nutrition and health

Pros and cons of protein powder

“I am on low carb and high protein diet” this is a kind of customary sentence in our lives. When I cook lunch, I make a big proportion of dal (pulses) with rice and a vegetable. It may also accompany with salads and chapatti. Eating a medium bowl of dal, small bowl of rice, vegetable and salad will give you all macronutrients (protein, carbohydrates and fat) and most of the micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). That is an example of a veg balanced meal we usually follow in our houses.

In the above mentioned meal I referred to a bowl of pulses that fulfil our protein requirement. If somebody is on high protein diet may adjust the proportion and have a big bowl of dal and very less rice and chapatti.

In the present scenario we need everything faster. To cope up with speed we have made food supplements. One of frequently used supplements are protein powders. To understand the pros and cons of protein powders first we should know about the proteins.

What is protein?

Proteins are macronutrients which constitute major proportion of muscle tissue, skin hair, bone and virtually every other body part or tissue. This can give you the idea that how important is the protein rich source in our daily diet. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Amino acids are categorized as essential and non essential.

Essential amino acids

These cannot be synthesized by the body, therefore it must be obtained from the food we consume.

Non-essential amino acids

These can be produced by the body and is thus not required to come from our diet.

How much protein do we need?

Currently, The Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. The RDA is the amount of a nutrient you need to meet your basic nutritional requirements.

Because so many factors play a role in determining protein requirements, it is nearly impossible to make specific recommendations for active individuals. Protein needs are not only determined by activity level, but by length of time training (untrained vs. trained), sex, age, timing of intake, carbohydrate intake, total energy intake, quality of protein and more. According to these factors pros and cons of concentrated protein diets are decided.

Protein quality

Animal sources of protein are generally considered to be of better quality because they contain greater quantities of essential amino acids in ratios that better correlate to the individual RDAs for each essential amino acids and they are absorbed more efficiently

Complete proteins

protein that offer a complete amino acid profile.

Incomplete proteins

proteins that do not provide all essential amino acids.

Ways to accomplish protein intake

Tips for vegetarians

An understanding to protein quality allows vegans and various types of vegetarians to plan effectively to ensure they consume appropriate quality and quantity of protein. A limiting amino acid (LAA) in a protein source reflects that the essential amino acids are present but in insufficient quantities.

The practice of complementing is one in which two or more proteins are combined in one meal or over the course of a day.

 For example rice and bean are limited in different amino acids, however when they combine all the amino acid requirements are provided. Hence its all about making a whole protein package in your daily diets. 

Tips for non-vegetarians

It is important for non vegetarians also to choose food mindfully because most of the things rich in protein are rich in fat also. Poultry, sea food and eggs are good choices. Highly processed meats should be avoided. Red meat like lamb, mutton, goat meats should be avoided.

Examples of quality protein in diet are milk, nuts, fish, soy, eggs.

Examples of protein sources with limiting amino acids are milk, egg whites, fish, oats, rye, rice, corn, soybean, legumes (pulses), nuts, potato, cereals, grains and vegetables.

Protein powders 

One more way to accomplish body protein needs is to take protein powders. These are concentrated sources of protein from animal and plant foods. The most common reason cited for protein supplementation is to enhance muscle growth and strength. Few types are,

Whey protein powder

Easily soluble in water and it is a complete protein, containing all of the nine essential amino acids required for protein synthesis and muscle repair.

Whey protein is also quickly and easily digested and absorbed, helping you to feel satiated quickly.

Casein protein powder

Casein protein is digested and absorbed more slowly than whey protein. It isn’t as water-soluble as whey protein but it will keep you satiated for longer. This supplement can be used to aid muscle recovery overnight, when daily protein needs aren’t being met in meals and snacks.

BCAA’s

If you’ve been training for a while, you may have heard of branch-chain amino acids or BCAAs. This supplement isn’t a complete protein powder. It contains the three amino acids that can’t be produced by the body: leucine, isoleucine and valine. The powder is generally very bitter, and is used either before or after a workout to promote muscle growth and recovery.

Plant based protein powders, soy, rice and pea.

Suitable for vegans, soy protein makes a great plant-based alternative to whey protein as it also contains all the essential amino acids. It’s also low in fat and carbohydrates, but doesn’t dissolve as easily in water as whey protein.

Myth about protein powders

Some people believe that eating dietary proteins correlates directly to large muscles. This misguided belief is particularly true among strength athletes, who regularly consume abundance of dietary proteins, protein supplements, and amino acids. The truth is that eating protein does not build muscle. It is the stimulus of exercise, primarily resistance training that ultimately builds muscles.

