Protein, to Supplement or Not

November 20, 2018 in Uncategorized by Joyce Bunderson

I hope my article, Protein, the Trendy Macronutrient, posted last July 10, 2018, did not bury too deeply the sentence: “Although you need adequate protein to build muscles; the fact is that surplus protein is not what makes the difference in muscle building; extra strength training is the element that builds muscles.”

Before I go too far let me just share a quote from Blake Rasmussen [], professor and chair of the Department of Nutrition and Metabolism at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston. “Protein supplementation is a several-billion-dollar industry supported by strong dogma and heavily promoted. It’s a solidified notion for the recreational and even the professional athlete.”

Of course, if you have a multi-billion-dollar industry, you’re not going to let go of that kind of dogma easily. You’ll do whatever is necessary to protect it; including spending what seems to be a fortune on advertizing. I guess that I’m resigned to the fact that fighting a dogma subsized by deep pockets is almost impossible; I mean, that’s what it is ….. a dogmatic constructed belief. But, allow me to humbly suggest, if you want to save some money, skip paying good money for protein supplements. If you’re eating a healthy diet and working out in strength training, you can use the saved money to buy new clothing accommodating your budging muscles or your flatter abdomen.

Of course, protein is important. I’m certainly not arguing that you don’t need protein. If you don’t eat enough, you will consume your muscles to supply your body with the necessary protein. But you don’t need extra, either. It’s not difficult to get more than enough protein by eating regular food. And as I mentioned in the July article, we don’t store protein for tomorrow’s needs, what is not needed for cell building is used for energy.

Although medical science is not finished with the question of additional protein for older persons [] it appears that in the long term, the extra protein is not reversing sarcopenia (loss of muscle tissue as a natural part of the again process). A well-designed randomized controlled study published in JAMA [JAMA Intern Med. 2018 Apr 1;178(4):530-541. doi: 10.1001/jamainternmed.2018.0008.] was done at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, part of Harvard’s medical school. They found that supplemental protein beyond the RDA was not effective in improving lean body mass in elderly functionally limited men over 65 years old.

If you want to get a fairly precise guide of how much protein to consume in a day, you can calculate your individual needs using the information in my July article referenced above. Then you can use a free program like Nutritionix to learn the amount of protein in the foods you consume. Don’t forget that plant foods have protein as useful to the body as animal foods.

It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re old or young, building muscle involves resistance training. I know, many wish they could simply swallow a protein shake to enhance their muscle mass, but in reality it’s just hard work – eating more protein or taking a protein supplement is not going to do it for you.