Do I Need to Supplement With Protein?

Do I need to supplement with protein? Protein supplements/protein powder is one of the most common supplements used within the general population as well as athletes. However, how do we know if we actually need to supplement with a protein source?

If the habitual diet is well-balanced and energy requirements are met, then it is unlikely a protein supplement is needed. We like to use the term ‘food first’, ensuring the nutrients are met through food items first and then supplementation if necessary (to ‘supplement’ the diet) However, there a few factors to consider which might increase the need to supplement with protein:

  1. Dietary restrictions (lifestyle or cultural)

  2. Exercise frequency - the greater frequency, the more likely a protein supplement is needed

  3. Looking to manipulate body composition – increase muscle mass or decrease fat mass.

How do I know if I already hit daily protein targets? The daily protein requirement varies depending on the person and activity levels. Current recommendations look to be 0.8g/kg for the sedentary individuals (56g for the 70kg individual), however, most people require more than this.

Intakes of 1.6-1.8g/kg are recommended for endurance athletes with up to 2-2.5g/kg for those engaged in strength and power training.

Therefore, those with higher protein intake may require protein supplementation to reach daily protein goal. For example, a 80kg male may require 160g of protein which can be difficult in food alone.

How much protein is in typical food products?

Chicken breast = 30g

250ml milk =8g

3 eggs = 21g

Half a can of beans = 7-8g

Cod fillet = 25g

What protein powder shall I take now I discovered I wish to supplement? Protein powders are either animal or plant based.

Animal based include:

  • Whey

  • Casein

  • Egg protein

Animal based protein powders are known as a complete source of protein, containing all the essential amino acids in sufficient amounts. Specifically, abundant in leucine which is the main amino acid which stimulate muscle protein synthesis, increased muscle strength and recovery. Animal based proteins are therefore considered superior when it comes to muscle protein synthesis and therefore muscle building.

What is whey protein?

Whey is a by-product of the cheese-making process – the liquid left over once the milk has been curdled and strained.

Whey protein is digested and absorbed into the bloodstream quickly whereas casein is digested and absorbed at a much slower rate and therefore recommended before overnight for optimal protein synthesis.

Plant based include:

  • Pea

  • Hemp

  • Soy

  • Brown rice

  • A combination of the above

Unlike animal protein sources, plant-based proteins do not contain all the essential amino acids and therefore do not stimulate muscle protein synthesis to the same degree as animal-based proteins. A combination of the plant protein e.g. pea and brown rice protein allows the supplement to contain more of a complete amino acid profile.

When shall I consume protein?

It is recommended to consume a source of protein, around 25g-30g, every 3-4 hours for optimal protein synthesis. This looks to be a source of protein at each meal time (breakfast, lunch, dinner) as well as a couple of snacks if possible. Additionally, a source of protein post-workout is optimal for muscle protein synthesis and to aid recovery from the exercise session.

Take away:

Protein powder is a cheap, convenient source of protein to aid the current diet, however is not essential for the average individual. If supplementing, be aware of added ingredients and protein quantity per serving. Aim for a protein powder with at least 20g of protein per serve.

High protein foods including chicken, beef, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes and pulses should be thought of first as they include a wide range of essential vitamins and minerals needed for optimal health.

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