Protein supplementation is widely associated with the fitness industry. Common types of protein found in supplement form include whey, casein, soy, egg or specific proprietary blends of various amino acids. Whey and casein are protein derivatives found in milk products. Recent animal-based studies have focused on the specific amino acid profile contained in whey protein that researchers believe shows promise for a variety of health benefits (Ha, 2003). However, more research is needed to support these findings.
Protein supplement manufacturers often position their products as a way to increase metabolism, gain muscle, decrease body fat and promote weight loss. But before you rush out to buy a supplement, it’s important to keep in mind a few facts.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Most healthy adults should aim for 10%-35% of their daily calories from a variety of protein sources. That’s equivalent to about 46 grams of protein for women and 56 grams for men. The typical American diet contains 2 to 3 times that amount from food alone (CDC, 2012). Therefore incorporating additional protein to your diet via supplements may not only be unnecessary, but could contribute to unwanted extra calories.
Protein’s Role In Building Muscle
One of the many roles that protein plays in the body is to help rebuild and repair muscle tissue. However, protein itself doesn’t build muscle, but instead supports it. Does this mean the more protein you consume, the more muscle you will gain? Unfortunately, the answer is no. We only need a specific amount of protein and going beyond that level will not be of further benefit and may actually cause strain on organs such as the liver and kidneys. Those looking to support their fitness goals may instead want to focus on a portion-controlled, balanced diet combined with an appropriately progressive exercise plan that incorporates cardiovascular, resistance training and flexibility elements.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates the strength, purity and safety of all standard medications- but not supplements. Additionally, using supplements of any kind may interfere with medications you are currently taking for existing medical conditions or even with other supplements. And without regulation, the combinations may be detrimental and even potentially life threatening (FDA, 2006). Therefore, it’s always best to talk with your doctor before beginning any supplement.
Ha E., & Zemel M. (2003). Functional properties of whey, whey components, and essential amino acids: mechanisms underlying health benefits for active people. Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry 14(5), pp 251–258.
U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA): Dietary Supplements: What You Need To Know. (2006). Retrieved 11/06/2013,