Over the years, the use of dietary protein supplements has become a norm among athletes, gym-goers, bodybuilders, and people who are obsessed with attaining or maintaining a perfect physique. They believe that adding protein mostly in the form of liquids(shakes) or bars to their diet increase their muscle mass and aid muscle loss recovery after strength training or a work out session. But do these dietary protein supplements work as presumed and do they pose any risk to health? We are about to find out.
Protein is one of the most vital nutrients needed by the body to build muscles, tissues, and organs. The daily recommended intake of protein is about 55.5 grams in Men and 45 grams in women. Bodybuilders, athletes, gym-goers, and people who are keen on maintaining a good physique turn to protein supplements to make up for the proteins lost during work out and build muscle mass.
They believe they need to load up on a bulky amount of protein which regular meals alone may not be able to provide. There might be some truth in this as some studies have suggested that dietary protein plays a role in the building and recovery of muscle mass.
Protein supplements are mostly available in the form of powders which can be made into shakes, bars or capsules. Protein powders are made from plant sources (potatoes, soybeans, rice, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, peas), milk (whey) and egg (casein).
These powders are commonly made into shakes by mixing it with water alone or combined with other ingredients such as in smoothies. The most common ingredient used in making protein powders that are ingested as a shake is the whey protein. It is made from the watery part of milk that is separated from the coagulated liquid (curd) during cheese production.
DOES TAKING PROTEIN SHAKES PROVIDE HEALTH BENEFITS
A number of studies have proved that dietary protein supplements including protein shakes are beneficial in the following ways
- A study published in the British Journal of sports medicine proved using large data from 49 other studies and 1865 participants that protein supplements can influence muscle mass and size when coupled with strength or resistance training.
- It helps with the repair of muscle tissue after a work out session or strength training exercise by initiating muscle protein synthesis. This is due to the branched amino acids it contains especially leucine which helps to control glycogen levels that are reduced during a workout or training session.
- Studies have also shown how dietary protein can reduce blood pressure due to bioactive peptides that are especially present in whey protein. Lactokinins found in whey protein serve as angiotensin-converting – enzyme – inhibitors (ACE inhibitors) which play a role in reducing blood pressure.
- Dietary protein when consumed with an adequate amount of calcium can improve bone health by triggering the production of growth factor (IGF-1). This can help to prevent Osteoarthritis which is a medical condition that weakens the bones and make them susceptible to breaking. It also boosts the absorption of calcium in the body.
WHAT ARE THE DRAWBACKS OF DIETARY PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS
Despite these health benefits, numerous studies have shown how the consumption of protein supplements including protein shakes used in muscle building when taken beyond the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of 0.8 gram per body weight can have adverse health effects. Below are some reasons and conditions that can cause protein shakes to negatively impact the health of a person.
PROTEIN SHAKES MAY CONTAIN HARMFUL TOXINS, ADDITIVES, AND CONTAMINANTS.
Studies have shown that many forms of dietary proteins including powders and shakes that are sold over the counter in drug stores, grocery stores and even on reputable online sites contain other ingredients aside from what is shown on the label. In addition to this, they may contain harmful additives such as caffeine, sugar, and creatine which when consumed in large quantities can make one prone to a number of health conditions. This is due to the lack of established safety guidelines guiding the making of commercially produced protein powders that are used as shakes or sold in cups by the Federal Food and Drug Administration.
Excessive consumption of caffeine can increase blood pressure and heart rates, cause heart palpitations, insomnia, headache, muscle spasm, incontinence and can even trigger anxiety. Caffeine is common in the fitness world and is usually used alongside protein shakes which may already contain caffeine. Abuse of caffeine can be lethal. Earlier this year, there was news of a young man Lachlan Foote, who died from caffeine toxicity after adding a teaspoon to his protein shake.
Creatine contained in some protein shakes topples the water contained in muscle cells and causes dehydration, stomach pain, and muscle cramping. This can cause adverse reactions for people with liver or kidney disease. Although studies have shown that dietary protein does not cause kidney problems, the excessive intake of creatine containing protein shake can worsen the condition of people with kidney and liver problems.
Protein shakes are known to contain a high level of sugar as much as 23 grams per serving which when consumed continuously will exceed the recommended sugar limit of 25 to 36 grams and cause major health concerns. It may also contain sweeteners such as aspartame. Sensitivity to aspartame can trigger an anti-inflammatory response in the body which can lead to several diseases such as peptic ulcer, heart disease, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis.
