So here’s a question I get asked all the time:
‘Should I be taking this (insert supplement here) Steve? I read that it’s good because (insert often outlandish and monistic claims- by the company trying to promote the product!)…’
The answer is……It depends!
Okay I know you’re after more clarification, so here it is; let’s start with what a supplement is. A supplement is a refined, man made product derived from natural food. It is designed to be used in combination with a proper whole food diet (please do NOT mistake whole food with whole grains). Supplements should be used when, and only when natural, whole, unprocessed food is not available or will not suffice to meet our nutritional requirements. This can be a problem to those of us being fed by #FIFO camps! Supplements complement a proper nutrition strategy.
I know almost everyone takes supplements in some form, myself included. These typically range from multi-vitamins, pre-workouts, protein powders, mass gainers, fat-burners etc. We have all seen them, unfortunately not all of us know what they do nor understand their real place in our diets. Here are some examples of incorrect use:
I see it all the time, people over consuming protein powder like it’s going out of fashion just to meet the recommended doses on the side of the tubs. They will consume one shake in the mornings before work (often with homogenised, pasteurised milk-further adding to my dismay) another between smoko and lunch, post workout and just for good measure another ‘slow release’ casein shake before bed.
Let me start by saying this is absolutely ridiculous, unnecessary and can even be damaging to your health over the long term. It is not your fault though as your only doing what the health magazines and pro athletes are telling you to do. Unfortunately though, these people do not have your optimal health and performance in mind. Unbelievable I know, but its almost like there might be some sort of financial interest by telling you to consume more of their products than necessary ha!
Lets do the math:
Even for a moderately muscular and lean bloke (not being prejudice, but I’m using a male athlete as protein requirements are much higher than a sedentary female’s) who participates in strength and power workouts 3-4 days a week and has physical job (say an electrician), the MAXIMUM recommended daily intake of protein is about 2g for about every kg of body weight. For an 80g male that’s about 160-180g. So if he is consuming those above mentioned shakes he’s adding in roughly 140g of protein a day, provided he is only mixing with water. If he is adding dairy (only if his body tolerates it!) there would be even more protein available. So we already have 140g of our MAX recommendation of 160-180g and we haven’t even started to add up our 4-5 meals a day yet (all of which should be based around a lean protein source such as eggs, chicken, fish, steak, or for vegans- hemp, etc). After we factor in the 4 meals we now have something around the mark of 280-300g, mimicking the diet of a fulltime bodybuilder on the gear (steroids).
This amount of protein cannot be properly utilised for muscle and cell growth. Once the body has what it needs, it will convert the rest to glucose for immediate energy through a process called gluconeogenesis, or convert it to palmitic acid and store it in the adipose tissue (FAT cells).
A common believe is that you will ‘piss out what you don’t use!’ This is a fallacy. It will not be excreted through the renal system. Protein is not a water-soluble vitamin, it is a macronutrient. Only the nitrogen will be passed through the urinary tract due the proteins biological restructuring (ie conversion to glucose or fat- where nitrogen is no longer required).
Using protein powder or meal replacements as a ‘weight loss strategy’ does not compute with me. Why? Because the whole selling point for these products is that you will ‘feel full’ or be satisfied whilst cutting calories (I hate using that word). The notion that protein is satiating is correct- amino acids stimulate minimal insulin suppress ghrelin (hunger hormone) and cause steady secretions of cholecystokinin and PYY (satiety hormones that make you full).
Which do you think would be more satisfying? A pre-digested powder that can easily convert to glycogen and fat, or a chicken breast with some coconut oil and cruciferous vegetables (leafy greens) which requires energy, stomach space and time to digest? If I was trying to loose weight, or even just maintain health, I reaken I would be striving maximise nutrient availability and make myself feel satisfied and full for as long as possible! Not to mention revving up my sluggish metabolism (for those trying to loose weight). You will not get these benefits from powdered food!
Another issue is that an unnecessarily high consumption of protein over time can lead to liver damage in certain genetically predisposed individuals. So yes, it may affect your liver health, it may not, studies sway both way- but for all the over consumers I challenge you to get a blood test and check your AST and ALT levels. High levels will indicate high c-reactive proteins and suggest potential liver damage…prove me wrong J
Of course we cannot avoid the cost factor…. these supplements are not cheap! Spending all this extra money for fat gain and liver damage doesn’t make much sense to me. Especially when most of you working FIFO have access to all the FREE real protein sources, already cooked for you everyday!
Time to consume:
OKAY so my original answer was ‘it depends!’ So when is it appropriate to use protein supplements Steve?
If you are the skinny kid on the block, and are trying desperately to but on a few extra kilos in the gym for next years footy season, or just look better for the ladies next summer- you are probably sick to death of shoving food down your throat. Your following every big players advice, adding digestive enzymes to your meals you’re your stomach sounds like a sloshing bucket of water whilst you walk around the camp. You my friend have my full support to add protein/ meal replacements into your ‘Already’ well-established nutritional regime! Consuming protein powder will give your digestive system a much needed rest whilst supplying your hungry muscles and cells with the much needed protein and calories.
This is not an excuse for ‘sloppy body types’ to say they are ‘bulking’ just to get their chocolate fix! Sorry mate, you gotta’ get back to the drawing board and get the nutrition dialled in first!
Another time for supplementation is if you are a vegetarian/ vegan. Being in a FIFO environment it can be quite difficult to get your protein/ energy requirements from the camp food! I myself supplement with hemp protein when I chose to have a vegan meal. I would like to point out that I am not a vegan however! I choose to have vegan meals through out the day to assist with the pH and alkalinity of my gut, which complements animal protein meals (but that story is for another time).
If you cannot find time to eat, you are part of some FIFO’s camps $3 allocation of food per day or you are struggling to maintain/ gain weight then a meal replacement may be a good option for you. It will provide you with some nutrients, which is much better than none! All that extra unnecessary protein though isn’t being used to build insane shredded slabs of rock hard muscle like you have been told….It’s going straight to your love handles, and potentially damaging your liver in the process and burning a hole in your back pocket!
Keep the protein for the correct circumstances above and use it for its intended purpose only!
The goal should always be to eat whole, natural foods where possible!
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Yours in health and wellness,