Protein Supplements : Do I Need It? #fitnessfriday

I am sure we all have at least heard, used (or currently use), or seen "protein supplements" in our lifetime. This multi-billion dollar industry has boomed over the past several years as it gets excessive glorification by the media as an essential nutrient for weight loss, muscle development, and weight management. One of the most frequently asked questions by fitness enthusiasts and anyone looking for weight loss is: What protein supplement should I take to burn my fat and gain muscle? And how much protein should I eat? Unfortunately, the answer is not that simple and often times the benefit of protein supplements are overstated and the potential harm is underestimated. Therefore, as a consumer it is very important to evaluate if you really need protein supplements, and if you do, carefully choose the type and quantity of protein supplements before making it part of everyday routine. 

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Protein is an essential macronutrient (providing 4 calories/gram) found in many foods such as meat, dairy products, nuts, beans, and soy products. It is made up of amino acids which are the buildings blocks of body tissue that promotes healthy hair, skin, nails, bones, as well as muscles. 

Protein supplements are commercially made in labs and are typically egg, whey, or caesin based but now there are some other plant-based as well. They are commonly found in the form of powder, pre-made shakes, or bars. While it is highly recommended to get the bulk of protein from whole foods, protein supplements do make it easier to get amino acids our body needs. But before diving into the protein world, remember that not all protein supplements are created equal. Some of the common protein powder supplements on the market are:

- Whey

: It is the

most common

protein powder supplements used and available in the market today. It is a

complete protein

(has all the essential amino acids), a by-product in the process of turning milk into cheese, are water soluble, and low in lactose. Studies have shown that whey protein supplementation along with resistance exercise can help improve muscle protein synthesis and promote the growth of lean tissue mass. There are many other possible health benefits associated with whey protein such as weight loss, lowering the risk of cardiovascular diseases, lowering cholesterol, improved immune response in children with asthma to name few (



There are three different types of whey protein available:





Common Application

Whey Protein Concentrate 

(most afforable)




Protein beverages and bars, confectionery and bakery products, infant formula and other nutritional food products

Whey Protein Isolate

(purest form of protein)




Protein supplementation products, protein beverages, protein bars and other nutritional food products

Hydrolyzed Whey Protein 

(most expensive and predigested so it is more easily absorbed by the body)




Infant formula and sports and medical nutrition products


Look for whey protein isolate—not concentrate and consume within 60 minutes of your sweat session when enzyme and protein synthesis is most active. - Caesin : Caesin is the most abundant protein in milk and are relatively insoluble. During the milk processing, they form a gelatinous material which is why they have a slower rate of digestion and a steady release of amino acid into circulation. Caesin has same benefits as whey protein butthey differ in their rate of absorption Use caesin based protein as a meal replacements to help you stay fuller longer, or take right before bed as it will supply the body with protein throughout the night when you enter a catabolic state. Look for the ingredient “calcium caseinate” on the label to ensure you’re getting the purest form of the protein.

-  Egg protein:  

It is a

complete protein

that comes from eggs by separating out the yolks and dehydrating the egg whites. It is an


yet excellent choice of protein (one scoop provides approximately 24 grams of protein, four times the amount found in one whole egg). 

Studies have shown that egg protein stimuates muscle growth and increase muscle protein synthesis likely due to the high concentration of leucine (an essential amino acid responsible for synthesis of muscle protein after a meal). 

Egg white protein is digested moderately and falls somewhere between whey and caesin 

so it keeps muscle protein synthesis going for longer than if you consumed just whey on its own. Some of the practical uses of egg protein includes using it in pancakes, shakes, and baked goods. They are suitable for people

with soy or lactose allergy


- Soy protein:

It is one of the very few plant-based protein that

provides all the essential amino acids.

They are derived after concentrating or isolating soy beans that have been hulled and dried into soy flour. Soy is a

very controversial


due to the concerns with genetically modified crops and its effects on hormones. 

According to the American Dietetic Association, consuming soy protein can help with muscle maintenance, synthesis and repair in response to training. There are three different types of 

soy supplements:

  • Soy Protein Concentrate: It is what is essentially left at the completion of the de-fatting process and has at least 65% protein 
  • Soy Protein Isolate: It is the most pure and refined soy available. While most of the ingredients are removed, there is at least 90% pure protein remaining in soy protein isolate.
  • Textured Soy Protein: They are made from soy protein concentrates and used in various products, such as imitation chicken, pork and steak. 

