Hello and welcome to my article series on protein supplements!
In this introduction to protein supplements we will cover what protein powder is, its health benefits, hydration requirements along with safety and contraindications of protein supplementation.
Protein powders are a huge subject not only because of the different types available in the market today but also because of contradicting beliefs on usage such as daily protein intake.
Unlike other supplement articles, and because of the wealth of information on protein, I will try to stick with the basics. Let’s start with the basic benefits of protein, intake needs and the different forms and their bioavailability.
Table of Contents
- 1 What exactly is a protein?
- 2 My experience with protein
- 3 Benefits of using protein supplements
- 4 Hydration rules during protein supplementation
- 5 Safety and side effects
- 6 Do I need to cycle off?
What exactly is a protein?
Protein is a nitrogen based compound made up of long chains of amino acids, which in turn are the building blocks of life. We are basically made out of protein in the form of muscle tissue. Muscles can be found everywhere on our body. We have muscles in the eyes, brain and other inner organs. Even our antibodies have muscles.
So, in essence, consuming protein is essential for maintaining our body’s muscle tissue which in turn helps us maintain life functions
My experience with protein
I bought my first protein powder when I was 20. I remember that it was more of a gainer than a pure protein. What is interesting is that back in the day most of the people working in supplement stores were trainers or professional athletes so they really knew their stuff. So most of these people could be trusted. I vividly remember the guy who sold me my first protein. He suggested to start with a lower content protein and work my way up in order for my body to get used to the bigger amount of protein. And he was right.
Most people just get a whey protein and raise their protein intake from zero to Godzilla. It is the same kind of people who live a lifetime consuming high carb diets, are usually obese and when they start taking protein, they complain about symptoms of diarrhea, heartburn and even kidney pain. But protein alone is not to blame for these symptoms. If you introduce something new to any healthy system, the system will complain in one way or the other. If you introduce huge amounts of something new to a not-so-healthy system, of course you are bound to have some side effects and other symptoms.
Just like with everything else, protein supplementation needs to be introduced in a non-invasive, gradual way so that your body can utilize it as food. Quality is also important as you will see further down.
Benefits of using protein supplements
A question I often get asked is “Why should anyone buy a protein powder?”
Let’s take a look at all the benefits of using protein powders:
1) Convenience and speed
You feel hungry and you need some protein but you have no time to cook.
There is nothing more convenient that packing a couple of scoops to take with you to the gym. It gets even more convenient when you just add water to create an instant meal.
2) Improving macronutrient ratio through extra protein
Self-explanatory. If you need more protein and for some reason you can’t eat meat sources (vegans or vegetarians) or just can’t eat more food, a protein powder will do wonders for you.
3) Ideal for diets and better macro nutrient control
Low carb diets are easier when you have the extra protein powder. By properly manipulating your macronutrient ratios, your body composition will improve.
4) An easy, fast and healthy snack
Convenience is still the name of the game here but on top of that, you get to eat something healthy. So next time you have cravings, instead of reaching for the chocolate, just add 1 scoop of protein in a glass, water and some nut-butter powder (or real nut-butter) and you’re good to go.
5) Faster and better muscle repair
Last but not least, you can rebuild muscle faster due to quick acting proteins when taken immediately after a workout.
1-2 scoops of whey protein before and after a strong workout can really make a difference.
Hydration rules during protein supplementation
Hydration is something that most supplement experts know about but hardly talk about. Proper hydration and water intake during protein supplementation is a must for healthy kidneys and liver as well as getting the best out of your training and diet.
While claims that a protein powder can impair liver and kidney function in healthy adults sound like something out of a science fiction film, people who decide to start with extra protein must always get properly hydrated. Being dehydrated and having a high protein diet CAN damage your kidneys. Then again, anything that dehydrates you can damage your kidneys.
A healthy adult should drink 2 liters of water daily and that is the baseline for hydration. If you are taking protein, this should be your minimum water intake as your kidneys will indeed work harder to get rid of possible protein residue as a result of your supplementation.
I would recommend an additional 2-4 glasses of water daily for people who supplement with protein to protect their inner organs. After taking a protein shake, drink 1 glass of water every 15-30 minutes in order to stay properly hydrated.
Be extremely careful when taking protein powders that contain creatine as that needs an even higher water intake in order to protect your organs and make sure that you stay hydrated.
Safety and side effects
Most protein powders (with the exception of bad quality proteins such as soy or others that contain toxic ingredients) are deemed as LIKELY SAFE when used by healthy adults orally and in appropriate doses.
Depending on the type of protein, high doses can cause side effects such as:
- thirst and cramps (due to dehydration),
- reduced appetite,
- headache and even weight gain.
Always consult with your doctor before starting any supplementation protocol, especially if you have any type of condition or illness such as kidney or liver disease.
Special Precautions & Warnings
There is not enough information about the safety of protein supplements so pregnant or breastfeeding women should avoid using them.
Do not give protein supplements to children without consulting with your doctor first.
Allergy alert: Do not take protein powders if you are allergic to any of their ingredients (such as milk, soy, pea etc)
Contraindications or interactions with other medication/substances
Be careful when taking protein powder supplements while on medication or substances such as antibiotics as they increase or decrease their effectiveness with unwanted side effects. Always check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
Do I need to cycle off?
Protein powders usually do not need to be cycled. However, you can use a rotation diet (blog post coming soon) to stay healthy and get optimal results.
This concludes our first part to the complete protein guide. In the next article, I will cover who needs protein supplements, how to start with protein and the different types of protein available in the market today, what is good and what to avoid.
Do you take any protein supplements? Which one do you use? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
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by Nick Sigma
CWC, EH, E-YRT200