23 Dec Do You Need To Take A Protein Supplement? What The Research And Not Your Ripped Friend Says.
Do I Need To Take A Protein Supplement? What The Research And Not Your Ripped Friend Says.
BETTER EVER AFTER PODCAST – EPISODE 26
I have never taken a protein supplement in my life and I recently found myself wondering if I was missing out on something because I see so many people in the gym doing it.
And when a practice member asked me if they should be too, I have to be honest that I didn’t have the best answer for them so I decided to update my knowledge and do some learning!
It is one thing for your “ripped” friend to tell you that you should take a protein supplement, and a completely different recommendation if it comes from high-quality peer-reviewed research.
In this episode of the Better Ever After Podcast, we look to recent research to figure out
1) How much protein do you need to consume for optimal gains from resistance exercise training?
2) Do different people have different requirements?
3) Does it have to come from a supplement or a specific type of protein?
4) Does the timing of the meal/protein matter for your training gains?
I hope you enjoy this episode as much as I enjoyed putting it together and having a better answer to this much-asked question.
A lot of this podcast is going to be derived or talking about a paper that was released this year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. It is a Meta-analysis, which means they combined a number of different high-quality studies to try to figure out what type of effects protein supplementation has on gains in muscle mass from resistance training.
You’ve probably seen people in the gym scooping their protein powder into their cups. They wanted to figure out if this was effective.
So let’s talk about what the research shows in terms of its efficacy starting off with strength. When researchers look at whether taking a protein supplement in conjunction with resistance exercise training actually improves strength, we find that it does improve strength over and above the training alone. So, if you were to take a protein supplement and get the right amount of it, research shows that you’re going to get a slight bump in the amount that you can lift in terms of your one rep max (1RM), which is a good indicator of your actual ability to produce strength.
An interesting note from this study is that while the 1RM strength of the participants increased, it only increased by about 9%. There is a benefit, but not a benefit that everybody is going to need.
If you are competing in powerlifting or weightlifting competitions, it might be pragmatic to advocate the taking of a protein supplement, but otherwise, it might not be enough of a benefit for you to justify the increased cost or the hassle of taking it. We’ll get into that later on in the blog.
Now, when the researchers looked at the benefit of taking a protein supplement in terms of improvements in fat-free mass or how much muscle mass you’re actually gaining and how big the muscle gets, or the cross-sectional area of the muscle fibers, both were found to increase.
Researchers found that when you take a protein supplement in combination with resistance exercise training, the dietary protein supplementation augmented the increase in fat-free mass by up to 27%. This was only an increase in fat-free mass of 0.30kg, but it did turn out to be 27% increase in this study’s outcome measure. When researchers looked at the increase in the cross-sectional area or how big the muscle got in terms of overall muscle fibre diameter, they saw an improvement of up to 38 % and at the mid-femur, an improvement of 14% was observed. Again, the absolute numbers of how big the muscle got were relatively low, but the relative percentage that the protein supplementation improves were actually quite impressive at 14% and 38%.
Here there is room for argument and controversy. Those measurements of muscle fibre diameter were measured in micrometers, which is five decimal places off of a meter and the absolute gain was small. It might not be clinically significant or significant in the gym but it did show an improvement.
So overall, if you want to make a generalization or a conclusion from this study, yes, protein supplementation can be good for improving your strength, for improving the amount of muscle you can gain or the fat-free mass gains and potential for improving how big the muscle gets.
Now there are a few caveats from this study that I think is really, really important to discuss because this is going to highlight maybe some of the drawbacks or some of the limitations of protein supplementation.
To start off with, this study used around 1900 different participants and those participants, on average, we’re consuming 1.4g/kg body weight, per day.
This is about 75% greater than the current US and Canadian recommended daily allowances (RDA). The RDA in Canada and the US is about point 0.8g of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. It appears that point-eight-grams is an insufficient amount of protein for those who have a goal of gaining greater strength and fat-free mass from resistance training. This is going to be an especially low number if you are somebody that requires a greater amount of protein to augment or to improve protein synthesis, which would include people that are older men, most women in general or those that are involved in strength or weightlifting competition.
This means that most people (or at least the participants chose) are fairly close with their baseline diet, to getting the right amount of protein that their body is going to need for maximum gains.