Studies have shown that athletes who incorporate both soy and whey protein in their nutritional regimens may benefit from their different rates of digestion and amino acid absorption. Whey protein digests more quickly, while soy protein digests more gradually.

- Brown Rice Protein: 

Rice is mostly composed of carbohydrates but has a small amount of protein. But since its

plant based, it is not a complete protein

and should be combined with other plant-based proteins such as soy, hemp, or pea powder. It is a good source of complex carbohydrates, hypo-allergic, easily digested making it an excellent alternative for anyone with a sensitive stomach or allergies to soy or dairy. Protein content varies by the brand. 

- Pea protein:

It is a

plant-based, highly digestible


 hypoallergenic protein. But since it

does not have all the essential amino acids


it is important to choose the isolated pea protein powder as it contains wide spectrum of essential amino acids. However, it is still deficient in some amino acids and therefore needs to be paired with other protein sources such as rice or hemp. Pea protein is also high in glutamic acid, which helps convert carbohydrates into energy so they won’t be stored as fat 




- Hemp protein:

 It is an hypoallergenic,

plant-based protein

derived from the seeds of the cannabis plant. It contains all the essential amino acid making it a

complete protein


Hemp protein is vegan proving 6 grams of protein per 2 tablespoon. It is also rich in fiber (3 grams per 2 tablespoon) which 

may be helpful in weight management than other protein powders. 

How much protein do I need? 

The recommendation for protein needs greatly varies depending upon who you talk to but 

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada and the American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following for power and endurance athletes, based on body weight:

Power athletes (strength or speed): 1.2 to 1.7 grams/kilogram a day Endurance athletes: 1.2 to 1.4 grams/kilogram a day (source). 

According to the Institute of Medicine, the current RDA for protein is 0.8 grams/kg per day in order to maintain your lean muscle mass. 

For building muscle and weight gain, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends 1.4 to 1.8 grams/ kg per day. This means a 150-pound person should consume 96 to 123 grams of protein each day to build muscle mass and gain weight.

When is the best time to drink a protein shake? It could vary by the brand and your regimen but it is recommended that you take protein in two servings - an hour so before the workout to fuel your body's energy reserves and another serving immediately after the work out to help repair muscle damage and fuel the growth of new muscles. 

Does protein supplements help burn fat?


ating more calories than you burn results in weight gain, no matter where the calories come from.

Also, there is no food that will burn fat but exercising will help to burn fat.

Eating adequate amounts of quality protein may promote moderate weight loss because protein increases satiety and may even slightly speed up metabolism to help with weight loss. 

The human body naturally burns more calories each day to maintain a pound of muscle than it does to maintain a pound of fat. Therefore, the more muscle you build, the more calories your body will naturally burn each day at rest. Can I eat too much protein? Yes, it is possible. Our body can only use a certain amount of protein each day. If you take in too much protein, you may gain weight. It could also be harmful to your liver, brain, and nervous system. When you eat protein, your body produces ammonia, a toxin that your liver makes harmless but eating too much protein over a long period of time can cause your liver to become overworked, allowing ammonia and other toxic substances to build up in your bloodstream which may lead to hepatic encephalopathy, a condition marked by a decline in brain and nervous system function. Also, it is important to stay hydrated because studies have shown that as protein intake goes up, hydration becomes an issue mostly likely because the body has to use more water to flush out that additional nitrogen (one of the waste products created by the kidneys during the filtering process). 

Some of the things to consider before starting a protein supplement:

- The quality and safety of supplements is an area of controversy because protein quality is measured by biological value (how well a protein is absorbed into the body). Make sure you purchase supplements from well-researched company because you could be spending all the money and eating a lot of those protein but they may not be available for the body to use due to poor protein quality. 

- The protein supplement (or any nutrition supplement) industry has very little regulation by the FDA. There is a high chance that products could have discrepancies in 'what they say' and 'what they actually have in their products'.  

What are your thoughts on protein supplements?

Do you have a preference for the type of protein supplements? 

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