Should You Really Be Supplementing Protein?


Lately I feel like I’m surrounded by countless ads for protein supplements in some form or another. Whey, casein, soy, brown rice, the list goes on and on. I watch both my roommates whip up protein shakes after their workouts almost daily. But how necessary is it for the average person to be spending all of that money?

Turns out, most professionals agree that protein supplements are unnecessary for the majority of people, as they get enough protein in a balanced diet. Nancy Clark, MS, RD lists protein needs as follows:

•Sedentary person: 0.4 grams/lb
•Recreational exerciser, adult: 0.5 – 0.75 grams/lb
•Competitive athlete, adult: 0.6 – 0.9 grams/lb
•Growing teenage athlete: 0.8 – 0.9 grams/lb
•Dieting athlete, reduced calories: 0.8 – 0.9 grams/lb
Maximum for all healthy athletes: 0.9 gram/lb

This means that a 180 pound person doesn’t really need to be consuming any more than 162 grams of protein in a day, a value easily attainable without the consumption of expensive supplements. Not to mention that according to the NSCA “the ingestion of excess protein supplements may place additional stress on the kidneys and liver, and may result in dehydration, calcium loss, and gastrointestinal problems.”

Also, protein ingested in liquid form without the addition of added digestive enzymes only remains in the section of your digestive system that can absorb it for an hour and a half, and only gets absorbed at a rate of about 10 grams per hour. The rest of that protein is just getting filtered out of the system.

It turns out that what people should be focusing more on is the timing of protein intake. Post-exercise, you need to be consuming 4-5 times more carbohydrates than protein. The protein post-exercise is still important, but should be taken along with those carbs. Barbara Lewin, RD, LD says “Before, during, and after a workout, carbs are what your body needs. They’re what your body uses for fuel, and what your muscles run on.” Protein is important, but it should be saved for throughout the day, and not taken alone immediately surrounding your workout. When you run out of carbs for fuel, that’s when you start to fatigue.

All this is not to say that there isn’t research that shows positive results from supplementation, but rather to give you a look outside of the flashy ads and testimonials from that guy at your gym. If you are an elite athlete training for an event, the story may be a different one, but as far as the average gym-goer is concerned, save yourself some money and buy a can of tuna instead.



Effect of a Carbohydrate-Protein Supplement on Endurance Performance During Exercise of Varying Intensity. International Journal of Sport Nutrition & Exercise Metabolism. Sep2003, Vol. 13 Issue 3, p382-395.–benefits-of-post-exercise-consumption-of-protein-supplements/

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