Protein Supplements- A brief explanation.

Discliamer- The material on here is derived from some of the worlds leading scientific investigations into Protein supplementation. It is meant to be a simple non-scientific explanation of Protein supplements and exercise. I have left out a lot of science and references but if you want them get in touch. Also, I know I have poor grammer and spelling.

*For choosing protein supplements skip to near the bottom of the page

The BBC have just posted another ill-informed, poorly wrtten article on their website yet again damming Protein supplements. In a nut shell it is a futile, non-scientific magazing like article that would be more at home in the cutting room. Not only that but a couple of months ago there was a woefully narrow minded documentary by the BBC Panorama team called ‘The Truth About Sports Products.” Having studied Sports and Exercise Science as well as Human Nutrition at University I’m still dissapointed that an influencial institution such as the BBC can report so poorly.

The documentary itself was based on research and investigations by a variety of institutes that were later forewarded by the British Medical Journal. Pretty much the most credible and respected backround you could get for a documentary of this genre. Even though the Panorama team decided to tell only one side of the story and didn’t present counter arguments, they did show some valid arguments about the marketing and corparation side to sports products. Infact their conclusion, however condescending and patrionising it came across, was pretty spot on. If you have a well balanced diet that satisfies your needs and shoes that fit you, your exercise will be very rewarding.

I don’t know much about shoe choice and I have some knowledge about the balance between dehydration and overhydration.

However, an area of sports science that I have almost been the most interested in is the use of things like Protein Shakes, creatine, steroids and other ergogenic aids. So I thought I would explain the ins and outs of using Protein shakes since both the Panorama documentary and the review it was based on did it so poorly. I would just like to add, that to enhance my previous knowledge I have spent the last few moths conversing with peers and reading endless amounts of scientific journals.

Firstly, you might ask why you would believe someone like me over the British Medical Journal and Oxford University?

Well, it’s actually pretty easy. The review was led by a man called Carl Heneghan, a clinical reader in evidence based medicine. Carl and his team from the BMJ were not Exercise Physiologist’s so they simply went onto a website ( and found this claim “The combination of protein and carbohydrates has been shown to stimulate increased uptake of glucose by the cells, resulting in faster glycogen storage compared to carbohydrates or proteins alone.” So basically to cut a long story short, they went onto review wither a Protein supplement along with carbohydrate after exercise whould help performance by reducing muscle damage and replenishing glycogen stores quicker. They concluded that the lack of benefit from protein supplements on performance or muscle is probably due to the fact that most athletes consume adequate amounts of protein in their diets. This is a bold conculsion since they have researched merely one of the many reasons people take protein supplements.

They failed to cover some of the key variables involved with the use of Protein Supplementation. This is actually little to do with the study as they simply set out to answer that one question. It’s mainly down to the weak journalism on the part of the BBC to look into these things before presenting a bias and naive television programme.

The primary reason people take Protein supplements is to enhance the muscle adaptions that occur with exercise, primarily resistance training. They are chosen becuase they can provide a quick and convenient way to get essential amino acids into the body. Ideally they should be taken to SUPPLEMENT an already healthy diet and a well constructed training regime, especially when talking about Athletes. Furthermore, in recent times it has become common place for trainers and coaches to advise protein supplements for people trying to lose weight.

In basic terms, you can take a Protein Supplement to augment and maxamise training adaptions, be it resistance training or high intensity cardio etc. In theory this is down to the maximal utilisation of Protein Synthesis in repairing and adapting to training. In the weight loss theory, much of the energy derived from protein is burned very quickly with some studies suggesting as much as 20% of energy from protein is burned during the metabolism of protein. Furthermore, high protein meals have a high sateity so you can feel fuller for longer resulting in less requirment to snack or consume extra calories. I’m not going into in depth here about the plethora of other variables involved as I want to keep this as short as possible and less scientific for any everyday sportsman or woman.

I will say now that high protein diets and/or protein supplements are not the quick fix for muscle building, losing weight or become an Olympic Athlete. Many people get enough protein in a normal healthy diet to still build muscle. (after all, there were Elite Athletes and Freakishly strong men way before gym supplements were invented).

