Personal trainers in gyms often recommend extra protein in the form of powders and bars to boost muscle mass and improve performance. Does the average person need this extra protein, does it work as promised, and are there any downsides to consuming all that extra protein?
Two main sources for the protein in manufactured supplements are milk and soy.
1. Whey protein is derived from milk.
2. Soy protein from soy beans.
Do they improve muscle mass and performance? The research has shown mixed results and the evidence is not strong enough to be certain that this kind of protein makes any difference.
The average person in the USA is not suffering from a lack of protein. It is easy to get adequate protein from readily available actual food without the need to resort to supplements. Plus, real foods come with vitamins, antioxidants and more.
What might be the risk from taking extra protein?
1. The Food and Drug Administration does not check the safety of supplements with the same scrutiny as medications, so you must fully trust the manufacturer that their products are safe and accurately labelled. You can check for supplements that are known to be tainted at FDA.
2. There are many possible side effects. See the Mayo Clinic’s list here and for soy here.
3. Supplements may contain other ingredients that are supposed to increase muscle mass such as creatinine or androstenedione. A recent study looking at these kinds of muscle building supplements found an increased risk of testicular cancer among men.
4. Commercial body-building supplements can be expensive, may even cost hundreds of dollars each month.
5. You might end up gaining fat from the extra calories in protein shakes and bars, especially if sugar has been added to boost their palatability.
6. This is not just about you, as there is also a potential risk to the environment. Is it even possible to know the chain of industrial processes that go in to producing protein supplements? What is the carbon footprint of the manufacture of these products and are they derived from organic milk and soy beans?
Why trust industrial profit-driven companies to provide your body with nutrition? Why not eat and drink fresh food, preferably from local farms? It may mean a little more work to chop and cook, but the food will be nutritious and there definitely is evidence that fresh foods are beneficial to health. If you feel the need for extra protein, why not just simply eat more protein rich foods such as eggs, beans, milk, yoghurt, cheese, tofu, or meat.