Supplements? Really? That’s the first reaction I got from a 27-year-old client. He clocked 6 hours a week at the gym, and did a mix of functional training, weight training with moderate to heavy weights and 2 hours of running a week. He ate eggs, but was otherwise vegetarian, eating the average Indian home-cooked meal, yet he was resisting the idea of protein supplements.
I tried to reason with him that his diet did not even provide the basic recommended daily allowance of protein the body requires, let alone match the levels required for the kind of physical exercise he was doing. A typical nutrition consult of a client would require me to evaluate his daily activities, factor in his genetics, lifestyle and exercise commitments and equate that with nutrient requirements of carbohydrates, proteins and fats. All that the protein supplement would do would be to make sure that he stayed strong and healthy, and repair and rebuild the muscle tissue that a person loses and damages while exercising.
An average individual requires 0.8-1g of protein per kilogram of body weight. And if you’re exercising, it could go up to to 1.4g/kg of body weight. Adequate nutrition makes training sessions efficient, reduces muscle soreness and speeds up recovery between training sessions. Inadequate nutrition, particularly lack of adequate proteins, is one of the biggest reasons for injuries and muscle soreness. Due to the confusion between steroids and ergogenic aids, natural supplements have come under scrutiny as well. But most protein shakes, if they are from a reputed company, are great nutrition for the body.
Here’s a quick look at some of the supplements that can help your body if you like exercising.
Whey is a dairy protein that is a by-product of the cheese-making process and is by far the most popular protein choice. Now, not all proteins are the same. They can vary widely in their amino acid profile, digestibility and nutritional value. A food protein is only considered complete if it includes all the nine essential amino acids. Animal proteins like chicken, fish, turkey and dairy products contain all nine. Most vegetarian sources of protein do not contain all the essential amino acids (an exception is soy).
Whey protein contains large amounts of branched-chain amino acids as well as the full spectrum of essential amino acids. Whey is also one of the fastest digesting complete proteins and ranks high on biological value (BV). A high BV means that the amino acid ratio is excellent for building muscle and that a large proportion of the protein ingested is absorbed and utilized by the body.
In its original form, whey contains significant amounts of fat and lactose. Whey isolate is just a more concentrated form of whey, with fewer carbohydrates and fat content, because of which it tops the charts for those looking to build lean muscle and/or drop weight. The best time to consume a whey isolate would be early in the morning, during the day and/or immediately after your workout, when your body needs protein the most.
Casein is the most abundant milk protein. It’s a complete protein but has a slower, more sustained release in the body than whey. Research shows that the digesting rate of protein is an important regulator of protein balance. Whey provides a quick burst of protein synthesis while casein makes an ideal protein supplement to sustain long periods of an anabolic or muscle-building environment. The best time to take casein would be an hour before bed. If you are looking to build size and preserve muscle, a combination of whey and casein would be ideal—whey to be had in the morning and immediately after your workout, and a scoop of casein at night.
It is the most abundant free amino acid found in the body and has an important role in muscle tissue repair. During periods of heavy and intense training, glutamine levels in the body start to deplete, which decreases strength, stamina and recovery. It could take five-six days for glutamine levels to return to normal. Depleted levels could impair immune function and enhance the risk of muscle injuries and tears. Glutamine plays a key role in protein metabolism and helps prevent muscle breakdown. It also increases the body’s ability to secrete the human growth hormone, which regulates fat metabolism and supports new muscle growth.
Around 5-10g of glutamine had before, during and after your workout could prevent muscle tears and strengthen immune function. This is a safe dietary supplement with no known side effects and does not need prescriptions from doctors. But as with any supplement, to avoid contraindications, always consult a physician before use.
Creatine is one of the most extensively studied nutritional performance aids. A naturally occurring amino acid-like compound that is found primarily in the muscles, studies have shown that increasing muscle creatine stores through supplementation can improve exercise and training adaptations. Creatine is found in foods such as beef, salmon and milk and about half of the daily requirement can be obtained from food itself.
Creatine supplementation has proved itself to be one of the safest and most effective ways to increase strength and muscle mass and improve performance. High levels of muscle creatine improve performance in high-intensity exercising, sprinting and in sports like weightlifting due to the sheer increase in muscle power. Does a non-athlete need creatine? That would depend on your fitness goals. For those looking for quick muscle growth, creatine is perfect. Creatine within the sports arena is not considered doping and is used as a safe and legal performance enhancer.
There is nothing better than proper food for your body’s nutritional requirements. But due to our hectic lifestyles, sometimes it is wise to opt for a meal-replacement shake rather than a bag of fries. Meal- replacement shakes are full of vitamins, minerals and nutrients. A good supplement would contain 220-230 calories per serving, less than 5g of fat per serving, 3-5g of fibre per serving, 10-15g of protein per serving, and should be fortified with one-third of the daily vitamin and mineral requirements.
This is in no way a substitute for healthy eating. Opt for a meal-replacement shake only when you find that you are stocking up on junk food instead of healthy food.
Sumaya Dalmia is a wellness consultant, fitness expert and owner of SUMAYA, a personal training studio in New Delhi.