When you look at the ads in almost any sports publication, you cannot help but notice the supplement industry is hard at work promoting protein supplements: powders, bars, shakes, meal replacements, etc. Their goal: to convince athletes at all costs they need extra protein from supplements to build muscles and recover from exercise.
For this reason many frenzied athletes, bodybuilders, marathoners, and recreation gym-goers are worried their standard diets are protein deficient and inadequate to support their sports program. They commonly ask: What’s the best protein supplement? Only few of them will ask questions like: Do I even need a protein supplement in the first place? Can I get the protein I need only through standard foods?
This article compares protein supplements with the real high protein foods. We will discuss the various advantages of protein supplements and protein rich foods so you can make informed decisions regarding your sports diet.
First things first: understanding the importance of protein
It has been established that athletes and bodybuilders need more protein to insure fast recovery and new muscle growth. If you’re highly active, a good general guideline for your daily amount of protein is 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of total body weight. With this information in hand, it’s time to take an in-depth look at protein supplements and high quality dietary proteins.
So what are protein supplements?
Protein supplements are sources of protein and nutrients, and food products used to help bodybuilders and athletes fulfill their required daily protein intake requirements. Protein supplement types include protein powders, protein bars, weight gainers, and meal substitutes.
In general, protein supplements contain more than 20 to 30 grams of protein per serving and are supplemented with vitamins and minerals. Protein supplements do come in various varieties, ranging from fruit-flavored protein powders to cookie and cream-flavored weight gainers, to protein bars flavored with peanut butter.
What are high quality dietary proteins?
Quality dietary proteins come from lean meats (preferably naturally raised), eggs, and fish, as well as plant-based, protein-rich foods such as beans, lentils, and seeds. Some nuts, such as almonds, also contain a fair amount of protein. Some legumes, such as black beans and lentils, double as a protein and a good carbohydrate.
Advantages of protein supplements
- Protein foods that are easily digested are better consumed early in the morning and after exercise. At these times, the BV value of whey protein makes this the ideal source of protein.
- Certain protein supplements have a higher biological value than real foods.
- Amino acids often fortify protein supplements, making them a multi-dimensional protein food.
- Most protein powders and supplements have little to no fat content. This is often not a case with real foods.
- Protein supplements usually have a more full and healthy source of protein.
- Protein supplements are much less temperature-sensitive and, generally, require no refrigeration or heating.
- Many protein foods will help to satisfy your sweet tooth as low-calorie means.
- A protein supplement is an easy and convenient way to increase the protein concentration in your diet without increasing calories too much.
- Protein supplements are convenient for someone with a hectic schedule. It is easier to drink a protein shake than it is to buy, prepare, and cook whole foods. You need only a few seconds to prepare a shake. Also, if you are unable to prepare a whole meal, a protein supplement (shake, bar, etc) is of course a better option than going without.
- Protein supplements come is a wide range of flavours, which can completely remove some of the “blandness” that comes with a high protein diet.
- Adding protein can be cost-effective. Some protein foods can be quite expensive per 30 gram serving, such as beef and fish.
- A protein shake can be easier on the stomach before bed.
- Additives to protein are more comfortable, requiring little to no cleaning.
- Weight gainers offer high-calorie, easily degraded, and less filling foods.
- Protein supplements can be helpful in certain medical situations. For example, an athlete with anorexia may be more willing to consume a proteins hake then eat tuna, cottage cheese or chicken. Patients with cancer or AIDS often benefit from protein supplements if they are unable to eat well.
Advantages of real food
- Protein foods such as eggs, string cheese, milk, and tuna can be more cost-effective than certain protein supplements.
- Real food is more versatile. It can be used in conjunction with other foods for just about any craving or occasion. Sipping on a protein shake is nowhere near as satisfying as a real meal.
- You know exactly what you’re eating and where it came from.
- Shakes can cause stomach and digestive bloating for some individuals.
- Milk and eggs are nutritional grand slams.
- Beef has been shown in studies to pack on more muscle mass than other forms of protein.
- Certain protein supplements can have a greater variance of actual listed ingredients.
- A variety of real foods can provide a nutritional depth that is hard to achieve with protein supplements.
- Protein food offer vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and healthy fats unavailable in protein powder. Therefore, getting too much protein from supplements rather than whole foods means you are missing out on a lot of nutrition found only in whole food.
Closing thoughts: Protein Supplements versus Real Food
We always say real food, not dust, builds muscle. What we mean by this is that protein supplements should only be used alongside a good diet and not in place of real food. You should never rely on protein supplements as our main source of protein. Natural sources are always preferred over supplements and you should stick to the real meals as your general protein source.
However, that does not mean that there is no place for supplements as well. As you have seen both shakes and whole foods have their benefits and disadvantages. To keep your body constantly in positive nitrogen balance, you should consume a complete protein every three hours. For many people, eating this often is nearly impossible. That is when a high quality protein supplement is the most helpful. Finding a combination of both is the best option for your health.
Our rule of thumb, limit your use of protein powders to when you feel that your body really needs a quick and fast supply of protein like post workout and stick to foods high in protein throughout the day. If you choose to supplement with protein powder, try to keep supplemented protein under 20% of total protein intake (and preferably closer to 10%). This will ensure that you are getting the bulk of your protein from healthy, nutrient dense sources like lean meat (lean beef, turkey and chicken breasts), eggs, legumes and lentils, whole grains, cheese, etc.