Should You Give Up Your Protein Powder?
There’s a lot of good to be said for protein powder and protein supplements. Protein supplementation is used for weight loss, lean muscle gain, to boost energy, and for dietary reasons. It has a lot of benefits such as convenience, longevity and the ways it assists with weight loss and muscle gain. Vegetarians often use it to fulfill their protein needs without eating meat, dairy, or eggs. It’s estimated protein powders will be a $7.5 billion industry by 2020.
What Exactly Is Protein Powder?
Protein powders are dehydrated forms of protein that come from milk, plants, or soy. Most powders contain whey or casein. These proteins are high-quality proteins and they provide all nine essential amino acids that are not produced by the body. Usually, they’re mixed with some liquid (water or other beverages) but they can also be added to food. Although the recommended dietary allowance for protein is around 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight a day, nutritionist Lisa Drayer says that’s a conservative number. “I think those estimates are a little conservative because as you get older, you lose muscle mass, and it’s important to consume an adequate amount of protein to preserve muscle mass, even if you’re not an athlete.” Her recommendation is that the average adult get 20% to 25% of their calories from protein.
However it’s always best to get nutrients, protein included, through food. So what are some pros and cons of protein powder?
Protein is a very filling nutrient. Consumption of enough protein can help prevent overeating. Protein also assists in metabolism functions by preserving muscle.
In a 2001 study done at St. Xavier University, researchers found participants supplementing a 6-week weight training program with protein gained more lean muscle and greater strength gains than participants who received placebos.
Athletes especially appreciate the convenience of protein powders. They’re looking for quick, on-the-go ways to supplement their diet and using protein powder fits the bill. Actually, though, this can be a benefit for anyone wanting to supplement or meet their dietary protein needs.
Improved Physical Performance
Many protein powders contain creatine. Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid produced by amino acids. Some studies show high-intensity athletes who consume at least 3g of creatine a day can achieve increased physical performance during short-term, high intensity, repeated exercise.
Potential Health Problems
Too much protein can lead to health problems like cramps, fatigue, dehydration, nausea, and headaches. Some experts say high protein levels can be harmful to the kidneys by causing them to work harder. High levels of protein can also lead to increased calcium excretion from the body. This can lead to bone loss.
Some powders contain ingredients not listed; these hidden ingredients can be serious substances such as steroids, hormones or stimulants. Another possible unlisted ingredient is heavy metals that can be found in certain plants from the soil they grew in.
Insufficient Supporting Evidence
There’s not enough, or not definitive enough, evidence to support most of the health claims regarding protein supplementation. A lot of the claims for increasing muscle mass, increasing endurance capacity, skeletal muscle tissue repair, and faster recovery from fatigue after working out are not supported by strong research.
Amount/Quality of Protein
According to Dietetically Speaking, some protein supplements may not contain any protein at all. Non-batch tested protein can have very poor protein quality, which reduces amino acid bioavailability. Therefore you not only risk getting a product with no protein in it at all but possibly also a protein powder with poor protein quality.
Although convenient and although it has its benefits, it’s still much better to get your protein through a diet of whole foods than through any supplementation. But if you do wish to give protein powder a try, make sure to read the label first. And make sure you don’t end up consuming too much protein. Be especially careful if you’re pregnant and/or immune-suppressed. And as always SplitFit recommends consulting with a physician or health care provider before making any big changes in your diet.
Image Credit: CNN