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Protein supplements – are they necessary?

Protein shakes have previously been the domain of bodybuilders and the muscle guys at the gym, but in recent years, protein supplements have become more of the rage with anyone wanting to get fit, almost like it’s trendy to take. So as a regular person doing a regular amount of exercise, do you need it or is it just a way of getting us to part with our money?

Why protein?

Protein is one of the more important nutrients for our body. It’s vital for building and repairing muscle tissue, as well as a host of other functions such as processing other nutrients and boosting immunity for example. So, having something protein-based after a workout is something that will help you build lean muscle and help repair those muscles.

Where do I get protein from?

Animal based sources are the best form as they contain all 8 essential amino acids. This can come from meat, fish, eggs and diary products. Plant-based proteins don’t contain all amino acids so you’ll need to consume a variety of different foods to ensure you get the full complement. These can be found in cereals, legumes and various fruits and veg.

How much protein do I need?

Everyone is different and it does depend on how active you are. On average they say that you should have 0.8grams for every kg of your bodyweight, so a woman weighing 60kg should consume 48g of protein. That equates to around:

1 Egg 6g

Chicken breast – 30g

Cup of milk – 8g

¼ cup of almonds – 8g

So, technically, most people could get enough protein in their normal diet. If you’re vegetarian or vegan it’s a little harder and so supplements may be appropriate, but consult a doctor about your individual requirements.

Naturally this is just a recommendation for the average person and doesn’t take into account endurance athletes and bodybuilder types. You would be looking at nearer 1.2 – 2g per kg of bodyweight in these cases.

Should I take a supplement?

As mentioned there may well be the need to supplement if your diet doesn’t include enough or you’re doing a lot of exercise, but it’s not generally necessary for the normal person with a balanced diet.

I’m not really an advocate of having protein shakes (and I certainly wouldn’t recommend using one as a meal replacement – don’t get me started on that!), but I do find powder useful to have in the cupboard for adding to smoothies and pancake mixes for that extra boost on days where I know I’m going to be working out more or where I haven’t got meat and eggs available to me.

Do try and remember to have protein after a workout to get the most benefits.

What should I look for in the powder?

There are plenty of different types – whey, soy, pea, casein etc and a lot of it is down to personal taste preference. Whey is supposedly the best for muscle stimulation, but isn’t great for vegans or those with a dairy intolerance. I personally have a soy based one, as these contain all the essential amino acids. Do check the label, whichever one you choose though, as you need to check for added sugars/ sweeteners (normally present in the flavoured versions) and it’s recommended that you look for one that’s got less than five grams of carbs and two grams of fat per serving. Protein should also be listed as the first ingredient. Avoid ones with “added amino acids” as they can be much cheaper than a whole protein, such as whey, and may not offer the same benefits. Likewise you want to avoid ingredients like wheat grass, apple fibre, maltodextrin, or cellulose, as they’re just bulking agents.

What happens if I have too much protein?

The body can’t do anything with it, so there’s no actual need for you to consume more than you need. You’ll just wee it out, which can put pressure on the kidneys. Word of warning: be careful if you have any pre-existing kidney issues.

Often with people eating lots of protein (ie on Atkins/Paleo diets), you’ll also find that their carb intake is reduced and this is the part that can cause the problems. You need the carbs for energy, so you might find it difficult to concentrate and to get on with things. Often in these cases you may also find that you have bowel trouble as you may be lacking the fibre in your diet too.

Make sure the meat you eat is lean and that the protein powder you take doesn’t have added sugar/sweeteners in it, as that will result in more calories consumed and in time could lead to weight gain without you realising.


Let me know if you use a supplement / powder. I’d be interested to hear how you get on with it, which one you use and how you use it.


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