By Eric/@trimon29/Bubba-mon/My good looking husband/triathlete/engineer/former GNC owner (and that’s a mouthful)
This is the third in a series regarding supplements. For the first two and some background on why I feel qualified to write on the subject please check out Everything You Wanted to Know About Supplements and Were Afraid to Ask and Dietary Supplements are Not Evil and Can Make Your Life Less Painful.
The supplement industry is basically unregulated. Manufacturers can and do make outrageous claims they don’t have to back up. In this series I am trying to cut through some of the BS and provide useful information. Please know that I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. If you are trying to deal with a significant medical problem please see a professional.
Proteins/ Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) and Creatine in my simple mind fall into the “things that work” category. Proteins are essential for life and good health. In a perfect world with a perfect diet you should be able to get what you need directly from what you eat. However, because we don’t live “there,” supplemental protein can be very valuable.
Proteins supplements are typically derived from either whey (milk products), egg, soy, or animal parts. There are mountains of studies you could spend a lifetime reading on the differences. However, our bodies are not all the same and some trial and error is required to figure out what works best for you.
One common side effect of protein consumption is intestinal distress (gas, diarrhea). As an example Pamela (aka Pamelot) uses Atkins pre-made protein shakes as meal replacements with no problem at all. If I drink one of those things, I can’t get off the toilet all day. If you are having gastric distress, try a different brand. If that makes no difference, then try a protein made from a different source. I personally have the most trouble with soy protein.
Uses of Protein Supplements:
Weight Gain. For adults and teenagers trying to gain weight, protein supplements — typically shakes — are a great way to go. Stores are filled with weight gain products. They are high in protein content per serving and typically also very high in calories and carbohydrates. This is great if you are consuming them while on an aggressive workout program. However, don’t think that they will magically add muscle mass. If you drink them and hang out on the couch playing video games all day, those calories will readily turn to fat.
If weight gain is your goal, DON’T drink the shake before your meals. They are very filling and will curb your appetite. Instead, drink your shakes after breakfast, after lunch, or at the latest in the middle of the afternoon. This will allow you to eat a full regular meal in addition to the shakes which is what you need to do to gain weight.
Weight Maintenance. Here is where I fall in. If I am working out hard for triathlon, I lose weight and muscle mass. Protein supplements (along with a few other things discussed later) help me hang on to muscles.
Weight Loss. Using protein shakes as meal replacements to lose weight is not a bad idea as long as you keep a few things in mind.
1. Make sure the shake you are drinking is not full of sugar and carbs.
2. Look closely at what meal you are “replacing”. For example, if you are drinking it instead of “breakfast,” but breakfast to you is normally a slice of toast and coffee, then you might actually gain weight drinking the shake. If breakfast was a Cinnabon, eggs and bacon, then you will likely make progress. Pamelot finds that a protein shake for breakfast, while higher in calories, curbs her appetite and desire to snack mid-morning.
3. Even though it is often most convenient to make breakfast the meal you skip, it is not always the best idea. The food you consume at breakfast gives you the energy to get through your day, to be sharp, and not to crash. This is important not only for those the work their bodies, but also those that work their brains. If you do neither, go ahead and skip.
4. Be sure to add fiber into your diet as you add proteins. You will thank me later. It’s hard for me to get enough fiber in my regular diet so I drink a concoction that has psyllium husk every morning. It is not the most pleasant texture or taste in the world, but the alternative is far worse.
5. If you use the protein as a meal replacement, make sure you are getting the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrition you miss when you skip the regular meal. Do that by either taking them in pill form or using a protein product that contains them already mixed in.
For those that are relatively athletic that want to either gain or preserve muscle mass, adding BCAA’s and Creatine is a great idea. There are many good protein drink products that already contain these ingredients. Creatine could be a whole topic on its own (ask me questions in the comments below if you are interested).
There are many good protein products out there. Companies like MuscleTech, EAS and BAS all make GREAT pre-blended (stacked) products. This means protein powders that also contain different vitamins, minerals, and other useful ingredients. If just a good pure protein is what you are looking for, the chain store name brands are actually very good and less expensive. For best tasting (along with excellent quality), I don’t think anyone beats Labrada products.
I hope this helps. I know this is just the tip of the iceberg on the subject but Pamelot is already going to tell me this is too long. So I will stop here and hope that you ask some interesting questions.