The idea of supplementing protein in a Canadian diet is one which is often under debate: some athletes frequently use protein powders to “bulk-up” and swear by them, while others believe that one already obtains sufficient amounts of protein in our daily diet. Here’s an article I wrote that was featured in the University of Guelph’s student newspaper, The Ontarion, with one view on this debated topic.
Protein Power: The real truth behind protein shakes
After an intense weight-training session at the gym and the refreshing shower that comes with the feeling of happy exhaustion, a protein shake to help you bulk up is already in your hand, almost empty at the end of that first long drink. It is known that protein, after all, is an essential part of a healthy, well-planned diet. A post-exercise supply of high quality protein can have great benefits, specifically allowing the muscles to maximize their rebuilding capacity. While protein shakes are indeed excellent sources of well-balanced amino acids, there are some important facts to consider before committing to that tub of “instant-muscle”.
Athletes and protein supplements seem to get the reputation of going hand in hand. Commercials endorsed by all-stars promoting quick fixes to those chicken legs or toothpick arms are brainwashing sport-fanatics of all levels. These sort of advertisements lead to questioning if perhaps following in these buff bodies’ footsteps will reap similar results. Could the answer to the desperate cries of scrawny teens really lie in a believed miraculous powder made of whey and casein protein? The simple truth is no. In order for this powder to take effect on your body, an exercise regime consisting of weights, combined with a healthy dose of cardiovascular activity, will aid your body in the gradual increase of muscle mass. The reason for this is due to the fact that muscles are made of protein, which thus, through consumption of protein, allows greater availability for the development of muscles. The high metabolic resting rate is of protein is beneficial to the body – a high resting rate means that these calories are utilized at a much faster rate for bodily processes. The faster the body uses these calories, the less there is for the body to store the intake as fat. The proper daily amount of protein will provide a desirable amount of amino acids to your body, which in turn are the building blocks of proteins for the muscles. While these pros may seem to seal the deal for protein shakes, there are some alternate viewpoints to consider.
From a student’s perspective, protein powders are expensive. Although they are convenient and easy to bring to the gym, there are some downfalls of these magic mixes. Consuming only protein shakes post-workout may fuel your body and aid in the rebuilding of muscles, yet there are limited amounts of essential vitamins and minerals within, if any at all. Consuming high protein foods, such as eggs, fish or nuts, also provide the body with great sources of amino acids, while reaping greater benefits in the long run due to the high concentration of essential vitamins and minerals. Not to mention these alternative options are often cheaper and taste better! Much like with any sort of dietary supplement, it is always a better choice to provide your body with a source of micro-nutrients coming directly from the diet.
The amount of protein which Canadians need in their daily diet is a number which many exceed without notice. Thus, protein supplements are often not needed, unless there is an existing medical condition which hinders the absorption of protein by the body. Further, it is important to keep in mind that excess amounts of protein not used by the body are easily converted into fat. An excess intake of protein may therefore result in the exact opposite of the desired outcome. “A good portion of the customers of our protein powders are students. There is an increasing amount of women as well, many of which are using these powders as meal replacements for weight loss”, explains Jade Heyden, certified holistic nutritionist. Protein powders may therefore, when replacing high-calorie or sugary additions to the diet, aid in weight-management. It is essential, however, that if choosing to do so, the calories are calculated and well tabulated. Further, what you pay for is what you get. “Higher end of the line products are most definitely better quality, and the cheaper brands will not be as good”, says Heyden, who goes on to explain that alternate post-workout drinks can be an excellent source of replenishment and recovery – those high in Vitamin B, Vitamin C and Alpha glutamate are her top list. Heyden also believes that supplementation is a sure-second choice, but first and foremost, one should aim to get the daily required amounts of protein through the diet.
With a tight budget and a crammed schedule, high quality protein sources, such as yogurt, quinoa or almonds, found at the local grocery store can be a money-friendly option for students. Protein shakes are excellent when the daily intake does not meet the required standard recommended by Living Well with Canada’s Food Guide, but keep in mind that more often than not, these values are easy to exceed.The desired increase of muscle mass, whether it be for improved physical performance for a team, or simply for a more personal reason, can be easily achieved through simple changes in diet and healthy exercise choices. For a healthy change to your post-workout snack, ditch the protein shake and go au naturel with some delicious protein packed foods!
Speakman, J. R., & Selman, C. (2003). Physical activity and resting metabolic rate. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, (62), 621-634. doi: 10.1079/PNS2003282
Heyden, J. (2012, March 27). Interview by S. Woerthle [Personal Interview].