Protein Supplements – How to make the right decision
According to a Council for Responsible Nutrition consumer survey, Protein is in the top 5 most consumed supplements. Everyone from High School athletes looking to enhance muscle mass to older individuals looking to lose weight or support a balanced nutrition program has been told to incorporate more protein in their diet and supplements are an easy way to meet those goals. However, supplements should not be our first choice and what we choose in supplements is very important to our health.
Why Protein is important?
• Protein is the building block of the body. It helps in tissue repair and growth.
• Protein provides amino acids used in creating hormones like estrogen, insulin and thyroid hormone, to name a few.
• Protein plays a part in the processes that carry oxygen throughout the body.
• Protein helps the immune system by helping to make antibodies that fight infections.
How Much Protein do you need?
More is not always better. Although protein has many benefits, those benefits are based on a well rounded nutrition plan based on whole foods and only using supplements when needed. The Dietary Recommended Intake (RDI) for protein is .8g per kg/bodyweight. Athletes can require more protein (1.4-2g) based on high intensity training and nutritional needs which may require supplements in order to meet caloric requirements. There is no scientific evidence that more than 2g/kg bodyweight is in any way beneficial.
When to Supplement?
• If your caloric needs are higher than it is possible to consume, than a protein shake is the way to go.
• If you don’t eat meat or have health issues making you unable to eat dairy, grains, seeds or nuts, you may need a supplement to meet your requirements.
• Sometimes, lifestyle, like a job, doesn’t allow the time for a quality meal. A protein shake allows for a quick and easy way to access nutrition needs.
Supplements are made to fill in the gaps. Most Americans eat more than enough protein. The problem is the quality of protein being consumed. Fatty meats, processed meats, low quality proteins can create a host of issues from heart disease to inflammatory conditions.
Quality proteins include wild caught salmon, tuna, sardines. All of which are filled with omega-3 which the body needs. Grass fed beef, free range chicken, turkey, bison, eggs and diary. Red meat is higher in saturated fat and may lead to higher cholesterol and heart disease. You can also get all your protein needs in plant form from lentils, peas, beans, nuts, seeds and grains.
How do I know if I’m using a quality protein?
Supplements do not undergo approval by the FDA. This means what is in any given protein supplement may not be what is on the label. This includes the addition of heavy metals, replacement of ingredients with other less desirable ingredients, the presence of BPAs, toxins and other contaminations or unmentioned additives. The FDA is responsible for removing a product but only after it has been proven to be dangerous. This means products need to be tested by a third party and proven to be free of contamination. The Clean Label Project did a study on over 130 protein supplements, in 2018, and found about three quarters of the powders tested positive for lead and other toxins and half contained detectable levels of BPAs. “organic” products were just as bad, containing two times as much heavy metals.
There are several independent testing labs that are trusted to verify dietary supplements: the USP, NSF, Informed Choice and ConsumerLabs.com. These labels will be displayed on the supplement packaging and indicate that it has been tested and verified to be free of harmful elements and contain exactly what the product says it contains. Look for one of these labels when making a decision.
Which protein is right for me?
This is best left to a discussion with a Nutrition Coach or Dietician, as each of us have different needs, as well as possible allergies which play a big role in making decisions.
WHEY PROTEIN – this is the most common protein supplement and is generally regarded as the highest-quality protein source because it contains all 9 essential amino acids and has a high concentration of leucine, which aids in muscle building.
There are several types of whey protein. Whey concentrate is considered a lower quality protein despite the name indicating a higher concentration. Whey Isolate is considered a higher quality protein because it needs to contain 90% protein by weight and lower caloric content. The lower carb content and lower lactose content make this a better choice for most. Whey Hydrolysate is treated to be more easily digested, making it more tolerable for most people. This form is more expensive and a bit harder to find.
However, whey protein is also known to have gastrointestinal side affects which indicate a form of allergy. Bloating, gas and general discomfort are signs you may need a different product.
CASEIN – This protein is slow digesting making it a popular option for bodybuilders because taking casein before bed, will eliminate the “fasting period” the body goes through by slowly releasing amino acids throughout the night. This protein is also derived from cow’s milk and can have the same effects as Whey.
EGG PROTEIN – this is a little harder to find and might make a good alternative to whey if you have dairy allergies. However egg allergies are just as common and should be discussed with your doctor.
PLANT-BASED PROTEIN – this is becoming a much bigger choice for many due to it’s anti-inflammatory properties and reduced allergens. Since plants are not complete proteins in themselves, choose a plant protein that combines different plant sources to make a complete protein like pea and brown rice. Popular plant based proteins include pea, brown rice, hemp, pumpkin, soy, sunflower, and chia, to name a few.
• Eat a well-balanced diet
• Choose whole foods over processed
• Use supplements only when necessary
• Speak with a Nutrition Coach, Dietician or Doctor about best options for YOU KNOW what you are taking, read labels and do your research
 “Dietary Supplement Use Reaches All Time High.” CRN. https://www.crnusa.org/newsroom/dietary-supplement-use-reaches-all-time-high
 Stuart M. Phillips & Luc J.C. Van Loon (2011) Dietary protein for athletes: From requirements to optimum adaptation, Journal of Sports Sciences, 29:sup1, S29-S38, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2011.619204
“2018 Protein Powder Study.” Clean Label Project. https://www.cleanlabelproject.org/protein-powder/