Updated: Apr 23
Who hasn't seen the glamorous influencer, promoting that "much needed" pre workout? Or the bloke in the gym who swears by EAA's? Or seen someone swigging some chocolate milk in a protein shaker post workout?
It's hard to know what we actually need and what we are simply being flogged for money's sake! I have tried to write as concise an article reflecting on the pros and cons of the 4 main legal supplements that you can find on the market today and commonly touted by influencers.
So, here goes.....
CREATINE Creatine is, in my opinion, a super supplement, the one supplement everyone can benefit from whether they train or not. It is found naturally in the body and is used as a supplement most often in order to improve performance. It may also boost brain function, fight certain neurological diseases, and accelerate muscle growth
Increased strength: Creatine has been shown to increase strength and power output in athletes. It does this by increasing the amount of energy available to muscle cells during high-intensity exercise.
Improved muscle growth: Creatine supplementation has been shown to increase muscle size and promote muscle growth, particularly when combined with resistance training.
Enhanced endurance: Creatine may also improve endurance during high-intensity exercise, such as sprinting or interval training.
Faster recovery: Creatine supplementation has been shown to speed up recovery time after exercise, allowing you to train harder and more frequently.
Increased brain function: Creatine has been shown to improve cognitive function and memory and reduce brain fog in some people, which may help you to stay more focused during training and competition.
Improved bone health: Creatine has been shown to improve bone health and increase bone density, which is particularly important for women who are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis.
May help to fight certain neurological diseases such as: Huntington's disease, Alzheimer's disease and Epilepsy
Research suggests that creatine supplements may lower blood sugar level, by increasing the function of glucose transporter type 4 (GLUT-4), a molecule that brings blood sugar into your muscles
Creatine can be taken in powdered or capsule form either pre or post workout but generally the consensus is post workout will give optimal results. These are some examples:
PROTEIN POWDER Protein powder is a dietary supplement. It should only be used where a natural source of protein is either not readily available; as an aid to hit your protein requirements or the convenience of on the go support.
Increased muscle growth: Protein powder is a convenient and easy way to increase protein intake, which is essential for muscle growth and repair. Adequate protein intake is necessary to build and maintain lean muscle mass.
Improved exercise recovery: Protein powder can help improve recovery after exercise by providing the body with the necessary amino acids needed to repair and rebuild muscle tissue.
Convenient and versatile: Protein powder is a convenient and versatile supplement that can be easily added to smoothies, shakes, or baked goods. It can also be used as a meal replacement for those on the go or looking to increase protein intake.
Weight management: Protein powder can help with weight management by promoting feelings of fullness and reducing appetite. It can also help preserve muscle mass while on a calorie-restricted diet.
Improved bone health: Protein powder can help improve bone health by increasing bone density and reducing the risk of osteoporosis, especially when combined with resistance training.
Protein Powder shakes are best taken post workout within 30 minutes to an hour after a workout for optimising muscle growth and recovery, it's also important to consume an adequate amount of protein throughout the day to support overall muscle health and development or in the case of casein protein before bedtime.
Protein powders come in a variety of options to support your dietary needs.
Whey protein concentrate: This is the most common type of whey protein powder. It contains a moderate amount of protein, as well as small amounts of fat and lactose. It's a good all-around option for most people. This is your most budget friendly option.
Whey protein isolate: This type of whey protein powder is more processed than whey protein concentrate, which removes most of the fat and lactose. As a result, it contains a higher percentage of protein (usually around 90%) than concentrate. It is a good option for those who are lactose intolerant or looking for a higher protein content.
Casein protein: Casein protein is derived from milk, like whey protein, but is digested more slowly by the body. This makes it a good option for use before bed or as a meal replacement shake.
Soy protein: Soy protein is derived from soybeans and is a popular option for vegetarians and vegans. It contains all nine essential amino acids and is a good source of protein for those who cannot tolerate dairy.
Pea protein: Pea protein is derived from yellow split peas and is a good option for vegetarians and vegans. It's also hypoallergenic and easy to digest.
Hemp protein: Hemp protein is derived from the seeds of the hemp plant and is a good option for vegans. It's also high in omega-3 fatty acids and fiber.