A research conducted by a nonprofit organization known as a clean label project revealed that a wide range of protein powders which is the basic ingredients used in making protein shakes contained harmful toxins and metals. The researches sampled a total of 130 popular protein powders and tested for heavy metals, level of pesticides, and bisphenol (BPA) which is used in the production of plastic.
About three-quarters of the powders tested positive for high levels of toxic metals like mercury, lead, arsenic, and cadmium that can grossly impair health. Half of the powders tested positive for BPA which interferes with hormone functions. In fact, one particular product contained about 25 times the usual amount of BPA in one scoop. Organic products that are widely presumed to be natural and safe revealed a quantity of two times the number of heavy metals found in conventional products after testing.
Although, not all the powders tested contained toxins and heavy metals, a large population of them did. The researchers concluded that the contaminants may have come about through the production process or from soil containing toxins in the case of plant proteins.
THE ADVERSE EFFECTS OF BCAAs IN PROTEIN SHAKES
Branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) are a group of essential amino acids consisting of leucine, valine, and isoleucine which plays a role in muscle building by increasing muscle mass. A recent study carried out by scientists at Charlie’s Perkins center, University of Sydney revealed that the excessive intake of protein supplements containing high levels of BCAAs but low in other vital nutrients can influence mood, trigger food cravings that lead to weight gain and reduce life span.
Using rodents as the animal model of their research, the mice who consumed a high amount of BCAAs had high levels of it in their blood which interfered with other amino acids. Amino acids stimulate tryptophan which is a serotonin derivative.
The BCAAs interfered with the function of tryptophan and reduced the level of serotonin in the blood. This also led to an insatiable appetite in the mice and made them excessively overweight with time, and since obesity has been linked with short life span, the scientists believed that BCAAs, when consumed excessively, can lead to obesity and reduce the life span of an individual.
The scientists concluded that balancing the number of amino acids in the blood will prevent adverse health effects. The key is to infuse other sources of protein into the diet.
ALLERGIC REACTIONS AND LACTOSE INTOLERANCE
People who find it difficult to digest lactose may find it difficult to digest protein shakes made out of whey protein powder, as their body produces a little amount of lactase enzyme needed to digest lactose. This can lead to gastrointestinal problems such as stomach cramps, bloating, flatulence and in some cases diarrhea.
Allergy to protein is quiet rare but should not be totally ruled out when it comes to potential health risks associated with the consumption of protein shakes. Widely known as Food protein-induced Enterocolitis syndrome (FPIES) is a rare disorder that is triggered by an allergic reaction to protein-based foods. Symptoms range from mild vomiting and diarrhea to severe vomiting and diarrhea that can lead to dehydration and shock.
In addition to this, a 25-year-old woman and a mother of two Megan Hefford suffered brain damage that leads to her death as a result of excessive consumption of protein shake. Unknown to Megan, she had a rare disorder that prevented her body from metabolizing the large quantity of protein she was consuming. This proved that excessive intake of protein supplements could actually have adverse health effects.
SOME PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES TO BE TAKEN WHEN USING DIETARY PROTEIN SUPPLEMENTS
Experts believe that one can get all the necessary proteins needed by the body from food without resorting to supplements like protein shakes. Foods such as Greek yogurt, Chicken breast, fish, meat, nuts, lentils, quinoa, tuna, shrimp, almonds, eggs, cheese, and lean beef are all good sources of protein, but if you must take protein supplements like protein shakes, you need to proceed with caution because of the potential risks associated with its consumption. Following the precautionary list below may do you a world of good.
- Ensure to buy your dietary protein supplements, shake, or powder from high end and reputable brands.
- Always check the label for harmful additives such as caffeine, aspartame, and creatine before consuming
- Avoid adding harmful additives like caffeine to your protein shake.
- Some labels provide recommended serving quantities per time. Make sure not to exceed the amount as instructed.
- If you are lactose intolerant, swap whey protein powder or shake for a plant-based one. If you are not aware of intolerance and experience side effects after consuming your shake, please report to the hospital for a proper check-up.
- Before taking protein shakes or supplements, consult your doctor or a renowned dietitian to rule out possible underlying problems.
- Do not replace protein shakes with meals. Ensure to have a balanced diet always.