Do Protein Supplements Actually Work, or Are They Overkill?

Do Protein Supplements Actually Work, or Are They Overkill?

Athletes and workout fiends love their protein shakes. Supplemental protein has become such a mainstream part of the fitness world that many don't even bother to question whether it's effective (or that they're essentially gulping liquid chalk).

The benefits of protein supplements, most commonly found in the form of a chalky, powdery substance that can be added to shakes, over whole food protein for muscle building hasn't been proven. While dairy protein supplements like whey and vegan supplements like soy are sufficient sources of protein, they're only necessary if you're not reaching your suggested daily intake of protein with real food, sports dietitian and nutrition coach Brian St. Pierre told Daily Burn

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Source: Flickr
Source: Flickr

That suggested daily protein intake is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body mass, according to WatchFit. That's roughly 46 grams for women and 56 grams for men on average. At the same time, the International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism recommended that people cap their daily protein intake at 2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight.

There's 40 grams of protein in just half a filet of salmon, 38 grams in a cup of chicken and 20 grams in a cup of tofu. Eating some fish, chicken or tofu as a meal in addition to protein-heavy snacks like nuts, beans or cheese should ensure you reach your daily protein intake without the help of protein supplements.  

Athletes and those who frequently partake in resistance exercise may need double the protein in their diets — but that can still be achieved without a protein shake. "To date, no studies have shown an advantage of ingesting protein supplements over natural, protein-containing foods," nutritional scientists at Northern Illinois University wrote in a 2008 study that showed high school athletes have misconceptions about the benefits of protein supplements. "Therefore, dietary sources of protein may be just as effective as protein supplemental sources in the regulation of muscle protein synthesis."

Pierre suggests protein shakes as meal replacements when you're pressed for time. These shakes should include "good" fats and vitamins from whole foods as well. Here's a recipe he shared with Daily Burn:

Men
2 scoops of protein powder
1-2 cups of vegetables (like spinach, which doesn't affect the taste)
2 handfuls of fruit (fresh or frozen)
2 tablespoons of healthy fat (a nut butter or seed for example)
Mixer (almond milk, regular milk, water — your choice)

Women
1 scoop of protein powder
1 cup of vegetables
1 handful of fruit
1 tablespoon of healthy fat
Mixer (almond milk, regular milk, water — your choice)

Bottom line: Protein is protein no matter what form it takes.