In part 3 of our recovery nutrition series, we asked the dietitians at sportsRDpro-
What’s the deal with protein supplements: how much do I need and what kind?

The traditional message “if you want to build muscle, then you must consume a lot of protein” is easy for one to understand but is often misguided. The hard work an individual is doing during their exercise program, such as sprints and barbell squats, are what actually help build muscle. Our goal is to consume an adequate amount of protein through our diet so that our muscles have what they need to build and repair.  More than enough protein in our diet does not mean more muscle building. Excess protein not used by muscles and other life sustaining processes such as hormones and enzymes will most likely be used as energy or stored as fat (just like excess carbohydrates or fat)!

There is not a “one size fits all” approach to the amount of protein one should consume daily.  Protein recommendations are individualized depending on several factors including: type of exercise (endurance or high intensity), overall calorie intake, age, and training experience (untrained/well trained).  Individuals who are new to a training program will require more protein than those who are accustomed to exercise. The type of exercise is also important to take into consideration when determining one’s protein needs.  Endurance athletes, growing teenagers, the elderly and those restricting calories require more protein. Daily protein recommendation: 1.1-1.6g/kg of bodyweight will meet the needs of the majority of the adult population.  However, those who are new to lifting and expected to substantially increase muscle mass may require up to 2g per kilogram of bodyweight.

The supplement industry is known for its marketing schemes and gimmicks used to convince individuals that they are a necessity to reap the benefits of your workouts. Food can supply the majority of the populations protein needs. However, protein supplements can be a matter of convenience for some. Consuming 20-25g of protein post-workout (within an hour) is sufficient for most people.  Research has shown that our bodies can only efficiently use up to 25g of protein at one time.  This is why it is important to consume protein with every meal and snack to ensure that our muscles have a consistent pool of protein to use for rebuilding.

Common protein supplements include: Whey, Casein, and Soy.  Whey protein is quickly absorbed and ideal for post-workout.  Casein is slower digesting protein than whey. Studies have shown consuming at least 20g before bed can increase muscle synthesis and metabolism while you sleep.  Milk is a great source of whey and casein protein (20% whey, 80% casein). Soy protein is a great option for vegans because it is a complete protein just like Whey and Casein, meaning it contains all essential amino acids.

Because protein intake recommendations are so specific, the best way to ensure you are consuming the right amount of protein at the right time is to work with a dietitian.

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