3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Protein Supplement – PART 1

3 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Buying a Protein Supplement – PART 1

Note: I mainly talk about whey protein in this article, so stay tuned for Part 2 and 3 where I will:

  • Provide you with a guide to many other types of protein powders (soy, hemp, etc)
  • Show you some sample meal plans that meet high protein needs, without the use of supplements

Grocery stores, health food stores, pharmacies, the gym – just a few places where you can now find a variety of protein supplements, making it even more confusing to know which one to buy, or if you even should.

Ask yourself these 3 questions to help you make the right decision.

#1 – What goal am I trying to achieve by using a protein supplement?

When your goal is sustainable weight loss

The popularity of replacing meals with a protein shake is huge and its often one of the first questions I get from clients looking to manage their weight.

In short, replacing a meal with a scoop of protein in water is not the best strategy for sustainable weight loss. Sure, protein does help promote satiety and that drink itself may be less calories than a full meal, but your body processes a full meal much differently than liquid. A liquid empties much more quickly than solid food from your stomach, leaving you with hunger pangs shortly after you drink that shake. A healthy meal will keep you feeling fuller, longer and maintain your energy and blood sugar levels better than a protein drink.

protein bottle and powder

While trying to lose weight, its important to make sure you are getting enough protein, but even more important is that you get enough protein at each meal and snack so that its spread evenly throughout the day. This helps to keep you feeling full, maximize the usage of the protein you consume, and can help you maintain muscle. Greek yogurt, eggs, nuts and seeds, chicken, fish, beans – the list goes on and on of nutritious high protein foods you can include. With the right planning and preparation, these can be as convenient as a scoop of protein.

I do recognize there can be a time and place for these supplements, but my main message is that they are not the deciding factor in long lasting weight management. If you did want to use a protein supplement to replace a meal, such as a quick breakfast on the go, I would suggest at least adding a few extra things to your smoothie to make it more balanced. Add some frozen fruit (Great taste enhancers, and adds antioxidants, fibre, nutrients), use a milk or milk alternative (protein, nutrients) instead of water or juice, throw in some greens (antioxidants, fibre, nutrient dense) and chia, hemp or flax seeds (heart healthy omega 3’s, fibre).

protein shake

 

In summary:

  • There are better strategies to focus on first to manage your weight before you spend money on protein supplements as a meal replacement

  • Consider the differences between liquid and solid meals

  • Whole foods provide more bang for their buck

  • If you do use them, make sure to add the right foods to balance out the meal

When your goal is muscle growth:

A well designed strength training program is needed to help you gain lean mass. In addition to that, both extra protein and total energy intake needs must be met. Total protein is important, but just as stated above, getting protein throughout the day at each meal and snack and ASAP after a workout are crucial.

Additionally, your total calorie intake needs to increase as well, since it takes extra energy to build muscle – so fat and carbohydrate intake will increase too. A protein supplement after a workout is just one component of the plan, however it can be beneficial. Whey protein is rapidly absorbed by the muscles, and when taken post workout, it has been shown to stimulate muscle growth, likely due to the high leucine content, which is a branched chain amino acid. 2-3g of leucine is enough to help stimulate muscle growth. This amount is found in 20-25g of protein (about a scoop of whey).

protein and weights

For those looking to build muscle, consume a post workout snack right after a workout. A whey protein supplement has not only been shown to be effective, but it is convenient, you can keep it with you in your gym bag, and liquids are good for those who have a low appetite post workout. Be sure to add carbohydrates to your shake or have that on the side as these are needed post workout as well.

If you want to choose whole foods to consume after a workout, the following contain 20-25g protein and about 2-3g of leucine (approx. the maximum amount of both that have been shown stimulate muscle growth). Note that there will be difference in the amount of calories and cost compared to whey protein.

  • 600 ml milk
  • 3 eggs
  • 120g almonds (about 200 ml)
  • 120g (raw weight) chicken, beef, seafood
  • 380g lentils (almost 2 cups)
  • 140g cottage cheese (just over ½ cup)
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt

protein

Another type of protein is involved in muscle growth and that’s casein protein. Casein protein before bed can help prevent muscle protein breakdown, which is greatest while sleeping. There are casein supplements but cottage cheese is also a high source.

