One of the most common questions we get asked by a new member in the gym is whether or not they need to supplement their diet with a protein powder and how it will affect their body composition / performance goals.
So here’s the science.
If you have a body composition goal, your total net calories will be the biggest determining factor in whether you store or lose fat (or stay the same)
This means that if you expend more calories than you consume, you will require energy to be brought out of storage and ultimately leading to a reduction in body fat.
Within these calories that you are consuming, they are broken down into 3 macronutrients which all have various roles in the body’s performance and therefore can influence composition:
They each have a caloric value and is why they are interrelated with calories:
Protein = 4 calories per gram
Fat = 9 calories per gram
Carbohydrates = 4 calories per gram
**Note this is per actual gram of the macronutrient, not a gram of the source.
E.g. 100g of chicken breast is not 100g protein. It is only 21g protein / 100g chicken breast.
You need to understand the values within each food as they will alter.
On the topic of protein, it can often be referred to as the body’s most essential macronutrient because of its role in muscle growth and repair and therefore metabolism, which is why most nutrition plans favour protein as a priority.
Essentially, if your body is lacking in protein consumption, especially when undertaking physical stressors like weight training or even conditioning, there will be downstream effects resulting in muscle atrophy and catabolism (the breakdown of muscle tissue).
When your muscles begin to atrophy, the catabolic effects will lead to a decrease in resting metabolic rate (RMR) and will ultimately affect how much energy your body utilises on a daily basis.
Which means if you continue to break down muscle, you will have to continually decrease your caloric consumption if you don’t want to store energy in the form fat.
Conversely, by ensuring that your muscle mass stays constant or even increases, you will have the ability to increase food consumption without storing it as fat, or continue eating the same amount of food and create a net calorie deficit because of the increased RMR.
So, to answer the question of whether you need a protein powder/ supplement, the answer is
“Only if you’re not getting enough through “real food” or if you’d prefer this form over other protein sources”
This requires you to track your protein intake through a process of recall (most commonly done through an app (called myfitnesspal.com) and then managing your actions accordingly.
If there is a gap between how much you’re currently eating and how much you should be eating based on the data which suggests 1.2g-2.8g/kg lean body mass (LBM), then a powder form is often a great way to ingest protein without feeling full and sluggish from “real food”
Whether you decide to reach your protein target through “real food” or through a powder format is up to you, however, we see it as an easy insurance policy and highly suggest making sure you’re not in a deficit.
Our recommendation is to grab a protein that has the full essential amino acid profile, such as whey protein isolate (WPI).
We stock ours from trueprotein.com
Doesn’t eating too much protein make you bulky?
Protein is not the culprit of bulkiness. Too many calories is. The ratio of macronutrients you choose to consume will have some impact on your body composition, however, the biggest determining factor to storing fat (bulkiness) is the amount of calories you consume and the stimulus of training you provide your neuromuscular system, not your breakdown of macronutrients.
But what about bodybuilders, they consume heaps of protein and they are huge.
They also consume 10,000+ calories per day, train for 3-4 hours of hypertrophy based strength training creating a stimulus for growth and probably inject anabolic steroids to help fuel their testosterone spike.
But what about protein powder? Isn’t that worse than “real food”
In regards to the uptake of amino acids for muscle growth and repair, studies which have compared the difference between ingesting real food and isolated powder forms with similar amino acid sequences and have relayed almost 0 conclusive evidence that one is more preferable than the other in regards to how the body absorbs the amino acids.
There is however, some intolerances and inflammation associated with dairy / animal based products for some people, which should be treated individually.
So, the answer is still as above in regards to making sure that you’re within your calorie and macronutrient targets.