Do we need protein supplements?

According to a BBC report* sales of protein products in the UK totalled £170m in 2012 and are forecast to reach £358m by 2017. That is staggering…

…but do they benefit our health or sporting performance?

There is no doubt that we need protein on a daily basis. We are about 16% protein, with half of this being in muscle, other major contributors being skin and blood. Our body is constantly turning over our tissue protein.

We know that proteins are made up of amino acids, of which there are 20 with 8 of these being essential, i.e. our body cannot make them so we must get them from our diet. We require the different amino acids in varying proportions. Protein foods are assigned a biological value (BV) based on how readily the protein is available to our body, compared to the protein in whole eggs (the higher the BV the better the protein). A protein that contains the amino acids in the proportions required by humans will have a high BV.

One of the most popular protein supplements for gym users is whey protein powder. Whey protein provides a balanced source of amino acids and has a high BV. Consumers of whey protein powder believe that it helps the recovery process for muscles damaged during heavy weight training. Accepting that intense weight training does increase muscle catabolism the issue is how much extra protein, if any, is required for the rebuilding.

Research for the past 20-30 years has been suggesting that daily protein intake for athletes of between 1.2g and 1.8g per kg of bodyweight is adequate and that protein intakes in excess of this do not confer any benefit. Given that we do not hold a reservoir of spare protein in our body there is no benefit in consuming more than we need on a daily basis.

The UK reference nutrient intake (RNI) for the general adult populations is 0.75g of protein per kg of bodyweight per day, which equates to the guideline daily amounts (GDA) of 55g of protein for men and 45g for women. The average intake in the UK, which dependent on what source you read, is somewhere around 85g per day for men and 65g per day for women. This works out at approximately 1.1g of protein per kg of bodyweight, so on average we are already consuming close to the protein requirements for an athlete.

It is possible to get your full protein requirements from your diet, even if you think you need the higher level of 1.8g per kg of bodyweight. Real food will provide you with a balance of nutrition, including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, phytonutrients and more, which you will not get from whey protein powder alone. Include dairy products for whey protein in your diet along with a variety of other protein sources.

Consuming enough carbohydrate for your energy needs is just as important as getting enough protein. If you have to use protein for energy it won’t be available for rebuilding muscle. There is also no point in upping the protein intake if you don’t give your body adequate rest.

*for the full article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-22753620

Nutritionist Resource is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Written by Sue Bethell

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