Nutrition journey: Part 3.1- Protein supplements

Protein supplements in the spotlight

Scientific facts

The ACSM (American College of Sport Medicine) and International Society of Sport Nutrition (ISSN) recommended adding moderate amounts of protein to pre-event meals (3-4 hours before a game/race/training) possibly in the form of food (0.15-0.25g/kg BW) combined with a significant amount of carbohydrates

The ISSN and International Olympic Committee (IOC) recommended supplementation of 6 – 25g EAA in particular BCAA’s with 30 – 40g high GI (glycaemic index) carbohydrates, immediately after exercise (Phillip & van Loon, 2011: Kerksick et al., 2008).

It is clear that protein supplements are beneficial to athletes and the active population. However the question remains, what to look for when choosing a suitable protein source.

You can meet your daily protein requirements, whether you drink a shake or eat only whole food. However they do not offer equal nutrition or benefits. Shakes generally contain fewer nutrients but has a faster absorption rate and fewer fat. Therefore shakes may assist in muscle hypertrophy, recovery and weight loss, but should not substitute protein entirely as nutrient deficiency may occur. As food is clearly superior to supplement, it could be unattainable to have a high protein meal straight after a workout. However food supplements made it easy and is also seen as a top protein source (Future life high protein, Herbalife protein shake, Sport24 rebuild strength, Pro-Nutro high protein etc.) combined with fat free milk.

Protein types

  • Whey protein

    Whey protein is one of the most commonly used proteins and is best for day-day use. It contains all the essential amino acids and is easily digested and absorbed. It helps boost energy and can reduce stress levels. Whey isolate and concentrates are best to use after a workout.

  • Soy protein

    Soy protein is another common choice. It helps reduce high cholesterol and ease symptoms of menopause for some women. It can also help with osteoporosis by helping build bone mass.

  • Egg protein

    Egg protein release more slowly than whey and could be taken through out the day to ensure gradual release of protein.

  • Milk proteins

    Milk proteins help support immune function and enhance muscle growth. Thus milk protein is an excellent source of protein after exercise.

  • Casein protein

    Casein protein is considered a slow protein, meaning it takes a longer time to be digested and absorbed into the blood stream (3 – 4 hours). Casein slows the rate of muscle breakdown and thus it is good to have casein prior to bed time to reduce muscle breakdown during the night (6-10 hour fast)

A protein powder for each need

  • Build muscle

    For muscle hypertrophy, choose a protein powder with a high quality protein with a high biological value (well absorbed and utilized). Whey protein, whey isolates and milk protein are some of the best choices. Consumed immediately after a workout will have the biggest effect. However casein protein could be beneficial when consumed prior to bed time to reduce muscle breakdown.

  • Lose weight

    To lose weight protein shakes could boost metabolism, reduce appetite and help you lose body fat without muscle mass loss. Choose protein shakes with no added sugars such as dextrins/maltodextrins. Also choose protein shakes with less energy, fat and carbohydrates as low GI carbohydrate food should rather be consumed when trying to lose weight. Also do not add extra BCAA’s (Branch chain amino acids) as this promote muscle growth.

  • Muscle recovery

    For most effective muscle recovery it is very important to consume a high quality, fast absorbing protein source like whey or milk as soon as possible after a workout. Added carbohydrates are necessary to increase absorption rate. The sooner protein reaches the bloodstream the higher muscle glycogen restoration will occur. Make sure the recovery protein shake contains 5g or more BCAA’s, also multivitamins, antioxidants, fish oils and electrolytes.

  • Weight gain

    Weight gainers combine protein with a mix of high carbohydrate ingredients that make it much more energy dense. It is often used by body builders seeking to gain mass or serious athletes who find it difficult to consume enough energy to fuel their intense workouts. Weight gainers help them to consume enough energy within a short period of time at a more economic price. However these products contain a large amount of energy and if it is not used for recovery or muscle hypertrophy through intense training, it will be stored as fat.

Amino acid importance in supplements

  • BCAA′s

    BCAA’s (branched-chain amino acids), L-leucine, L-isoleucine and L-valine, are valuable building blocks for muscle tissue growth and repair. They dramatically improve the body’s ability to synthesize protein and thus build muscle mass after supplementing of just two weeks (4g three times daily).

    Branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) are a key nutrient for muscle repair and growth. They are also important as energy transporters to the muscles in the body. Depending on the level of exercise they need large amounts of readily metabolisable energy as well as a sufficient amount of oxygen.

  • L-arginine

    L-arginine, which improves blood flow (“Pump”). L-arginine is an amino acid well-known to muscle and strength builders. The key effect of L-arginine is improved blood flow and effectiveness of the immune system. Both are desire side-effects for athletes, although there are no known studies about how L-arginine influences muscle hypertrophy itself.  Recommended doses for athletes are between 4,000 mg und 8,000 mg per day

  • L-carnitine

    L-carnitine which enhances fat burning and accelerates recovery. L-carnitine is probably the most well-known amino acid in sport. L-carnitine transports fats molecules into the mitochondria (cell’s power plants), where they are converted into energy. This makes it possible for the body to convert fat into energy decreasing the chance that muscle tissue needs to be broken down to produce nutrients and energy. L-carnitine is therefore an essential component of an athlete’s nutritional plan.

  • Taurine

    Taurine is a substance similar to amino acids, which does not actually contribute to building protein. In its free form it is most commonly found in the body’s nervous system, blood platelets and muscles. Taurine is able to reduce the oxidative stress (tissue breakdown) following intense exercise and thus positively influence muscle growth and increase performance. When skeletal muscle is strained to a large degree, the body naturally builds free radicals which can damage the cells in the muscle tissue.

    Appropriate supplementation of Taurine will prevent the production of superoxide-anions and reduce the oxidative stress on the muscle tissue. At the same time it increases the content of Thiol in the skeletal muscle neutralising various nitrogen-based radicals. This reduction of oxidative destruction results in an overall improvement in muscular performance


  • Creatine

    Creatine is a nitrogenous organic acid produced in the liver. Creatine is fromed from three amino acids: L-arginine, glycine and L-methionine and makes up about 1% of human blood. Creatine is transported through the blood and binds with phosphate to supply energy to body parts with high energy demands such as skeletal muscles and the brain. Due to this ability of creatine, to supply energy where it’s high in demand, athlete’s find it beneficial to improve performance by training harder and longer.

    The IOC approve the usage of creatine and therefore it’s widely used by athletes. However creatine is found in food sources like game, beef, salmon and tuna (in its rawest form). Thus in an athlete consuming large amounts of creatine rich foods the creatine threshold would be reached or almost reached and therefore excess creatine will have a small or no benefit and would simply be excreted. Concluding that the efficiency would differ largely for one athlete to another.

    An excellent source of creatine (specifically for vegetarians and athletes with low meat/fish intake) would be a creatine supplement containing al 4 forms of creatine (creatine HCL, creatine nitrate, creatine monohydrate, creatine ethyl ester HCL). To be taken pre exercise with 100% fruit juice.

Reading supplement labels

Now that we are aware that supplements do benefit some individuals with certain goals, we need to set guidelines to assist when choosing a supplement. Therefore the following is guidelines when are seeking a protein supplement for recovery and muscle hypertrophy:

  • Protein content should be more than or equal to 25g
  • BCAA’S content should be more than 5g
  • The supplement should whey protein isolate, whey concentrate and/or whey peptides
  • The protein supplement should contain little or no soy ingredients.
  • Glutamic acid (Glutamine) should be >4000mg (If it’s not listed it’s not a good supplement)
  • L-arginine should be >4000mg (If it’s not listed it’s not a good supplement)
  • L-carnitine should be >500mg
  • Carbohydrate content should be between 5g – 15g depending on training intensity & duration (increase protein absorption rate & optimize recovery)
  • Fat content should not be bigger than 3g.
  • There should be indicated that whey protein was filtered in one of the following manners: Ion exchange, microfiltration or ultra-microfiltration.
  • Whey is absolutely better than casein after workouts due to the absorption rate. Whey absorb much faster than casein and therefore increase recovery and muscle hypertrophy. However casein is beneficial if consumed prior to bed time to decrease muscle breakdown throughout the night.
  • Therefore look for a 100% whey containing BCAA’s and glutamine and consume this within 30 minutes after training to optimize recovery.

Now that you have the facts and guidelines, it would be easier to choose the correct supplement from all those on the self.

Remember sometimes its more important to study the label rather than the price tag. You cannot put a price on your health. Still there are very good supplements with scientific approval on the market at affordable prices. Study the label.


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