Here is a brief overview of the pros and cons:
High-quality protein: Whey protein is a complete protein source, meaning it contains all nine essential amino acids needed by the body. It is also high in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), which are important for muscle growth and repair.
Fast-acting: Whey protein is quickly absorbed by the body, making it a good option for post-workout recovery or to quickly boost protein intake.
Good taste and mixing: Whey protein powder is known for its good taste and ability to mix well, making it a popular choice for protein shakes and smoothies.
Lactose intolerance: Whey protein is derived from milk, so it may not be suitable for those with lactose intolerance or milk allergies.
Animal product: Whey protein is derived from milk, so it is not a suitable option for vegans.
VEGETARIAN PROTEIN: Pros:
Variety of sources: Vegetarian protein powders can be derived from sources such as pea, rice, hemp, or soy, providing a variety of options to choose from.
Allergen-friendly: Vegetarian protein powders are generally free from common allergens such as dairy, gluten, and soy, making them a good option for those with allergies or intolerances.
Sustainable: Vegetarian protein powders are often more environmentally sustainable than animal-derived options.
Not always complete protein sources: Some vegetarian protein sources may not be complete protein sources, meaning they may not contain all nine essential amino acids.
Lower in BCAAs: Some vegetarian protein sources are lower in BCAAs than whey protein, which may not be ideal for muscle growth and repair.
VEGAN PROTEIN: Pros:
Plant-based: Vegan protein powders are made from plant-based sources, making them suitable for vegans and those with dairy allergies or intolerances.
Allergen-friendly: Vegan protein powders are generally free from common allergens such as dairy, gluten, and soy.
Sustainable: Vegan protein powders are often more environmentally sustainable than animal-derived options.
Not always complete protein sources: Like some vegetarian protein sources, some vegan protein sources may not be complete protein sources.
Lower in BCAAs: Some vegan protein sources are lower in BCAAs than whey protein, which may not be ideal for muscle growth and repair.
Texture and taste: Some vegan protein powders may have a grainy texture or a less pleasant taste than whey protein, which may not be ideal for some users.
Overall, the best type of protein powder for an individual will depend on their dietary needs, preferences and goals
PROTEIN BARS PROTEIN BARS / BALLS are a popular on-the-go snack option for those looking to increase their protein intake or fuel up before or after exercise. I personally consume them for convenience and to get that that sweet "hit" in order to avoid devouring an entire box of chocolates! However, like any food or supplement, protein bars come with both pros and cons.
Here are some of the potential advantages and disadvantages of protein bars:
Convenient: Protein bars are a convenient and portable snack option that can be easily taken on the go or packed in a gym bag.
High protein content: Protein bars are typically high in protein, making them a convenient way to increase protein intake and support muscle growth and repair.
Variety: Protein bars come in a wide variety of flavors and formulations, making it easy to find one that fits your taste preferences and dietary needs.
Long shelf life: Protein bars have a longer shelf life than fresh food, making them a good option for stocking up or packing for a trip.
High in calories: Some protein bars can be high in calories, which can lead to weight gain if consumed in excess.
High in sugar and other additives: Some protein bars are high in sugar and other additives, such as artificial flavors and sweeteners, which can be detrimental to health if consumed in excess.
Expensive: Protein bars can be more expensive than other snack options, which may not be feasible for those on a tight budget.
Not as satisfying as whole foods: Protein bars may not be as satisfying as whole foods, as they may not provide the same level of satiety or flavor satisfaction.
May not be necessary: For most people, getting enough protein through whole food sources is sufficient, and protein bars may not be necessary.
My personal favourite bars are:
Fulfil Vitamin and Mineral Protein Bars 20g protein and low in sugar plus added vitamins and minerals Grenade Protein Bars 20g protein low sugar low carb PhD Smart Plant 20g protein low sugar low carb and vegan
Overall, protein bars can be a convenient and easy way to increase protein intake and support muscle growth and repair, but they should not replace whole food sources of protein in a well-balanced diet. It's important to choose protein bars with a moderate calorie content and minimal additives to optimise health benefits. Alternatively, you can make your own protein balls and protein cakes knowing exactly what ingredients you are putting in!
