There are thousands of nutritional supplements on the market in Australia. They promise weight loss, muscular gains, improved metabolism and elevated energy. There are powders and shakes and bars AND – suddenly you’ve spent $300 on a 5kg tub of something that tastes like off pancake batter and you have absolutely no idea what anything on that 62-ingredient list even is. Ouch.
The promise of rapid results is undeniably alluring. That’s why the supplement industry is booming. But does the average gym goer really need added protein to accelerate their results or would a more balanced diet do the trick? Rachel Finch enters the supplement debate.
Convenience: *wake up, run out door, lecture, tutorial, gym, uni*… This was an average day in my undergrad degree. My textbooks and laptop and sweaty gym clothes became one big happy family in my backpack. There wasn’t much room for the big old lunch box I carry around now. After a workout, the body needs protein and carbohydrates to refuel. A scoop of high quality protein powder in a shaker is a quick, simple and space-saving way to make sure you’re staying on top of your post-exercise nutrition.
Supporting a nutrient poor diet: in an ideal world (well, my ideal world anyway!) everyone would eat a balanced diet of fruit, vegetables, dairy, grains, lean protein and healthy fats. But for so many reasons, this is often not the case. Supplements can support macronutrient deficiencies, such as those who avoid certain food groups e.g. vegans, dairy free etc.
Elite athletes: these guys train hard and eat hard (sounds like heaven, right?) Seriously though, the amount of food most elite athletes need to consume to support their physical output is often much more than what they can actually eat in a day. A kilojoule dense protein powder can help them meet their protein requirements, enhance performance and aid recovery1, without forcing them to drink endless chocolate milkshakes (like I said, heaven).
Expensive: Some protein supplements can set you back hundreds of dollars. Your guess is as good as ours as to which products are worth the price tag.
Additives: ‘Peanut Butter Triple Choc Fudge Sundae’ flavoured protein powder. Sounds too good to be true? It usually is. Those crazy flavoured proteins often include salt, sugar and synthetic additions to improve the flavour, texture and dissolvability. Some good news is that consumers are becoming increasingly health conscious, encouraging a shift in the market towards ‘pure, clean’ protein products.
How much do you actually need: Sure, elite athletes require additional protein intake for performance, but for the average gym goer, the National Health and Medical Research Council recommends about 2.5 serves of protein a day for women and about 3 serves for men2 (varies with age, activity and health).
Considering other foods like wholegrain bread and yoghurt are also good sources of protein, a healthy balanced diet will generally facilitate adequate protein consumption.
When trying to decide whether to supplement with powder, consider:
- How much protein does your body need each day?3
- Women: ~0.75g protein for every kg of body weight.
- Men: ~0.84g protein for every kg of body weight.
- How much protein are you already eating? Your diet might already be protein-plentiful.
- What are your goals? Weight loss, improved performance, gain muscle, improved recovery times – these goals are distinctive and change your protein requirements.
- How do you like your energy? Don’t forget, protein and protein powders are still kilojoule bearing: 1g protein = 17kj. Each to their own (but I’ll pick eggs on wholegrain toast over a watery protein mix every time!).
1. Hoffman, J.R. and Falvo, M.J., 2004. Protein – Which is best?.Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, 3(3), p.118 – 130.
2. National Health and Medical Research Council. 2013. Australian Dietary Guidelines – Summary, Eat for Health.
3. National Health and Medical Research Council. 2005. Protein. Nutrient Reference Values for Australia and New Zealand. p. 29-33.