If you need more vitamin C, does a fizzy tablet in your water replace a juicy orange? For those who simply don’t have the time to build out a rigorous meal plan, this is a real question. Multivitamins and other supplements have become a popular way to take in the nutrition our bodies need. From 2014 to 2018, sales of health supplements in Canada came up to about 900 million dollars.
Supplements are a massive market, but how helpful are they? Looking at two popular supplements, protein and probiotics, we can see what needs, if any, they fulfil in your health plan.
Where should you get your protein?
We've covered fitness trackers in another blog, so now let's take aim at the next most ubiquitous health craze: protein.
Protein is one of the highest-selling nutritional supplements in the world. You’ll be hard pressed to go to a gym and not bump into someone who supplements their diet with whey or some other form of protein. Even outside the gym, many are adding protein to the menu, and for a good reason. Protein is absolutely essential for muscle growth, strength and repair.
Proteins are molecules made of amino acids, structures which are the basic elements required for life (leucine, valine, tryptophan etc.). In addition to building muscle mass, protein also boosts our metabolism while helping us stay satiated—reducing levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin and increasing the production of hormones that make us feel full.
Higher protein consumption may also be beneficial if you’re reducing calories to decrease body fat. Two to three times the recommended daily amount of .8g/kg/day has been shown to help in fat-free mass preservation when combined with resistance training (4). This muscle growth works even when you sleep!
One study found that taking protein before bed may be beneficial for strength and muscle size (5). Participants in the study consumed a supplement with 27.5g of protein, 15g of carbohydrates and .1g of fat before bed and saw real benefits.
So what’s not to love? Maybe we should all go to our local retailer and buy boxes of protein to finish tonight. Will we wake up jacked? To answer this we have to step back and look at our overall protein intake including what’s in your meals.
Your food should be the first place you load up on protein for several reasons. Firstly, protein-rich foods contain other nutrients that work in concert with protein to help you get the most out of it. Powders are very specific and include one kind of protein, while whole foods offer a variety of proteins that provide different amino acid profiles. And some amino acids we can’t live without, literally.
There are nine amino acids that bodies don’t produce, the so-called nine essential amino acids. We rely on whole proteins in our food to supply them. Getting all nine of these essential amino acids from a variety of whole-protein sources helps in the overall absorption of protein. More absorption means you get more of the benefits of protein.
You might be surprised to find out that whey protein, our most popular protein, doesn’t contain methionine and phenylalanine, two essential amino acids. These are usually left out of your quick gym shake, so for more of the benefits of protein make sure to eat a variety of protein rich foods.
Another consideration is that most protein powders are heavily processed and contain additives that help make the otherwise unappealing beige powder palpably. Some additives include sugar, flavouring or colouring. Be aware that unwanted fillers and over-processing can cause unhealthy effects.
When it comes to protein, research suggests that at least 2g/kg per day will help you optimally build muscle or lose fat while maintaining muscle mass. That number goes up or down depending on your overall goals and nutrient absorption. (1) (2) (3). Use supplements alongside food sources of protein to enhance your nutritional intake and get the most benefits from your protein.
Should you take probiotics?
“For those of us who aren’t dealing with a severe intestinal disorder that requires a doctor recommended dose of probiotic medication, the effects are almost zero.”
Probiotics are as popular as ever, and the supplement industry hasn’t failed to take notice. One business firm predicts that the global probiotics market will reach $66 billion by 2024. There are hundreds of pills on the market offering this new cure-all, but what are probiotics and are supplements the best way to get them?
Remember that bacteria are all around you. They surround your skin and fill up your body, mainly in the large intestines and colon. Probiotics are the “good” bacteria that do things like help you breakdown foods to retrieve and absorb more nutrients from them. They also aide in digestion by stimulating nerves in your gut that affects movement. When it comes to forming poop, probiotics call the shots.
Having healthy gut bacteria—a healthy microbiome—is super important for a laundry list of reasons, so are probiotic supplements the panacea many claim? It depends, but generally no.
Similar to protein, one issue is variety. There are countless kinds of bacteria in your body working holistically. On the other hand, supplements are manufactured if the food manufacturer know how to grow that bacterial strain, not necessarily whether that strain is your best option to improve your health. This focus leads to a narrowed focus on a handful of bacteria types when your body depends on hundreds.
What’s more, everybody’s body is different, as is their microbiome. What strains, and what proportions of those strains in you, may not be the same as your neighbour. Just like your fingerprint, the bacteria in your stomach are uniquely yours. Supplements can’t take this into account.
A rigorous study done at the University of Copenhagen looked through several trials and seemed to conclude that taking probiotic supplements had no positive effect on adults who were already healthy. For those of us who aren’t dealing with a severe intestinal disorder that requires a doctor recommended dose of probiotic medication, the effects are almost zero.
Your stomach has tens of trillions of bacteria, and a pill with a few million just isn’t enough to change the balance already established in your gut.
An alternative to probiotics are prebiotics—food containing nutrients that “good” bacteria eat. There’s no broad consensus on ideal daily servings of prebiotics, but your best source is fiber rich natural food like roots, fruits, greens and whole grains. They offer a long-term way to promote a healthy gut.
No shortcuts to eating right
Our modern lives often force us to make hard choices between juicy oranges and cups of fizzy orange water. Depending on the situation, a supplement might be the right choice, but don’t assume so. Look into what your needs are to ensure that your fitness journey includes good nutritional options.
The kinesiologists at Symmetrix can help you put together a plan for a healthier you. With a science-driven approach that takes into account the newest discoveries, we can help you reach your goals. Set up a consultation with us today to get started on a nutritional plan that will work for you.
3 Phillips SM, Moore DR, Tang JE. A critical examination of dietary protein requirements, benefits, and excesses in athletes. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2007;17(Suppl):S58–76.