BCAA's and EAA's (Branch Chain Amino Acids and Essential Amino Acids)
Onto those supplements which get bandied about by influencers again! I have covered below what they are and why really you should either be getting sufficient BCAA/EAA in your food or protein supplements to not require additional supplementation. However, as noted, depending on your dietary requirements (ie, Vegan) you may find yourself short in which case these COULD be useful or simply the intensity and level at which you train (read that as "athlete") means these may even be necessary to make the shortfall.
BCAA and EAA are the building blocks of proteins.
BCAA include three essential amino acids: leucine, isoleucine, and valine. These amino acids are called "branched-chain" because of their chemical structure, which includes a chain of carbons with branches off of the main chain. BCAAs are important for muscle growth and repair, as they are metabolized in the muscles rather than the liver. They also help to reduce muscle fatigue during exercise and may improve exercise performance.
EAA are a group of nine amino acids that the body cannot produce on its own and must be obtained through the diet. These include histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan, and valine. Essential amino acids are important for many functions in the body, including protein synthesis, hormone production, and immune function. They are also important for muscle growth and repair, as they are the building blocks of muscle tissue.
While BCAAs are a subset of EAAs, all BCAAs are essential amino acids. This means that all BCAAs are included in the nine EAA, but not all EAA are BCAAs.
BCAAs are three specific essential amino acids that are important for muscle growth and repair, while EAA refers to a group of nine essential amino acids that are important for many functions in the body, including muscle growth and repair.
Pros of BCAAs:
Can help reduce muscle soreness and fatigue during and after exercise.
May improve exercise performance by reducing the breakdown of muscle protein.
Can help preserve muscle mass during calorie-restricted diets or during periods of low protein intake.
Cons of BCAAs:
Only contain three of the nine essential amino acids.
Can be expensive compared to other protein sources.
Some research suggests that high doses of BCAAs may increase the risk of insulin resistance and metabolic disorders in the long term.
Pros of EAAs:
Contain all nine essential amino acids, making them a more complete protein source.
Important for protein synthesis, muscle growth, and repair, as well as many other functions in the body.
Can be a useful supplement for vegetarians, vegans, and individuals with limited access to high-quality protein sources.
Cons of EAAs:
Can be more expensive than other protein sources.
May not be necessary for individuals consuming a balanced and varied diet with adequate protein intake.
Some research suggests that high doses of EAAs may increase the risk of insulin resistance and metabolic disorders in the long term.
Overall, BCAAs and EAAs can be useful supplements for certain individuals who's diet does not contain the EAA, but they are not necessary for everyone.
PRE WORKOUT Ahhh, yet another supplement heavily promoted by influencers and unless you're a high level athlete, again I do not recommend this as a need or benefit to training. I made a point of trialing a leading brand, which simply left me feeling permanently wired and getting headaches, my workout didn't see any improvement either, in reduced fatigue training wise or increases in weights lifted or reps out.
But in order to be impartial, here are the pros and cons:
Pre-workout supplements typically contain a blend of ingredients, such as caffeine, amino acids, and vitamins, that are intended to boost energy, focus, and endurance during exercise.
Pros of pre-workout supplements:
Increased energy and focus during exercise, which can lead to improved athletic performance.
Improved endurance and delayed onset of fatigue, allowing for longer and more intense workouts.
Enhanced muscle pump, which can help to increase muscle size and definition.
Cons of pre-workout supplements:
Some ingredients in pre-workout supplements, such as caffeine, may cause jitters, anxiety, and insomnia in some individuals.
Some pre-workout supplements may contain illegal or banned substances, so it's important to choose a reputable brand and check for third-party testing certifications.
Pre-workout supplements are not necessary for everyone and may not provide significant benefits for individuals with a balanced and varied diet and exercise routine.
I haven't made any recommendations, as I simply would not recommend these to clients. Better sleep, hydration, nutrition and a cup of coffee if you so wish is more than adequate!
In relation to all the above, do consult your GP if you have any underlying health conditions which could be made worse by consuming any of the above products. Particularly those with kidney or liver issues.
I hope you found the above information useful. What is your experience with supplements? Have you found them beneficial? Do you find it easy to get all your protein from natural food sources?
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