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What are protein supplements?

What are protein supplements?

Protein supplements are a convenient and quick way to provide this macronutrient so requested by athletes. They are within the group with the greatest evidence (A) according to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) and are part of sports foods such as gels, bars, drinks, or electrolyte supplements, among others.

In most cases, a person can meet their protein needs from food, but in the form of supplementation it can be useful in different situations such as:

Not having a more practical protein source due to time or storage issues eg on a trip

Provide fast-digesting protein on days when there is double training or competition.

When there is little hunger.

Fortify a food or meal that is low in protein.

Periods of fat loss in which protein needs must be increased considerably to avoid losing muscle mass.

Therefore, taking it in isolation will depend on many factors such as the training load, the objectives, the lifestyle, and the existing eating plan, among others.

The main function of proteins is the construction and maintenance of muscle, bones, cartilage, blood, tissues, enzymes, and hormones. It also participates in recovery, in the immune system, facilitates the development of strength, and gives satiety, among others.

It is usually presented in powder form, but also in drinks, bars, and fortified foods. They are also included in mixed macronutrient supplements along with carbohydrates, fats, individual amino acids (in the case of vegetable proteins), and other supplements such as creatine, caffeine, or beta-alanine (although it is recommended that they be taken separately).

The amount needed per dose depends on the needs of the day, but the scoops are usually 20 to 35g. In general, it is usually recommended that protein intake of this type be limited to 1 or 2 servings a day and prioritize those that do not contain many ingredients.

However, it should be reiterated that the proteins in a complete food are still a better option than in isolation. In the end, they will not provide as much satiety as solid food, nor micronutrients such as calcium, iron, zinc, vitamins, and essential fatty acids, although there are already some of them that do provide extra vitamins and minerals.

protein sources

There are many sources of protein in the form of supplementation that differ according to the origin and its quality (digestibility score of essential amino acids or DIAAS).

The choice between them will depend on the objective and context of the person. Some provide higher amounts of amino acids, such as leucine (responsible for mTOR activation), and/or have greater or lesser bioavailability (digestibility and content of nutrients that interfere with their absorption).

They are presented in neutral form or with flavors (in this case they have sweeteners). Regarding leucine, it is recommended that there be at least 3g per dose.

Whey or whey protein

Whey or whey protein is the one with the greatest evidence, with high quality and low cost.

It constitutes 20% of all milk protein and contains a high content of branched-chain amino acids such as leucine.

Depending on the degree of filtration, there are three types: concentrated (70-80% protein), isolated (90%), and hydrolyzed (99% and faster absorption). The remaining percentage that is left over are fats, carbohydrates and in the case of the concentrated ones they also contain lactose since the isolated and hydrolyzed ones, due to the extreme filtration they carry, are devoid of it, so it is very useful for those with a certain degree of intolerance to lactose.

casein supplement

Casein is also a protein that is obtained from milk. It has a high quality, but slower digestion than whey protein.

It makes up 80% of all milk protein. It can be purchased in the form of casein, calcium caseinate, or casein hydrolysates. Due to their more sustained release of amino acids than whey, they are of special interest as a night intake (30 minutes before bedtime). Even though there is limited evidence, positive effects on the increase in muscle mass are observed with a dose of 40g before sleeping.

Egg protein (albumin)

Egg protein is also an interesting protein source, with high quality and slow digestion.

It is usually used in cases of people who have an allergy to cow's milk protein or some degree of lactose intolerance. They contain neither fat nor carbohydrates. It is found in powder form and from egg whites in supermarkets or in stores like ours NERSPORT (although the better quality is achieved if we mix it with some yolk).

Beef protein

Meat protein has high quality and high digestibility.

It is usually presented in the hydrolyzed form. It is quite an interesting protein, but it is more expensive than whey. However, it contains higher iron content.

It is an interesting source for people who are allergic or intolerant to milk, allergic to eggs, and lactose intolerant.

Vegetal protein

Vegetable proteins are also another protein source that has gained many followers in recent years. Unlike those of animal origin, they have a lower digestibility and poorer quality, but if it is a mixture of different sources (eg, cereal and legume proteins) and the total intake is increased, this limitation can be overcome. You could also mix proteins of vegetal and animal origin. They contain a very low amount of fat and carbohydrates

Among them, soy protein is the one with the highest biological value and rapid digestion. It is found in concentrated and isolated forms. It contains less leucine than those of animal origin, but it can be resolved by fortifying it with this amino acid.  

Other proteins such as peas, chickpeas, rice, and hemp are often used in combination, fortifying them with leucine and other amino acids or in greater quantities as they are of low quality.