Are Protein Supplements a Waste of Money?

I had a great conversation with one of our clients the other day regarding protein supplements for athletes. Basically, he was asking if he should get some protein in as he was starting to get serious about his training again. This is a very common question that people ask me, and the supplement companies deserve a tip of the hat for bringing us to the place where we think we NEED to take a protein supplement to grow muscles. However, all is not what it may first seem after you consider the following issues.

How much protein do we actually need?

At ACLAÍ our recommendation is to aim for 1.4- 2 grams of protein per kg of body weight. The put that in perspective, if you are an 80kg individual, you would be aiming for 112-160g of protein per day. In food terms here are examples of how much protein we have in common high protein foods:

  • Medium sized chicken breast (100g) contains 20 grams of protein
  • Small sized sirloin steak (100g) contains around 25 grams of protein
  • Large organic eggs contain 5-7 grams of protein
  • Salmon fillet (100g) contains around 20g of protein
  • Medium Mackerel (100g) contains around 20g of protein

1 40g scoop of whey protein isolate contains around 25 grams of actual protein (this is brand specific).

So, going back to our example, the 80kg individual needs a maximum of 160g of protein. This might seem like a lot, but when you consider you will have small pre-prepared meals per day, it doesn’t seem so bad. To get your full protein requirement each day by using some of the high protein foods outlined above, you could include the following in your daily diet:

  • 3 egg omelets with some salmon at breakfast (35g of protein)
  • 2 chicken fillets with salad at next meal (40g of protein)
  • Medium mackerel at lunch (20g of protein)
  • 2 small steaks at dinner (50 grams of protein)
  • 1 chicken fillet at night. (20g)

This would result in 165 g of protein, which is at the upper limit of the requirement of an 80kg individual. Making it easy to get this on a daily basis is down to preparation, but that’s another story for another day. Don’t forget that by concentrating on REAL foods, you are also getting a lot of additional minerals, healthy fats, and goodness, not to mention the satisfaction that comes with eating tasty grub. On top of this, by getting into the habit of preparing and eating real, unprocessed, wholesome foods, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of health and vitality. Think about it. Your not going to be supping a chocolate and banana protein shake in 30 years time. We have been eating natural foods for hundreds of years. I would back the time tested meat and vegetables over manufactured foods that we only started consuming in recent years any day of the week.

Its not that we are against protein supplements in general, but you should realize that getting your protein from whole, unprocessed foods is a far superior way of fueling your training efforts and supercharging your recovery. From time to time, there are times when a protein supplement can be very handy. For example, if you have to travel home a distance after training, or if you are caught on the hop with no source of good food, then a high quality protein supplement can be a game saver! Its worth noting that all protein powders are not created equal, and you should listen to your body when you take any kind of supplement or food. If you have a negative reaction to the supplement (gas/ wind/ bloating/ discomfort), then stop taking it. Whey protein actually used to be a waste product of the dairy industry until someone had the light bulb idea of selling it to fitness enthusiasts. Despite what the nutrition companies say, listen to your body, and keep it happy. Stressing out your digestive system will only slow down your recovery, and halt your progress.

Remember that you get what you pay for. This goes for food and supplements as well. A cheap protein powder might do as much good to your recovery as a tub of ice cream. If you want to have a high quality protein supplement at hand for those just-in-case moments, buy high quality, and listen to the body.


This Article is By Ainle Ó Cairealláin MSc CSCS