Understanding protein supplements

The need for protein supplementation is one of the largest misunderstandings related to protein intake.

December 27, 2016 - Author: Kelly Herron, and Rebecca Levin, MSU Dietetic Intern

We see products on the market every day that claim to “promote a healthy body” or to “help increase muscle mass” and  consumers can be easily persuaded by misleading labels and promotions presented to them as an easy fix to develop the desired fit and healthy body they crave. The biggest blur out there is the role of supplementation, with one of the largest misunderstandings set around the need of protein supplementation. I run every so often, do I need to take a protein shake before I go? Do I drink one after I lift weights? Do I drink one for breakfast every day? It’s time to get the facts straight.

First off, when looking at the people who promote the product, we consumers need to remember that physical fitness is their career. They are most likely in the gym more than two or three hours a day, every day, and have been doing so for years now. We will not get a body like theirs simply by working out three or four days a week for an hour and drinking some specified shake. Due to their excessive amount of activity, they probably do need more than what an average person needs to consume in protein making a supplement shake a reasonable choice. According to Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, “For the average gym-goer or recreational athlete, the most protein needed is about 1 to 1.2 grams per kilogram of body weight.”  For example, a 150 pound person they would need approximately 75 grams of protein.  In other words, this is your body weight in pounds divided by two to equal the total grams of protein you will need. This is a generalized formula used to estimate the needs for your body. Of course, to figure out exact needs, the best option is to talk to a registered dietitian. 

Furthermore, there seems to be a misconception about what protein does for an individual’s health. It will not give you more energy to power through your workout; that’s a carbohydrates job. Protein will not magically build muscle for you— only exercise can build muscle. Protein can, however, help to rebuild and repair your muscles. Having enough access to protein will influence the rebuilding process. It’s important to note that you do not need to use supplementation to do so. In fact, most Americans are already consuming enough protein to fulfill their estimated needs. Natural sources, such as low-fat milk, Greek yogurt, and eggs provide not only a tremendous supply of protein, but vitamins and minerals your body needs as well that are not found in a protein supplement. Additionally, overconsumption of protein can actually lead to negative health effects. According to the International Journal of Sports Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism, if you are consuming too much protein, you can experience nausea and diarrhea. “If you couple a high protein intake with a low-carb diet, you may also experience fatigue, headaches and weakness.” In addition, protein that is not used to help repair and rebuild your body tissues is simply stored as fat.

As with anything nutrition related, your best option is to talk with a registered dietitian who can determine your protein needs based on your body and activity level as well as help determine the best ways to consume enough.

For more information, visit Michigan State University Extension

Tags: food & health, msu extension, nutrition

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