Protein consumption beyond recommended amounts is unlikely to result in further muscle gains because the body has a limited capacity to use amino acids to build muscle.

Pros and cons of protein powders

Pros

Whenever we search for the benefits of protein powder we end up getting benefits of protein. Then why to take protein powder?

  • Convenience is the most important benefit of protein powders.
    if you’re just low on protein and you just don’t have the appetite for a chicken breast for dinner, it’s just a nice way to mix into smoothies or oatmeal or baked goods.
    As a nutrient, protein is very filling, which can help you avoid overeating later, and it preserves muscle to keep your metabolism running at its peak. Powders might offer a bit of a metabolic advantage if they are low in calories.
  • An athlete or weight lifter can fulfil their protein needs just after the workout by protein powder. Protein helps to preserve lean muscle mass and assure that the majority of weight loss comes from fat rather than lean tissue.
  • Studies on athletes have shown that protein and amino acid supplements may increase MPS (muscle protein synthesis) and reduce fatigue, muscle soreness and low-to-moderate exercise-induced damage, current studies showing clear negative effects associated with high-protein diets.

Cons

  • The consumption of ultraprocessed foods has been associated with the higher prevalence of several diseases, possibly due to high content of processed vegetable fats, sugars, salt and artificial sweeteners among other components. When it comes to protein and amino acid supplements, these other components present in these products may induce adverse effects during long-term consumption, and lifestyle and recreational sportspeople might be more susceptible than athletes.
  • High plasma levels of BCAA (branched chain amino acids, protein type) have been associated with the development of type 2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. There are also indications that some high-protein low-carbohydrate diets and high-fat diets may induce detrimental effects on both gut microbiota and host protein and amino acid metabolism and further, may disturb the metabolic health of some people.
  • It is very common for regular gym goers, too, to consume protein, amino acid, and creatine supplements. Often these supplements are consumed in addition to other protein-rich foods, and without any guidance from professional nutrition experts. The workload of common gym attendees rarely reaches the level of professional athletes, and thus it has been suggested that the protein requirements for regular people with active lifestyles do not differ from the guidelines given for the average adult population.
  • High protein diets are not recommended for chronic kidney disease. High protein diets may also lead to kidney overload.

Protein powders and weight loss

It is a controversial topic, because some studies suggest that consuming more protein and fewer carbohydrates leads to weight loss and some are contradictory. Let’s try and understand.

A study in 2010, compared the effect of four different proteins; eggs, turkey, tuna and whey protein – on participants insulin levels. As expected whey protein resulted in the highest insulin level. Four hours afterwards, participants were treated to a buffet lunch. The whey protein suppressed their appetites and increased their satiety. In other words those subjects were ‘full’ for longer time.

Therefore, we must consider each protein separately since there is considerable variation in the effect of each on weight.

  • Both processed and unprocessed red meat is associated with weight gain.
  • The organ meats tend to be the fattiest part of the animal.
  • By focusing almost exclusively on the muscles of animals for food, we are preferentially eating protein rather than fat.
  • Whole milk, sour milk, cheese, and butter were associated with less weight gain, but not low fat milk. A 10 year prospective study found that the highest intake of dairy is associated with the lowest incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes.

Difference between dairy and meat

One difference is portion size. You could eat a large steak or half a roast chicken. However increasing dairy protein to the same degree is more difficult. Can you eat a huge slab of cheese for dinner? How about drink several gallons of milk? Eat two large tubs of yogurt for lunch? Hardly. It is difficult to significantly increase dairy proteins without resorting to whey protein shakes and other artificial foods.

Conclusion

High-protein diets may temporarily help to reduce weight, but there is a lack of knowledge about the long-term effects of high protein intake. In addition, the variability in the requirements and physiological impacts of high-protein diets may be an object of personalized recommendations in the near future. In any case, when a high-protein diet is recommended, special attention should be paid to the origin of these proteins and the overall quality of the food.

Hence it is suggested, that instead of adding protein and amino acid supplements to high-protein diets, protein should be preferably received from whole foods, such as fish, eggs, dairy products, legumes, and cereals, along with fibers and other food components supporting the well-being of both the host and their gut microbiota.

It all concludes to a very old lesson we read in primary school “have balanced diet”. Include all color natural fruits and vegetables in your meals. Cook different types of legumes everyday. Do not stick on one type of food. Choose sensibly and make a complete package in your plate.

 

About the author

Anju Rai Tiwary

Hi, I am a physiotherapist specialized in neurology. I have also done various certification courses like autism spectrum disorder and weight management. I am here to clarify your health-related curiosities.

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