Protein supplements are a common tool used by bodybuilders, athletes and strength trainers. They provide quick, easy and readily absorbed protein.
Are they better than the natural source? No, not really.
Are they necessary for everyone? Nope.
So does that mean I shouldn’t use them? Absolutely not.
What Are They?
Protein supplementation comes in a few forms. The most common basics forms are:
Whey is a complete protein that is derived from cows’ milk. It is found in a lot of protein powder supplementations. It is a fast protein because it gets digested and absorbed quickly. This means amino acids are readily and easily available for the muscles. Because of its rapid digestion whey is really good for use directly after strength training. It has been shown to work even better when used with a bit of high GI carbohydrate. Some studies also suggest that it actually stimulates fat burning as well as making fat the preferred fuel during exercise.
Like Whey, casein is a milk-derived protein that is also available in protein powder form. Unlike Whey, it is considered a slow protein because it takes a lot longer to be absorbed and consequently is delivered to the muscles much more slowly. Therefore consuming casein protein before exercise might be a better idea, you get your energy released a lot more slowly and sustained. It is also a good pre bed meal for those (mostly bodybuilders) who are worried about going into a catabolic state over night.
We discussed the pros and cons of soy protein in the natural sources article. Soy protein is also found as a supplementation powder form.
BCAA supplementation generally comes in a tablet form. They contain leucine, isoleucine and valine. These amino acids make up about one third of your muscle protein. They work to rebuild muscles protein and act as fuel.
This is another common form of protein supplementation. It is even more convenient than protein shakes, no preparation needed and you can throw one into your gym bag for after weights. You need to be careful to get good quality bars. A big problem is they are often very high in sugar and have poor quality protein. Often they can be high in bad fats. Protein shakes are a better option, however, if you can find good quality protein bars, then they also present a good option for on the run or after a session.
Do You Need Them?
This is the big question asked by people, and here are a few reasons you might need protein powder supplementation
- You are a vegetarian and want more variety
- You don’t feel like eating a steak directly after strength training
- You are on the run and need a protein filled snack
- You have trouble getting your protein requirements for the day in from natural sources.
It all boils down to the person and the situation. I think whey protein is an essential component of every strength trainers/ body builders diet. It gives you fast acting protein directly after your session. It has the highest biological value (how much absorbed is used) of all proteins and is very convenient and easy to eat. It is important to eat some fast acting protein in that window after strength training, to build muscle and recover. Whey presents a very easy option. You can get your protein at this time from foods, however it may not be as fast acting (not of ultra importance) and some people, including me find it hard to eat a meal directly after weight training. A supplement such as USN muscle fuel is a good option.
In saying all this, natural food sources are the best options for most of the day. Use protein powder when you need it, it provides an easy option post workout, for some it can be a quick breakfast or snack on the run. Try to get natural source proteins in most of the day. But recognise the role protein powders may be able to play in your diet.
Most good protein supplements come with the full quota of BCAAs. If you are drinking your whey protein shake after your session and eating good complete proteins throughout the day, then you don’t really need this extra supplementation. Food sources remain the best way to get your protein, they tend to be absorbed a lot more efficiently by the body.
In my opinion BCAAs are a supplement body builders and athletes can use to get that extra edge. There is very little point using supplements in your diet, if the rest of it isn’t yet up to scratch. Consider this a step you can take a lot later down the track, when you need that extra 1%. For now, BCAAs might be an unnecessary expense, and the value of getting the rest of your diet spot on is much higher. They are the extra edge; wait until you need to use them.
Optimum Nutritions 100% Whey Protein contains 24 grams of protein, only 2-3 grams of carbohydrates, 1.5 grams of fat and minimal lactose, the choice of brand is clear, now to decide what flavor and size! Optimums 100% Whey Protein comes in 1, 2 and 5 pound containers and is available in Double Rich Chocolate, Chocolate Mint, Cookies and Cream, Strawberry and Vanilla.
Woohoo these are finally my final words on this topic. Supplements have their place in the strength trainers diet, there is no doubt. Food remains the best source of protein, but sometimes the convenience of supplements far outweighs this factor. When considering your diet, base it around natural sources (not supplementation) and then add in whatever else you need, when you need it. The standout for me, that I think all strength trainers should consider is after a session, if your goal is to build lean mass and recover for the next workout, consume some whey protein. As always, assess your goals, assess your diet, and see what you need. Just make sure you are getting your daily quota of protein.