Protein Supplements- Do You Need Them?
Part 2 of 2
Protein supplements over the years have become one of the mainstays of the health/fitness and bodybuilding movement. Once used almost exclusively by bodybuilders and athletes, sales of protein shakes and bars continue to increase year after year as more and more members of the general public are using them. Within the framework of the fitness world- protein shakes are an invaluable part of achieving a lean and muscular physique. Without a doubt there are few within the industry that do not use them, I myself used protein shakes almost everyday for over fifteen years. I no longer use them, however as I believe them to be not only ineffective, but also potentially unhealthy.
The first and most important argument to be made is the fact that in spite of all the articles published and the innumerable number of bodybuilders, athletes and fitness enthusiasts that consume them religiously, protein supplements are inherently unnatural. The human body is a marvel of biological perfection, so is the environment in which it evolved. Over the course of one hundred and fifty thousand years human beings have relied mainly on certain food sources for sustenance, they consisted of meats, fish, grains, nuts eggs and milk of various kinds. They did not include shakes containing cross filtered, pre-digested whey proteins or micellar casein. Now one might make the contrary argument that both whey and casein are cow milk derivatives, but there are three points that invalidate this argument. One is that although they exist in milk, a naturally occurring food, they do not exist naturally in isolation. The second is that these proteins are derived from cow’s milk, a food source naturally intended for other cows, not for human consumption. The Physicians Committee on Responsible Medicine, headed by Dr. Neil Barnard, cautions against the near universal custom of giving children pasteurized homogenized cow’s milk, as it is associated with juvenile diabetes, allergies, and mucus conditions. However, the American Dairy Board has done a very effective job of marketing this product. Almost everything that most of us know about milk comes either directly or indirectly from this powerful lobby group. Also it should be noted that no other adult mammal consumes milk past infancy, only humans do so against every biological indication that they should not. Lactase, the enzyme needed to digest milk decreases as we age, a strong indication that consumption is meant only for infants along with the most obvious factor that human females do not breast feed indefinitely. All things considered, milk proteins are not good choices, especially in an artificially isolated form.
Now while milk proteins account for the overwhelming majority of protein supplements, there are also egg and soy protein products available, although to be honest neither one compares in any way to the only protein source that our bodies were designed to consume- real foods. One often overlooked factor in the hoopla about protein supplements is that most of them are predigested, i.e. they are chemically altered to allow them to be assimilated easier. Again, on the surface it sounds prudent, predigest a protein source so it is available even faster to muscles in need- but a closer look reveals the backwardness of this train of thought. A study done by the American Journal of Physiology confirmed what many in the fitness field knew for decades- namely that ingestion of protein increased the metabolic rate more than thirty percent more than other food sources. This increase in metabolic rate, called the thermic effect, is a key factor in bodyfat reduction and is one of the reasons why a high protein intake tends to promote fat loss. However, by ingesting a protein supplement that is in liquid form and thus will be assimilated much faster than its natural solid counterpart you significantly lessen the thermic effect. More importantly, the fact that these proteins are also partially pre-digested means that they will have even less of a thermic effect in the body.
The alternative to protein supplementation is to get your protein from real foods only. The irony is that almost all top (and I place the word ‘top’ here purposefully) natural bodybuilding and fitness related competitors start their regime to get into peak conditioning by dropping protein supplements from their diets and relying solely on solid foods. They do so to take advantage of the thermic effect offered by solid protein intakes and because experience has shown that consumption of protein supplements tends to create a somewhat bloated appearance. That being said, my epiphany came after years of using protein supplements in the off season and then cutting them out before contest or photo shoots. I realized that if I looked my best, and was at my absolute strongest when I wasn’t using protein shakes in the pre-contest phase, why should I go back to using them in the off-season. And so I stopped, reluctantly at first, but in time I realized that I was making the same consistent gains in strength, muscle mass and overall conditioning as when I was consuming protein shakes on a daily basis. It meant that I had to pay more attention to my food intake and eat more than I originally did, but in the end, it is that very transition that I credit for my current level of year round conditioning. Not only do I not have the bloated appearance from protein supplement consumption, but I also feel better. My stomach feels much better than it has in decades and my energy levels are significantly improved.
So the bottom line is that without protein supplements, you can actually look and feel much better, but there is one other important benefit- cost. Can you imagine how much money you would save if you didn’t have to purchase protein shakes all the time? Saved money that could be better put to use in buying real food. The supplement industry invests a considerable amount to make the athlete and fitness minded individual believe that they need protein supplementation, they do so because they profit tremendously from the sales. Almost 99% of the information that supports the use of these supplements comes from magazines/books/companies that make, advertise or distribute protein supplements or from an individual that was influenced by the aforementioned group. There is as of yet no scientifically validated evidence that protein supplements of any kind do actively contribute to increased muscle mass or an increase in performance over a prolonged period1, none whatsoever. All that exist are conjectures rewritten by those that stand to benefit from supplement sales- conjectures that are woven into articles and books that are no more than cheap quack science.
The marketing of protein supplements appeals to the public’s microwave mentality- a quick shake is sold as being ‘an intelligent alternative given today’s fast paced lifestyle’- (the line is taken from an article in a so called health magazine that is owned by a company that also has stock in supplement production and that makes millions from the advertisements placed by other supplement companies within its pages). That way of thinking is to be blunt- weak minded bullshit. Ninety eight percent of American households have television sets in them and most of them find the time to watch the latest reality show or popular prime time program. The hallmark of a lifestyle truly committed to health and fitness is that the needs of your body is given a certain degree of importance. If modern man can find time to watch ‘Survivor’ or ‘Desperate Housewives’, then they can surely find enough time to get off of their behinds and prepare themselves a healthy meal. In addition to being a father of three I have no less than four professions, each one demanding a significant part of my day, and yet I make the time to cook all of my meals and my family’s meals as well. Does eating well mean waking up extra early or staying up late to spend time in front of a stovetop or oven putting together a well thought out meal? It certainly does and if you are not prepared to do so, or find a viable way to have real food correctly prepared for you, then you need to reassess your priorities because you are not truly committed to getting into better shape.
Changing your body in a positive manner requires sacrifice, there is no getting around this universal truth, convenience simply does not factor into the equation. Now the industry would like you to think that it does, and it would be nice to take a shake here and there and achieve the body of your dreams, but I also think that every mature adult is aware of the fact that nothing of value in life comes from shortcuts- a strong, lean and muscular physique is no exception it comes from years of dedication, commitment, sensible training and time.
1 Exercise, protein metabolism, and muscle growth. Tipton KD, Wolfe RR., Metabolism Division, Department of Surgery, University of Texas
Information contained in this article is not meant to treat, diagnose illness, nor substitute for medical counsel and is intended for purposes of information and education only. Consult your physician before modifying your diet or starting any exercise program.
Founder, Naturally Intense System of Diet & Exercise™
Naturally Intense Personal Training NYC