Should I be using a protein powder?

So you’ve decided to start working out, and find yourselves asking the question ‘do I need to use a protein supplement?’ the magazines push them, some of your friends are taking them, and now even TV ads are featuring them, right? ……Yes; and with good reason!

A significant amount of our global population is in fact protein deficient, despite what dieticians & other groups may tell you. In Australia at least, we still preach the recommendations of the ‘food pyramid’ which was in fact written by the American agricultural society, and therefore heavily pushes a large ingestion of wholegrains with mild levels of protein and low fat. This is the same food pyramid which has resulted in a doubling of niddm (non insulin dependant diabetes mellitus) over the past 3 decades! It is obvious we have been doing things wrong.

Depending on who you talk to, there are various recommendations for protein ingestion. Some state it is grams per body kilo, others according to activity levels, age, gender and current state of health. The fact is they are all correct in part, but it is the totality of these points which must be accounted for.

It is crazy to advise protein intake based upon age (i.e. a moderately active male should consume this many grams of protein) or even activity levels; does a solid gym goer require more dietary protein than for instance a burn victim or someone convalescing after an operation?? It amuses me that the battle between experts still continues, when every single person i have treated has noted an improved sense of wellbeing after increasing their protein intake. This is not to say that more is better because it certainly is not, although it highlights the fact that clinical evidence suggests different than what the others might say.

For the sake of general health, i suggest 1.2g of protein per kilo of bodyweight as a minimum ingestion. From here it increases depending upon multiple factors including age, growth rate, exercise type & intensity, energy levels, anabolic steroid use, immunity and general health just to name a few. And it is here that the topic of protein supplementation begins.

Let’s take two examples…..

  1. A 25 year old male presents with the goal of lean muscle accumulation. He currently weighs 82 kg and is training 4 days per week anaerobically. At present he is conscious of his need for protein and includes protein rich foods at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
  2. A 75 year old woman presents with moderate osteoporosis and has been encouraged to undertake an anaerobic exercise regime twice a week by her doctor to minimise fracture risk & slow progression of the disease.

What is the difference between these two cases???  Nothing!

They have the same needs, but in the case of the 75 year old woman she probably isn’t aware of her increased requirement for protein, and so has made no change to her diet. So 2-3 days per week she motivates herself to do what the doctor says – but it is in vein as her body isn’t able to recover from the training, and so robs amino acids from other existing muscle tissue to aid recovery of the damaged muscle. And so the cycle continues……

So why supplement with protein powders and not just eat more protein rich foods??

This is the most common question i hear with regards to protein powder. In truth, if a diet is correctly calculated and adhered to, you don’t need to supplement protein at all. But then there are the other 95% of consumers who don’t plan & carefully orchestrate their meals ever!! And so this concludes the first part of my answer. Protein powder is simply convenient for the average person on the go, and can easily be utilised post workout for recovery, or to increase the protein content of an otherwise low protein meal.

Second to this, protein powders are virtually fat free, easily digested, great value for money in comparison to food, a complete protein source in most cases (provides the full spectrum of essential amino acids), taste great (with some exceptions!) And are available in dairy alternatives for those wary of lactose or casein. Even dairy sensitive people tend to tolerate dairy derived proteins well, due to the very low level of lactose in the final product .

Nutrient timing

For the recreational trainer or athlete, protein supplementation is vital i believe. The most important component of training is nutrient timing, which places particular emphasis on supplying the body what it needs, exactly when it needs it. Other than free-form amino acids & fast acting whey isolates or hydrolysed whey isolates, there is no food which is capable of supplying protein (for recovery) at the same rate. While animal meats are an excellent source of high biological value protein, they are high in fat and difficult to digest, meaning that the ability to utilise its protein takes hours. Whey based protein replacements on the other hand or amino acids are bioavailably within 10 minutes in most cases. Their short chain structure allows for instant assimilation into the bloodstream.

And so it is here that protein supplementation wins! And yes every person who attends a gym or is involved in high physical activity should use a high quality whey based supplement, both at breakfast & immediately following strenuous exercise. For everyone else, a protein supplement can bridge that dietary gap you probably experience.

For more info or specifics for you personally, feel free to ask questions in the comments section below. Otherwise just comment if you wish!

Shannon Brenton
Shannon Brenton


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