22 Dec 2016
Sporting professionals use protein substitutes to help build muscle mass. Some experts recommend them to older adults to help ‘top up’ their nutritional needs. Others use it as a meal replacement to assist with weight loss and some simply need an alternative to beating those dreaded afternoon munchies.
Protein supplements taken by active people can have key benefits – like improving stamina, building strength and aiding recovery.
Studies have shown that a high protein diet can curb hunger pains and result in long-term weight loss, if combined with moderate exercise.
And they’re convenient. They can easily be thrown in a gym bag or stored in the work fridge and substituting a protein shake for a meal takes some of the hassle out of the daily kilojoule count.
But do the positives outweigh the negatives?
Most protein powders consist of soy, dairy or pea in powdered form and may contain carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and fat metabolisers. Depending on the powder, they can contain one-and-a-half to three times more protein compared to a couple of eggs or a glass of skim milk. That’s more than you’d get from just one meal. Sounds great huh?
Well, not exactly. Unfortunately, many of the brands on the market contain more than just purely powdered protein. Some contain nasties like artificial sweeteners, thickeners and artificial flavours and many are also higher in kilojoules than eggs or skim milk. So they don’t really qualify as a between-meal snack. And they can be ridiculously expensive.
Some experts believe protein supplements aren’t necessary for the majority of individuals who get plenty of protein from their normal diets. If you’re looking to lose weight or ‘top up’ your protein intake, they can help, but you can achieve this the good old fashioned way by consuming whole foods like low-fat dairy, eggs, fish and lean meats. This means you’re also eating minimally processed options that contain other beneficial nutrients like vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Leading nutritionists believe that many people are also wasting money on protein powders because they’re choosing the wrong ones or not taking them correctly. Recovery after a gym session can be improved if you consume good quality protein within an hour of so of working out, but it doesn’t have to be in the form of a super-scientific supplement.
If you see definitive benefits in taking a protein supplement, nutritionists suggest buying a stock-standard whey protein powder (minus the fancy ingredients) and throw in a banana, berries and a couple of egg whites or, if you need a refuelling component, choose one with added carbs. And then balance it out with a diet rich in fresh, whole foods. It’s really about weighing up your options.
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