Everything You Should Know About Protein Supplements

 

Take a quick scroll on Instagram and you’d easily be led to believe that half the world was taking protein supplements. Gymshark-clad fitness fanatics swear by adding protein powders to smoothies/ porridge/ just about anything and we constantly see new products being marketed with the USP that they are protein rich; you can even buy protein Mars Bars! If you’re health and fitness conscious you may be wondering whether you need to start investing in shelf loads of protein powders and bars. What do they even do? Why use them? And are they even necessary?

Protein is one of the three macronutrients (along with carbohydrates and fats) that makes up our diet. The nine essential amino acids that make up proteins must be obtained through food as our body doesn't’t have the ability to synthesize them - they’re needed to repair and make new cells, so they’re a pretty important part of our diet. The DRI (Dietary Reference Intake) recommends 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight, equating to around 46g for the average sedentary woman, around 20-30g per meal. It's important, however, not to exceed 2g of protein a day as this could have an adverse effect on your health, as this often also means additional fat and calories as well as a strain on your organs like your kidneys and liver.

As they have a similar amino acid profile to humans, animal products tend to be the foods richest in protein, although it can also be obtained through non-animal foods like beans, pulses, tofu and nuts; even vegetarians and vegans can obtain the correct amount of protein through their diet.

So, it's perfectly possible to gain enough protein through diet, why is everyone so obsessed with protein supplements? Well, it's recommended that those who want to build muscle should double this quantity to around 1.2-1.7g, although it's essential that this is alongside exercise, as simply adding protein to your diet will not build muscles. The process of actually building muscle comes from tearing down and restoring tissue which can be done slowly through exercises like running, or more quickly through weight training. Not only can protein aid the building of muscles, but it can also help you feel fuller, leading to weight loss.

The healthiest way to get your protein is through foods, however, getting this added amount into your diet can be difficult without overloading on calories, which is when many people turn to protein powders and shakes. Protein powders are perhaps the most popular product due to their versatility; they come in three different kinds, whey, soy and casein with whey being the most commonly used as its water-soluble and can thus be mixed into a variety of foods. Certainly, they’re an easy way to get additional protein into your diet, but they’re not the healthiest or indeed cheapest way.

Generally, additional protein is only needed for serious athletes, those starting a new exercise programme, or those heightening their workout regime - not the casual gym-goer. It should also be noted that the majority of the population actually gets enough protein from their diet along, so adding protein powders to food will merely be superfluous and add calories. Before thinking of purchasing protein powders, record the food you eat in a day and work out how much protein you intake and how much you actually need - you may be surprised to learn that you’re actually eating enough.

If you’ve calculated that you are in fact in need of additional protein, how should you go about adding it to your diet through supplements? Try adding a scoop of protein to your morning smoothie or porridge, or as a snack during the day - don’t worry about consuming protein immediately after you workout, as the body is more in need of carbohydrates. It's important to make sure you’re buying a reputable brand that has been certified (this will normally be advertised on the packaging) to ensure you are buying a quality product that won’t harm your health. 

So, do you need to be taking protein supplements? If you’re already getting enough protein in your diet, the answer is no. Continue consuming the amount of protein you normally would through lean meat, dairy, pulses and nuts then continue to do so. Only if you are in protein deficit as a result of additional exercise, and need an easy, convenient way to add this macronutrient to your diet should you consider supplements.