Supplements, do you need them or not?
By: James Hutchinson
Protein is an essential macronutrient and a vital part of everyone’s diet. It is found in meat, eggs, nuts, fish and many other foods. Many people lack this in their diet and lots of people are interested in supplements but have no clue where to start. The market is so saturated right now with so many different brands available. There is so much information on this topic available online it can be overwhelming. A lot are endorsed by celebrities as well and it can be misleading.
There are various supplements that come in different forms. You can get the vitamin supplements, protein bars, tablets, protein shakes, creatine and many other forms.
Here is a list and some advice as to the various supplements available.
Protein shakes/whey protein – These are very popular with fitness professional’s, gym goers and keen fitness and weight loss enthusiasts for a pre- or post-workout boost. The benefit to whey protein shakes is that they contain all 9 essential amino acids which the body can’t produce. According to research whey protein can help with weight loss and reduce cholesterol. They are easily accessible online and from many retail stores.
The three main types of whey protein are:
- Whey Protein Concentrate (WPC) This can contain between 25-80% protein, low levels of carbohydrates and is the cheapest form of whey. It also contains fat, lactose, minerals and moisture.
- Whey Protein Isolate (WPI) This contains 90%+ protein and is considered the purest source of protein. It contains little to no lactose so ideal for those with lactose intolerance and is very low in fat. It is however a more expensive form of whey due to its added benefits.
- Whey Protein Hydrolysate (WPH) This is pre-digested so provides improved digestibility and may reduce potential for allergic reactions. It is often found in infant formulas and sports and medical nutrition products. It is the most expensive form of whey protein.
The disadvantages to whey protein shakes is that they are very costly and whey is one of the proteins in milk so it is not suitable for everyone, particularly those with a milk protein allergy or is lactose intolerant. The one mistake people make is to take a protein shake in place of food. If you are just relying on a protein shake for your gains you are lacking in other vital macronutrients that help to provide the body with the necessary vitamins and minerals for growth and health. While they do give you some added benefits when working out many are highly processed and contain a lot of sugar and flavourings which can lead to weight gain. It is only recommended to have a protein shake when you are working out as your body can store the excess protein as fat if you are having too much whey. (Whey Protein Institute, 2019).
For pure protein and more benefits I would advise going for whey protein isolate which provides a better source of high-quality protein, is good for people with milk allergies and promotes muscle growth.
Whey protein overall is good for people with bad diets who are lacking in the essential nutrients and protein from their normal diet. But it is not recommended to solely rely on protein supplements alone. It is essential to eat the right foods first and aim to get the essential macronutrients from these alone.
Vitamin supplements – Most people do not need to take vitamin supplements as the essential vitamins are contained in healthy foods. If you eat the right foods you will be getting all the essential nutrients the body needs. However, for many people this is easier said than done. If your diet is bad and lacking, or you have an illness or deficiency such as an iron deficiency then taking a small amount of the essential vitamins in supplement form is recommended.
Vitamins A, C and D are usually recommended to children because growing children may not be getting enough of these in their food intake. Vitamin D is recommended to people who are not getting enough sunlight, this includes the elderly and the frail. (NHS, 2016).
Vitamin C will help to boost your immune system and is known as an antioxidant. Helpful if you have a bit of a cold for instance. (NHS, 2016).
Multi-vitamins contain many of the essential nutrients the body requires. Though arguably they do not provide enough, cannot be relied upon on their own and because they are manufactured much of the nutrients are lost through this process. They are useful however, for people with nutritional deficiencies and those on a bad diet. (Laidler, 2014).
If you are unsure of what vitamins to take it is advisable to speak to a nutritionist and do some further research using reliable sources. But if you eat the right foods you have nothing to worry about as you will be getting all the vitamins and minerals the body requires.
Creatine – This is available in powder form and helps to boost your performance when training after the body has used up its main energy source, adenosine triphosphate (ATP). If you have hit a plateau at the gym where you feel you need the extra energy boost it can be useful. But the gains you make through creatine may only be marginal. You need to consider whether the benefits outweigh the cost as it is not cheap! (Laidler, 2014). It is also worth bearing in mind that it is only beneficial if you work at a high intensity level. If you regularly perform aerobic exercise, then you will not see any long-term gains from creatine. There are also arguments to suggest that taking creatine regularly is unsafe, can lead to kidney problems and because it holds a lot of water retention can lead to weight gain. (Men’s Fitness, 2017). If you are considering creatine it is worth bearing in mind the above information. It all depends on your fitness objective at the end of the day.
Energy Supplements – These can include energy bars and sports drinks. They will boost your energy levels temporarily, however there are negative aspects. It could make you jittery and restless and because of the added sugar you will gain weight. They do offer an alternative source of protein but not recommended to replace food intake.
Protein supplements are an option if you are lacking in the essential proteins and nutrients found in many different foods. Vegans for instance would certainly benefit from taking some form of protein supplement to accompany their diet, although there are still many plant-based sources of proteins that provide the essential amino acids. They do have their place in a well-rounded diet and they are very convenient, particularly for someone who leads a hectic lifestyle and doesn’t have time to cook and prep meals before their workout. Relying on vitamins, protein bars, snacks, shakes etc alone however will not be enough to give you the required protein and nutrients the body needs. Eating fresh fruit, meat and vegetables will provide you with the essential macronutrients and are easier to digest. The added sugar that is contained in many of the supplements will lead to weight gain. If you do workout regularly though they will provide you with a steady source of energy to help power you through your workout and help to repair damaged muscle tissues after your workout. There is also evidence to suggest that taking supplements such as whey protein alongside regular exercise can help to promote the growth of lean tissue muscle mass.
Proteins are found in many different foods and many of us will be getting the required amount through daily food intake. Most animal protein sources are complete protein sources. If you regularly eat meat, dairy, eggs and fish products then you will not need any extra special protein supplements to accompany your diet. And people who do not eat enough meat and vegetarians are usually ok as they can still get protein from other foods such as dairy and eggs. If you are getting enough protein through food the added protein through various supplements can lead to weigh gain, bloating and digestive problems. In conclusion supplements are there to just do that, supplement your regular diet and training.
Whey Protein Institute. (2019). WheyOfLife.org. [Blog] Whey Protein Types. Available at: http://www.wheyproteininstitute.org/facts/wheyproteintypes [Accessed 1st October 2019].
Brown, B. (2019). bsl nutrition: pure science. proven results. [Blog] The Pros and Cons of Whey Protein. Available at: https://www.bslnutrition.com/pros-cons-whey-protein-supplementation/
NHS. (2016). Do I need vitamin supplements?. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/food-and-diet/do-i-need-vitamin-supplements/
Cooper, E. (2018). The Best Whey Protein Powders to Buy in 2019. [online] Available at: https://www.menshealth.com/uk/building-muscle/a756812/mh-tried-tested-whey-protein/
Train Magazine. (2018). 3 Types Of Muscle-Building Supplements For Overall Growth. [online] Available at: https://www.bodybuilding.com/fun/3-types-of-muscle-building-supplements-for-overall-growth.html
Laidler, S. (2014). 10 useful supplements and what they can do for you. [online] Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/active/10830596/10-useful-supplements-and-what-they-can-do-for-you.html
Men’s Fitness. (2017). Creatine: Everything You Need To Know. [online] Available at: https://www.coachmag.co.uk/nutrition/supplements/1154/creatine-facts