By Cliff Harvey ND, Dip.Fit, PhD candidate
Protein supplements are still seen by many as the domain of pumped-up bodybuilders and strength athletes.
I’m often asked questions like “Won’t protein make me gain weight?”, or “Will protein make me big and bulky?” And while it’s true that protein is important for optimal recovery from exercise, and it does help to increase lean body mass, protein is equally important for general health.
Protein is made up of amino acids. These little guys are the ‘building blocks’ of nearly every cell and tissue in the human body, including muscles, organs, and many chemical messengers necessary for us to think, feel, and perform at our very best.
So, protein intake to supply these amino acids is extremely important…and there’s NO risk that an appropriate (even relatively high) level of protein in your diet will make you big and bulky! How lean and ‘toned’ you appear is a function of your body fat percentage. In other words, the more muscle and the less fat you have, the leaner you will look. Not to mention that for anyone that’s not on steroids, and especially women, it is actually quite difficult to gain muscle. So, you absolutely will not wake up one morning, look in the mirror, and see Arnie looking back at you! It will be a gradual process, and if your training, nutrition, and supplementation are not solely geared towards gaining large amounts of muscle, it’s virtually impossible that you will ever be ‘too big’ from training and taking a protein supplement. (If only it were that easy!)
In fact, getting the right intake of protein for you can help you think clearer, feel better, and be leaner.
Key benefits of protein supplementation:
- Improved ‘lean muscle’
- Improved bone health
- Increased satiety
- Improved cardiovascular health
In the ‘bad old days’ way back when I first started practising, higher protein diets were thought to cause kidney disease and bone-wasting. We now know that these claims are untrue. In fact, there is no detriment to bone health from higher protein diets, and protein supplementation is likely to actually improve bone health.(1)
Protein may be especially important as we age. Age-related muscle loss is common and is a contributing factor to falls and bone and joint injury. It’s also likely that muscle loss increases our risk of metabolic disorders like diabetes. In older adults, high-protein nutritional supplements are associated with lower hospital admissions and fewer health complications.(2) Older adults also retain more lean mass and lost more fat mass during weight loss when consuming higher protein diets.(3) (4)
Higher protein diets may also be good for our ‘cardiometabolic’ health. Increased dietary protein has a small, beneficial effect on blood pressure, reduces triglycerides (one of the most important markers of poor cardiovascular and metabolic health), and reduces body fat stores.(5, 6)
For those dieting, or even those who are just habitual under-eaters, an increased protein intake of up to 2.5g per kilogram of body weight is likely to help offset muscle loss, and thus improve body composition (muscle to fat ratio) resulting in a leaner you. (7) This level of protein is around 3 x higher than the recommended daily allowance of 0.8g per kg bodyweight! Not only that but for ‘weekend warriors’ training for sports, or at the gym, protein taken after training might reduce soreness.(8) And in healthy adults, over the long term, protein is likely to increase lean muscle and help to improve strength and power.(9)
Protein is no longer the domain of bodybuilders and elite level athletes. Protein supplements provide a protein ‘base’ for healthy smoothies, low-carb baking, and protein drinks after training for everyone from weekend warriors to average Joes. And while they aren’t a silver bullet for fat loss, muscle gain, or health in general, they have a range of benefits and provide an easy to use, cost effective option as part of a healthy diet.
So, don’t be afraid of protein! A great way to use protein is either after training or as a quick and easy meal. Blend Clean Lean Protein with berries, vegetables (like kale or spinach), healthy fats (like coconut oil or nut butter), fruit, and if desired, a milk or substitute of your choice.
- Darling AL, Millward DJ, Torgerson DJ, Hewitt CE, Lanham-New SA. Dietary protein and bone health: a systematic review and meta-analysis. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2009.
- Cawood AL, Elia M, Stratton RJ. Systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of high protein oral nutritional supplements. Ageing Research Reviews. 2012;11(2):278-96.
- Kim JE, O’Connor LE, Sands LP, Slebodnik MB, Campbell WW. Effects of dietary protein intake on body composition changes after weight loss in older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Nutrition reviews. 2016;74(3):210-24.
- Kim JE, Sands L, Slebodnik M, O’Connor L, Campbell W. Effects of high-protein weight loss diets on fat-free mass changes in older adults: a systematic review (371.5). The FASEB Journal. 2014;28(1 Supplement).
- Altorf – van der Kuil W, Engberink MF, Brink EJ, van Baak MA, Bakker SJL, Navis G, et al. Dietary Protein and Blood Pressure: A Systematic Review. PloS one. 2010;5(8):e12102.
- Santesso N, Akl EA, Bianchi M, Mente A, Mustafa R, Heels-Ansdell D, et al. Effects of higher- versus lower-protein diets on health outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2012;66(7):780-8.
- Helms ER, Zinn C, Rowlands DS, Brown SR. A Systematic Review of Dietary Protein during Caloric Restriction in Resistance Trained Lean Athletes: A Case for Higher Intakes. International Journal of Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. 2014;24(2):127-38.
- Pasiakos SM, Lieberman HR, McLellan TM. Effects of Protein Supplements on Muscle Damage, Soreness and Recovery of Muscle Function and Physical Performance: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine. 2014;44(5):655-70.
- Pasiakos SM, McLellan TM, Lieberman HR. The Effects of Protein Supplements on Muscle Mass, Strength, and Aerobic and Anaerobic Power in Healthy Adults: A Systematic Review. Sports Medicine. 2015;45(1):111-31.