefits? What is your favorite type and why? We would love to hear more in the comments below. Also, let us know if you would like us to cover a specific supplement in the upcoming articles of this series! 😊

Peter C.

Peter is a travelling fitness enthusiast. He is always on the search for new opportunities, with physical and mental health as his number one priority. He has an academic background in chemistry and environmental science, and a passion for music, creating, and exploring!

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