In summary:

  • Whey protein post workout has been shown to promote muscle growth, and may partly be due to the high leucine content

  • Consume a source of protein at every meal and snack so that you get protein frequently during the day

  • Overall total energy intake needs must be met as well (not just protein) in addition to other dietary, lifestyle and training factors

#2 – What other ingredients does this product contain?

Extra vitamins, sweeteners, caffeine, or other herbal supplements can be added to protein supplements that aren’t necessary, so be sure to check the ingredient list.

For athletes who may be subject to testing, many supplements are not tightly regulated and even if they not listed on the ingredients list may contained banned substances (like steroids) due to cross contamination during the manufacturing and packaging process. NSF is a third party certification that tests supplements to ensure they do not contain any banned substances. Ones that pass will have this symbol:

nsf certified

For whey supplements, a few things to look for are:

  • Whey isolate (more filtered than a Whey Concentrate so it contains more protein by weight)

  • 20-25g protein per scoop

  • No artificial sweeteners

  • Is NSF certified 

    # 3 – Are there things in my diet that I should change first before adding a supplement?

Likely, there are lots! There is no one specific diet, food or supplement that will help you to reach your goals. Supplements are just that – something to add once your diet is in check, otherwise they will not be as effective. Even other non-nutrition related aspects are important for weight loss and muscle growth that you should consider, including proper hydration and sleep.

Contact me to help you figure out what other areas of your nutrition can be improved upon to help you reach your goals or for help with other supplement questions.

Stay tuned for part 2 and 3 of this article where I will provide examples of high protein meal plans without supplements and I will provide a quick guide all the different types of protein powders.

Written by: Andrea Docherty, RD

Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist

Windsor, Ontario

How to Build High Performance Meals Tailored to Your Training Levels

How to Build High Performance Meals Tailored to Your Training Levels

Athletes’ nutrition needs are not static. Just as the training type and intensity changes both daily and throughout the season, nutrient requirements fluctuate as well. Body composition goals, exercise intensity and type are just some of the factors that can impact one’s diet.

 

A Registered Dietitian/Sports Dietitian can help you determine a plan that is specific to your goals and sport, but a good tool to help you get started in learning to portion and correctly balance your meals is the Athlete’s Plate put together by the U.S. Olympic Committee.

This is a great tool that I love using with clients because its visual, easy to understand and customizable. The full Athlete’s Plate resources and more can be found here: (http://www.teamusa.org/About-the-USOC/Athlete-Development/Sport-Performance/Nutrition/Resources-and-Fact-Sheets.aspx). Print them off and hang them on your fridge to help you plan and portion meals!

The Athlete’s Plate resources show 3 ways of portioning your meals based on different types of training days. All meals contain carbohydrates, protein, healthy fats, and lots of fruits and vegetables and fluids. However, the main difference is the amount of carbohydrate, which varies based on your training load that day. This is because carbohydrates provide the fuel to our brain and muscles. Just like gas in the car, the longer you drive the more gas you need. Similarly, the more frequently or more intensely you exercise, the higher your need of carbohydrates. With intense training, back to back games or exercise sessions, its crucial to get enough high quality carbohydrates in order to have enough fuel, but also to restore glycogen (carbohydrate stores) in muscle and liver to fuel the next session.

As you will see – all plates have the following 5 components. No matter what your training load that day, include all of these in your meals, but adjust the amounts.

Always Include:

  1. Energy Providing Foods – Starches and Whole Grains that are minimally processed such as potatoes, squash, 100% whole wheat breads and tortillas, rice, quinoa, pasta, oatmeal, whole grain crackers and cereals

  1. Muscle Builder & Recovery Foods – Proteins like lean meats, poultry, beans, tofu, edamame, Greek yogurt, fish, eggs, cheese

  1. Vegetables and Fruit – Antioxidant, vitamin and mineral rich foods. So many options – the key is variety!

  1. Healthy Fats – Nuts and seeds, chia, flax, hemp seeds, olive, canola and other plant based oils, avocado, fatty fish, nut butters, oil-based dressing

  1. Hydrating Beverages – Water, milk, 100% fruit juice (if need to get in higher carbohydrate intake), tea, coffee (in moderate amounts)

Now let’s actually take a look at the plates! I’ll show you how you can use the Athlete’s Plate to help guide your meals on easy, moderate and hard training days.

