Thu | May 23, 2019

Fit 4 Life | Protein powder: do you need it to fuel your fitness?

Published:Thursday | April 11, 2019 | 6:43 PMMarvin Gordon/Contributor
Protein supplements are not regulated. They often contain much more than protein. Many of them are high in added sugars, but there could be more dangerous components as well.

Protein supplements are all the rage these days. If you have ever even thought about fitness, chances are you have been inundated with the idea that you need protein powder.

Whether it be the guys at the gym or influencers on Instagram, there seems to be a consensus: if you exercise, you must take a protein supplement. The truth, however, is not so simple and the average person likely has no need for supplementation.

"But more protein equals more muscle, more weight loss ...".

True, protein provides a host of health benefits, however, there are two factors which we must consider before we start sipping protein shakes:

1. It is always better to get your nutrients from natural/whole-food sources where possible.

2. How much protein do you need anyway?

Regarding the first point – sourcing nutrients from whole foods – the benefits have been touted time and again. From nutrient density to reduced disease risk, whole foods beat processed foods every time. And the truth is that protein supplements are just another ultra-processed food.

IMPORTANT QUESTION

The second factor forces us to ask the important question: Do I need supplements to get the optimum amount of protein for my lifestyle? And for most of us, the answer will be 'no'. 

So, how much protein do you likely need. Well, a meta-analysis which looked at over 49 studies, concluded that consumption above 1.6 grams per kilogram of body weight per day did not result in any greater muscle gain. This means that at 180 pounds with regular training, 126 grams of protein is adequate for the average person.

That number is not hard to achieve naturally. A typical Jamaican chicken 'box lunch' with chicken and rice and peas could easily provide more than a third of that number – a whole chicken breast contains more than 50 grams, and rice, as well as peas, are also rich in protein. Many other foods that Jamaicans eat every day are also high in protein: for example, meats, fish, milk, eggs, oats, beans, and nuts.

So, with these two factors in mind, a simple and effective strategy for meeting your protein needs is whole foods first, supplements only if absolutely necessary, preferably with the advice of a doctor or nutritionist in mind. 

CONVENIENCE VS RISK

One of the common arguments for protein supplementation is convenience. Consuming enough proteins can be hard, but you have to weigh the benefits of supplements against the risks.

Protein supplements are not regulated. They often contain much more than protein. Many of them are high in added sugars, but there could be more dangerous components as well.

Last year, the Clean Label Project analysed 134 protein powders available on the market and found that many of them contained heavy metals such as lead and arsenic, bisphenol-A (which is used to make plastics), pesticides, and other contaminants linked to cancer and other health conditions. One protein powder was found to have 25 times the allowed limit of bisphenol-A. 

So, in conclusion, supplements should never replace whole food sources or form the basis of a nutrition plan. Consult your healthcare providers, and, if you decide to use a protein supplement, check the Clean Label Project website - https://www.cleanlabelproject.org/ - to ensure it is safe.

- Marvin Gordon is a fitness coach; email: marvin.gordon@physiqueandfunction.com; yourhealth@gleanerjm.com