What's the Scoop?

Graphic by Ashley Laflin

Graphic by Ashley Laflin

Michaela Fath

Many athletes and exercise devotees alike have added a popular dietary supplement to their lifestyles: protein powder. Although it varies from brand to brand, the popular health product has raised questions about its medical impact.

According to a 2016 report from the American College of Sports Medicine, the intake of high-quality dietary proteins is helpful for the maintenance, repair and synthesis of skeletal muscle proteins. In addition, the report says chronic training studies have shown that the consumption of milk-based protein after resistance exercise is e ective in increasing muscle strength and favorable changes in body composition.

Selena Baker, RDN, is a nutrition counselor at WellWorks, Ohio University’s wellness program, and says protein powder is the most frequently used supplement she sees among students. Although she understands that college students enjoy the convenience and portability of a protein shake, Baker says there are alternatives to consider.

“I think sometimes [protein powder] is a good idea,” Baker says. “But when you are on a student budget you want to think about asking if you can get just as much high-quality protein by eating a meal after a workout, whether that is something like chicken or canned tuna.”

Athletes of all types strive to reach the National Institutes of Health’s Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein. On average, individuals are encouraged to consume .8 grams per kilogram of body weight each day. Baker says foods such as salmon, eggs, Greek yogurt or plant proteins (such as beans, legumes or soybeans) can help people reach the recommended daily intake.

That’s a standard recommendation, but the ideal amount of protein can vary with body type, level of physical activity and weight goals. Baker says there can be a slight elevation of protein needed between athletes of all shapes and sizes, noting that a large bodybuilder may need more protein than a small long-distance runner.

Excessive amounts of protein intake can cause other problems. If the extra protein being consumed is not being used for building and repair, Baker says it will either be burned for calories or stored as fat.

“It depends not only on the type of physical activity, but also what your body weight goals are and what type of athlete you are,” Baker says. “I think the one thing that most people do is that they have excessive amounts of protein at one time versus having more moderate amounts spread across the day.”

From caffeine-based supplements to plant-based supplements, there are a number of protein powder types available on the market for consumers. With so many accessible options, Baker says people should carefully inspect the labels before making a nal decision.

Some protein powders contain a nutrition facts label, meaning everything in the product isconsidered a food ingredient and is Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved. Other protein powders labeled with a supplement facts panel contain dietary supplements, meaning “non-food” ingredients. Baker says those are the ones consumers must watch out for when choosing a powder.

“Unfortunately, they don’t have to disclose all sources of caffeine in the products that are considered supplements,” Baker says. “Herbal blends don’t have to list all of the milligrams of ca eine and that’s where you get some issues with people getting more caffeine than they think they are over the course of the day.”

A 2016 report from the American College of Sports Medicine also stated that routinely taking protein supplements may potentially increase lean muscle mass, improve nutrition deficiency and/or sustain energy during prolonged physical activity. Some athletes have experienced these effects, including those on the OU Powerlifting team.

OU Powerlifting team member Adam Kantor, a senior studying exercise physiology, has been an avid protein powder user for the past eight years.

“I find protein powder useful in order to get my desired amount of protein intake for the day,” he says. “Instead of having an unhealthy quick snack, I can just make a shake that will help my body recover.”

However, Kantor says he prioritizes balance in his daily diet and seeks protein from a variety of sources.

“Although protein powder is helpful, I wouldn’t rely solely on it,” Kantor says. “People should use protein powder as an aid to help them, but should still maintain a proper diet that provides protein from their food as well.”

As the popular shaker bottles make their way into more and more hands of those who exercise regularly, Baker encourages athletes to be cautious with the contents, price and labels with the available protein powders on the market. With a tight college budget, there are other ways to reach the ideal protein intake.

Aside from focusing on daily protein, Baker also emphasizes the importance of carbohydrates before a workout.

“[If people] are active before a workout, they primarily need carbohydrates,” she says. “If you haven’t eaten within a couple of hours before a workout, then 30 to 60 minutes before your workout have a high carbohydrate snack. Not loads of fat and ber, because that is going to make you uncomfortable and slow down gastric emptying… Don’t forget about carbs. Your body really likes carbs to run on.”