Weight Management/Easy Training Day

When to use:

  • During the offseason when you may be trying to manage weight
  • Rest and easy training days

Why: 

It still provides you with some high quality carbohydrates, but a greater emphasis is placed on increasing fresh produce to provide more fibre to promote health and satiety, as well as vitamins, minerals and antioxidants to aid in overall health, recovery and keeping your immune system healthy. And of course protein to aid in recovery, maintenance and growth of lean muscle. 

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What to put on your plate:

Energy Providing Foods – Grains and Starches

Aim for ¼ plate of high quality, minimally processed carbohydrates. This is about the size of your fist.

Vegetables and Fruit

Load up ½ your plate with fruits and vegetables. Eat the rainbow! Try new types, get lots of colour and switch up how you prepare them so you don’t get bored.

Muscle Builders – Protein

About ¼ plate should be a protein-rich food. Better preparation methods include baking, grilling, roasting and pan fried. Again, aim for variety!

Healthy Fats

Fat wont make you fat, and we need some in or diet to keep us healthy and absorb fat souble vitamins. You may need less if looking to lose weight, or more if looking to gain weight. However, no matter what your goal, limit fat from deep fried foods, processed meats and hydrogenated oils.

Moderate Training Days

When to use:

  • During the pre or in season when you may have one hard workout for the day
  • 2 workouts a day, where one is easy (technical skills) and one is moderate (strength or endurance)

Why:

Portioning your plate this way provides you with extra carbohydrates to recover glycogen and fuel your training. You still get antioxidants to help keep immnune system healthy and help with recovery.

Screen Shot 2016-05-26 at 4.08.45 PM

What to put on your plate:

Energy Providing Foods – Grains and Starches

Increase your portion slightly by making about 1/3 of the plate of high quality, minimally processed carbohydrates.

Vegetables and Fruit

Make room for more starchy carbs by Reducing the amount just under ½ the plate of vegetables, and including fruit on the side. Eat the rainbow! Try new types, get lots of colour and switch up how you prepare them so you don’t get bored.

Muscle Builders – Protein

Keep protein the same at ¼ plate protein. Your protein needs will be similar or slightly higher, but instead of adding extra protein at meals (your body can only use so much at one time), its best to make sure protein is spread throughout the day at all meals, snacks and recovery snacks.

Healthy Fats

Add healthy fats to the meal as well – more than on easy days if the goal is weight gain or to help meet your increased energy needs.

Hard Training/Race or Competition Day

When to use:

  • During the in-seasonn when you may have two long or fairly intense workouts for the day
  • During competition/race days (as well as the days leading into competition and the day after to aid in carb loading and recovery)

Why:

You need extra carbohydrates for keeping glycogen stores topped up and for fuelling the increase in activity. Overall energy needs will be increased as well and may require additional fats at meals, and more snacks too in general. 

hard day.png

What to put on your plate:

Energy Providing Foods – Grains and Starches

Increase your portion by making about 1/2 of the plate of high quality, minimally processed carbohydrates

Vegetables and Fruit

Make room for more starchy carbs by reducing the amount to about ¼ plate of vegetables and add fruit on the side. Eat the rainbow! Try new types, get lots of colour and switch up how you prepare them so you don’t get bored.

Muscle Builders – Protein

Keep protein the same at ¼ plate protein. Your protein needs will be similar or slightly higher, but instead of adding extra protein at meals, its best to include your extra servings at additional snacks or recovery snacks.

Healthy Fats

Add healthy fats to the meal as well – more than on easy days if the goal is weight gain or to help meet your increased energy needs.

 A few extra tips you can follow any day of the week.

  1. Eat your fruits and vegetables! Challenge yourself and see how many colours of the rainbow you can get each day, and always aim for a dark green and dark orange every day. One way to help get enough is to include a fruit or veg at each meal and snack.
  2. Many people don’t have a problem consuming enough protein. What really matters is protein distribution. Make sure you get a source at each meal and snack. Breakfast meals often contain little protein.
  3. Hydration is very important as well! Keep a water bottle with you at all times so you can drink throughout the day and during exercise in addition to at meals.

 To take this a step further, a dietitian can help you figure out the correct portion sizes, adequate meal timing, pre and post workout snacks, easy and healthy meal ideas, micronutrient needs, and fluid needs that are specific to you and will help boost your performance. Contact me at andreadocherty.rd@gmail.com to learn about how I can help you or your team of athletes fuel your performance and reach your health and fitness goals.

Written by: Andrea Docherty, RD

Registered Dietitian and Sports Nutritionist

Windsor, Ontario