Probably the biggest takeaway from this study that I think is really, really nice to have in your pocket is that the researchers found that over and above consuming 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day there was no observed gain in strength, in fat free mass or in cross-sectional area of the muscle.
This means that if you’re consuming more protein than 1.6g/kg/day that it’s not going to deliver an added benefit to those outcome measures. The researchers concluded that people should be shooting for around this number if you’re looking for maximum gains from your resistance training,
The researchers also make a note that because of the statistical analysis and the confidence interval for certainty, the number might be as high as 2.2g/kg/day needed to maximize your resistance exercise training benefits.
The researchers also found a couple of interesting things that you often see argued over on social media or a gym setting. They found that the type of protein that was consumed, whether it was whole protein from animal or vegetable sources, whether it was a specific type of protein such as whey or casein, that didn’t seem to affect the benefits of the protein supplementation.
The timing of the protein supplementation didn’t seem to matter either. Whether protein was consumed was post-exercise or not didn’t have any effect. The researchers go on to make a point that they believe that the protein that you consume should be consumed in different meals or in different settings at around 0.25g/kg/sitting throughout the day. We discuss this strategy at length in our Fundament Fuel Curriculum and that protein does not need to be supplemented as long as you are consuming whole foods and having a good source of protein with every meal.
There are a few other points I would like to mention from the article. One of them is that the authors speculate that trained persons, meaning people that are already used to resistance exercise training that have been on a program for a while, are going to have a [lesser degree of freedom] for improvements.
This means that their ability to change their body and change their composition with resistance exercise training is going to be lower than someone new to training and that the need for protein supplementation to increase muscle mass might be greater.
The authors also note that in older populations, they found that the protein supplementation that they used had less of an effect on the outcome measures. It was the authors’ belief that it’s not that older participants need less protein but that older participants have such a greater demand for protein that the amount that they were supplementing with was insufficient to induce any gains.
In other words, if you are an older adult and you would like to maintain your muscle mass you need to consume even more protein. Older populations you are going to be more anabolic resistant, more resistant to gaining muscle mass, more resistant to muscle protein synthesis and will require a higher per meal protein dose than a younger person. Their supplementation with protein is actually going to have to be on the higher end, closer to 2.2g/kg/day.
So to cap things off, what did we learn from this study? We’ve learned that protein supplementation can show some mild or small benefits for gaining muscle mass, for gaining strength, and for making muscles bigger. This happens more easily in younger untrained people and that for people that are highly trained, for women, for competitors or an older population, their protein supplementation or their protein requirement is going to be higher.
It seems that the optimal amount of protein that one can consume is 1.6-2.2g/kg/day and that over and above that, there appears to be no benefit for protein intake for building strength or muscle mass. We learned that the type of protein that is consumed and when it is consumed does not seem to have a major effect on those results and that ultimately those results of supplementation are going to be relatively minimal. Unless you have a highly specific goal or you are the type of person that wants to get every single ounce of benefit that you can from what you’re doing, protein supplementation might not be right for you.
And my thoughts on the subject are that I am not a “supplement guy”. I believe that we should be consuming whole foods that are going to give us the nutrients that we need and that supplements should only be used when we are not able to derive those nutrients from whole foods. If you are short on time, you might benefit from using a protein powder if a chicken breast or a good vegetable source of protein is at hand.
The interesting thing on the cost side is that protein supplementation and powders tend to be really expensive compared to eating whole foods. Furthermore, whole foods are going to be ultimately better because when you consume whole foods, whether it is a chicken breast, lentils or whatever it might be, you gain the benefit of consuming all the other densely packed nutrients that nature has to offer that are naturally in those foods.
And on the contrary and something we’ll discuss in our next episode, is when you’re consuming a supplement, we often have no idea what else is in that supplement. Whether there is filler, whether there are adjuncts and additives that are going to be problematic for your body and that your body might be sensitive to, it could create some really bad health risks. Often are not aware of these side effects because of limited legal requirements in the review of supplements.
If you need help with your nutrition, your movement, your sleep or your recovery as we move into 2019, check out the links below. Our FREE E-books are available to help you give the body what it requires to be healthy. Our FUEL, MOVEMENT, and RESET/RECOVERY E-books will give you all the steps that are needed to reach the gold standard of health.