Protein supplements have become very popular especially among bodybuilders and athletes. These are special preparation of nutrition sources which contains about 20 to 30 grams of proteins per serving. Often they contain vitamins and minerals as well. Protein supplements are consumed mostly as bars, powders and premade shakes. They are consumed immediately after a workout or training session. It is believed that these supplements supply essential proteins for the recovery of the body. They help in gaining muscle mass and significantly increase your stamina. However, too much protein supplements can have serious side effects like problems of kidney function and gas.

Every normal adult consumes protein in the form of milk, eggs, meat, dairy and a number of nuts and legumes. However, for extremely active people, i.e. athletes and bodybuilders, this may not be sufficient. They often use protein supplements. This is because when protein is consumed as food, it is accompanied by other food groups – notably fat and contributes to the calorie intake. Protein supplements however supply very little calorie.

Important terms relating to protein supplements

If you are looking to include protein supplements in your diet, there are a few terms with which you need to be familiar. These are:

  • Isolates are a type of protein where pure protein has been isolated and all other nutrients have been removed.
  • Concentrates are another type where protein occurs in combination with a little of other nutrients.
  • Blends contain various types of proteins in different proportions.
  • BCAA or branched chain amino acids are a combination of three amino acids leucine, iso-leucine and valine. They play an important role in the development of skeletal tissues.

Sources of protein supplements

Protein supplements are created from protein rich sources. These include the following:

  • Whey protein is the most popular source of protein supplement and is available as isolate or concentrate. Whey is that part of the milk which is left behind after cheese has been processed from it. It contains 20% of the protein of milk.
  • Casein is important milk protein and contains 80% of the protein of milk. They are thick and heavy and are popular among those who want to gain weight.
  • For the lactose intolerant, egg protein is the best alternative.
  • Pea protein is free of both lactose and gluten and is a great source of protein supplement for vegetarians. It is the best kind of hypoallergenic protein supplement.

How do protein supplements work?

Protein supplements work in two ways. They directly supply essential proteins to the body. They also stimulate protein synthesis. As a result of these, the amount of protein increases in the body. Protein is essential to repair cell damage and build up new tissues. So, this newly produced protein starts in this task. That is why, most athletes and bodybuilders consume protein supplement directly after a workout when the cells are in the most need for sustenance.

The timing is of great essence when ingesting protein supplements. A study was conducted at the McMaster University. Eight men were given 25g of whey protein immediately after workout while another 8 were given the same amount distributed over 10 doses. It was seen that the first group experienced a greater increase in muscle protein synthesis.

An ideal plan for taking protein supplements have been suggested below:

Time Type of protein supplement Benefit
First thing in the morning A combination of fast and slow digesting powder. E.g.:- whey casein mix Achieve a positive nitrogen balance.
Pre-workout Slow digesting protein powder Maintain positive nitrogen balance during workout
Post-workout Combine fast and slow digesting powder Propel towards better nitrogen balance
Between meals Slow digesting protein snacks Maintain good nitrogen balance throughout day.
Night time Slow digesting protein supplement Maximizes nitrogen balance while you sleep

The benefits of protein supplements

The benefits of protein supplements are well recognized. That is why they are so popular with the bodybuilding community. These are:

  • Supplements are complete and balanced sources of protein.
  • They are more cost effective than protein rich foods.
  • You do not ingest needless calories with these supplements.
  • They often come with vitamin and mineral supplements which help in your overall growth.
  • They are easy to make, store and transport. They also taste great.
  • They supply instant protein to tired muscles and cells and therefore help in post workout recovery.

The problems and side effects of protein supplements

  • In most cases, the extra protein cannot be absorbed by the body and much of it simply passes through your system.
  • Increase of pure protein intake can be harmful to the health of people suffering from kidney problems.
  • Production of excess urea may lead to dehydration.

Unless you are extremely active or in training for a strenuous athletic event, you have no need to consume protein supplements.