Do Protein Supplements Work?

Do Protein Supplements Work?
Are Protein Supplements a Waste of Money?

I’ve often wondered if protein supplements are worth the bother. If you weight train for a while you’ll soon start hearing the mantra of 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight and most bodybuilders and strength athletes I’ve spoken to seem to take this as accepted science.

Anyway, I recent came across an interesting article about this. It presents two opposing points of view, both of which seem to be derived from many of the same studies. So, interesting it may be but I’m none the wiser.

You can read the article here: Should Protein Be Included in CHO-Based Sports Supplements

But if you can’t be bothered to read that, here’s the summary from the ‘No’ camp:

Athletes, coaches, and supplement manufacturers understandably strive to gain competitive advantage by adopting nutritional strategies in anticipation of future empirical support. However, the scientific data currently available indicate that protein is not an effective addition to CHO-based sports supplements when ingested during exercise, whereas the potential advantages of added protein during recovery can be most comprehensively achieved via whole foods as part of a balanced diet.

© 2011 American College of Sports Medicine

And here’s the summary from the ‘Yes’ camp:

The composition of a sports nutrition supplement needs to be based on scientific evidence and on practical application and use. I believe that the addition of protein to CHO-based supplements results in a more “complete” nutritional product for athletes. Optimal muscle glycogen resynthesis can be achieved without the need for large and frequent CHO feedings during recovery, skeletal muscle growth, and repair is facilitated and rehydration may also be improved. These factors are important to both the endurance and strength athlete in considering the longer-term adaptations to training and not just the short-term performance effects. In conclusion, although the scientific evidence on performance is still conflicting, the addition of protein to a CHO-based supplement provides a more practical approach to optimizing the training and recovery of athletes, particularly those who train or compete in multiple sessions on the same or consecutive days.

© 2011 American College of Sports Medicine

My own conclusion from the above conclusions is that the subject is far from settled. I would imagine it’s very difficult to isolate protein as the single factor when they’re doing these studies. Other aspects of the subjects’ diets might vary, as may their training intensity or sleep/recovery patterns.

My feeling after 15+ years of weight training is that supplementation is overrated. I don’t think we need as much as 1g of protein per pound of bodyweight and as long as our diet has maybe 0.7-0.8g of protein per pound of bodyweight, I don’t think there’s much to be gained by exceeding that. Or at least that’s what I’ve found.

I think supplementation works if our diet is properly deficient in protein (or any other nutrient) but I feel it’s easier to get the necessary protein through normal food than most weight trainers think. I have certainly trained both with and without protein supplements for long periods of time. My diet is fairly balanced anyway and, as long as I’ve maintained that balance and eaten enough to fuel my workouts, I’ve noticed no difference to my training or progress based on whether or not I’m supplementing with protein.

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