Should you be taking a protein shake? Get supplement savvy.
Before you buy that massive tub of powdered muscle, ask yourself these two questions: “What do I need?” and “What can I afford?” Next step: make sure you run it past your doctor. Only then can you start weighing up the options. “There are three broad categories of supplement shakes,” says Professor Du Toit Loots, professional athlete and professor in Metabolic Biochemistry at North-West University. “The key is finding the right one for you.” Supplements fall into three general categories, depending on your goal. Start here.
1/Mass builders – This type of supplement should ideally be taken by guys who struggle to gain weight, have a super fast metabolism and who are trying to bulk up . “Mass builders are normally the cheaper option, as they have less protein and more carbohydrates, which is a cheaper source of supplementation,” says Loots. “Our bodies preferentially use carbohydrates to fuel our metabolism. After that the remaining carbs and proteins would remain for muscle and weight gain.”
2/Muscle builders – These usually contain a 50:50 carbohydrates to proteins ratio, but these ratios can vary in either direction. “Compared to mass builders,” Loots explains, “muscle builders contain more protein and less carbs. These are typically used by active individuals wanting to gain muscle and not too much weight from fat.”
3/Protein Shakes – There are broadly two types of protein supplements; combined protein shakes (which contain a combination of whey, soy and egg) and pure whey shakes. “Although combined protein shakes are cheaper than pure whey shakes, the quality of the protein isn’t as good,” says Loots. “The soya protein used in these products is less easily utilised for muscle repair and growth, as compared to egg white proteins and whey.”
What about additives like creatine and glutamine?
“Creatine is a muscle fuel that has been shown to have performance enhancing effects and is considered safe when used in the short term, by people over the age of 18,” says clinical dietitian, Pippa Mullins. Mullins warns that creatine supplementation should be used correctly. Drink responsibly, because the side effects, which include nausea and gastrointestinal upset, are nasty. Glutamine is also often added to protein shakes to help support the immune system, says Mullins. According to Professor Yoliswa Lumka, head of the Sport Performance Institute at Stellenbosch University, glutamine may also assist in muscle cell repair after weight training. However natural additives seem to increase the effectiveness of supplementation, don’t let this be an essential part of your decision, says Loots. “Often the amount of creatine and other natural additives in the shake aren’t enough to be effective, and are merely a marketing strategy to get the product sold.” Get bang for your buck by choosing the best quality protein shake, that matches your fitness goals and your lifestyle.
Approach with extreme caution when the sales rep uses these two terms:
“Natural anabolic booster” – “‘Natural’ is often associated with safety, but these supplements may be contaminated with banned substances,” says Mullins. “While natural anabolic boosters have potent effects on health or performance, and are used for specific purposes, their potency may also have negative side effects, so use with consent of a dietician or exercise specialist.”
“Meal replacement” – “Nothing can replace a balanced, healthy plate of food, but many people don’t have the time or energy to prepare a balanced meal three to five times a day,” says Mullins. Meal replacement shakes that contain a good blend of carbs, kilojoules and protein are a good substitute for fast food and takeaways. “Using a pure protein supplement, however, would not be advisable as a meal replacement.”
Protein Pro Tips
Professor Du Toit Loots breaks down the instructions. An active adult needs about one gram of protein per kilogram of body weight. If you want to pile on muscle up it to two grams per kilogram in body weight. When choosing a pure whey protein shake, go for the one with the highest protein per 100g as your guideline. Get half through your diet and half through supplementation. Keep in mind that a 100g of meat contains approximately 25g of protein, whereas a good protein shake would typically contain about 70g to 80g, without the extra fat. If you’re taking protein for a workout rather take it directly afterwards. Post training protein intake should be accompanied by some carbs, to replenish the depleted glycogen stores. Try a peanut butter sandwich postworkout. It raises your insulin levels, which slows down protein breakdown.