However, much of the time people are too busy to concentrate on healthy protein orientated diets so protein supplements are a very convenient tool for the everyday gym goer and 9-5 employee. In addition, the same busy employee who works tirelessly during the week will often sit at a desk most hours and get hungry for unhelathy, quick, easy options for meals and snacks. So low carb protein shakes can improve and help even non-gym going people.

For elite athletes, protein supplements can make sure they are taking the optimal amount of protein for the exercise regime they are on as well as giving them a healthy snack option. Indeed for anyone, somewhere between 1.7-2.5g of PRO per Kg of body weight is more than enough protein. Generally, shakes taken immedietely after exercise (especially with specific carbohydrates) will be more beneficial for muscle building with some evidence suggesting before exercise or even both. Now a high protein diet can actually consist of 3-4 g of PRO per Kg of body weight. This is common in body builders especially. From the research there is little to be gained muscle building wise for such a high protein diet. However, it can theoretically aid in helping with an increased basal metabolic rate that can optimise in the cutting phase and shiffting emphasis from other macro nuritents in energy consumption. It also must be noted, that it’s a common myth that such high protein diets can damage the kidneys, THERE IS NO RELIABLE EVIDENCE TO SUGGEST HIGH PROTEIN DIETS DAMAGE THE KIDNEYS!!! Perhaps a superhuman, very unlikely amount could damage the kidneys but that never been researched nor does it need to be. A study into specific kinds of Whey protein supplements found that the subjects on every form of Whey protein consumed less calories daily than subjects on the placebo. A result that wasn’t even in the aim of the study.

This brings me onto the various different kinds of Protein Supplements. I spent several weeks researching every kind of Protein Supplement and their various ingredients, from Soy to every kind of E-number. Again I will keep it short and easy (for any in-depth questions just ask). Bascially, the standard choice that people have to make is between Whey Protein shakes and Casein Protein shakes. Although (and surprisingly to me) the studies suggest they both result in the same benefits the number one choice tends to be Whey. Simply this is because its absorbed quicker as casein is slower to digest and can cause bloat. Many leaders in the field of Sports Science and Protein are now advising a mix of both Casein and Whey.

Concentrating on Whey Protein, there are generally 3 kinds of Whey that companies use for their supplements. Whey Concentrate, Whey Isolate and Whey Hydolysed. The names of each refer to the way in which the Whey is refined and extracted.

– Concentrate is the less ideal of the 3 options. It is extracted from something like milk in a less refined and cheaper manner resulting in an increase in things like lipids and other unwanted vitamins and nutrients being in the final product. This will become clearer if you look at the packaging on the low market, cut price brands of Whey Protein.

-Isolate is more refined and easier to quickly uptake to the muscle without any prior digestion discomfort. It’s protein dense and specific.

-Hydrolysed, although it has been initially mocked for being less protein dense it’s probably the more ideal of the 3. Hydrolysed has been put through a previous digestion mechanism so is, quickly and easily absorbed as well as having the ideal saught after amino acids and enzymes. Some papers I found suggested that it was the more ideal and effective type of Whey.

Most shakes now consist of a blend of either 2 or even all 3 off those options. Preferably look for a shake that specialises in a blend of Isolate and Hydrolysed or just one of either.

Furthermore, avoid shakes with Soy ingredients. This does not include Soy lecithen, although its an emulsifier and E-number its nearly present in all shakes and gives them longer shelf lives and is hard to avoid. Normal Soy indredients however can cause an increase in estrogen levels and other minor hormonal imbalances. Sucralose is another E-number/artificial sweetner that is best to avoid. The body can’t break it down but it can induce the same metabolic effect as sugars. Also, avoid American brand Protein supplements. They have less/no law on what they feed their animals so hormones etc are often pumped into their cows that end up in their milk. I could go on and on with these, but basically the best rule of thumb: The longer the list of ingredients the more you should avoid them. Stick to shakes with small ingredient lists. When you feel bloat from a Protein Shake it’s not the protein it’s probably another ingredient. Watch out for Lactose if you are allergic, it can help absorption though.

I have went through as many common brand products as I could in 2 weeks so I have much more to say but hopefully this small bit of advise can point you in the right direction of what supplements to get. If the good products are above your budget then milk is an option. I’m not bias against any product. I merely went though scientific journals that have reliably researched either, specific ingredients or powders.

I would just like to say again that I have missed out going into too much depth as the number one rule of these things is to keep them as short as possible.