Protein Supplements for the Strength Athlete: Weighing the Evidence

Protein Supplements for the Strength Athlete: Weighing the Evidence

The use of protein supplements has been growing in popularity among the bodybuilding and power athlete community. I know we’ve all seen those individuals at the gym in the weight room carrying around their shaker cups, guzzling protein shakes before, during, and after their workouts, but how much protein is needed and are they really necessary?

Many sports dietitians agree that if a balanced diet is consumed, protein supplements are not necessary. It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, Dietitians of Canada, and the American College of Sports Medicine that physical activity, athletic performance, and recovery from exercise are enhanced by optimal nutrition. Because regulations related to ergogenic aids are poorly enforced, they should be used with caution after careful evaluation for safety. A qualified sports dietitian should provide individualized nutrition direction and advice following a nutrition assessment.

First off, what is protein’s major role in the strength athlete?

During strength/resistance training protein is majorly used for muscle repair, recovery, and growth. It is not used as a main source of fuel.

Next, what are the protein recommendations for the strength athlete?

Protein needs range from 1.2-1.7 g/kg/d (0.55-0.77g/lb/d). The maximum amount of protein that most adults can use per day is 0.9 grams per pound of body weight.

Food or supplements – which are better?

Current evidence indicates that protein supplements are no more/no less effective than food.  The Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics promotes the use of whole foods over supplements. The ethical use of performance enhancers is a personal choice and remains a controversial topic.

Recent studies have shown that high-quality proteins such as whey, casein, and soy can effectively be used for the maintenance, repair, and production of skeletal muscle proteins in response to weight training. Protein consumed in close proximity to strength exercise may enhance net gains in skeletal muscle. Protein supplementation has not been shown to positively influence athletic performance and therefore recommendations regarding protein supplementation are conservative and directed primarily at optimizing the training response and recovery period following exercise.

Ok, so you or your client has decided to use a protein supplement. What now?

Skeletal muscle protein synthesis is optimized through the consideration of protein quality, quantity, and timing.

Whey and casein powders are considered to have ‘high quality’ protein because they contain favorable levels of the essential amino acids. Timing your protein intake around workouts is also important. Research has shown that consuming up to 20 grams of protein after strength training helps provide optimal muscle protein synthesis. Also, the combination of simple carbohydrates to post-workout protein is recommended in a ratio of 3:1 or 4:1 (CHO:PRO) within 30 minutes of exercise. This means that a serving of protein powder offering 20g protein should be paired with adequate carbohydrate in the amount of 60-80g.  Several studies have shown that 25-30 grams of high-quality protein consumed at each meal may also be favorable to maintain healthy muscles.

If you’ve determined to use a protein supplement, be sure to choose one from a reputable manufacturer and follow the directions on the label without exceeding recommendations. More is not always better. If you choose to go the whole foods route a glass of low-fat/fat-free chocolate milk, a banana with 2 tablespoons of peanut butter, or 6oz of greek yogurt with 2 tablespoons of honey provide optimal carbohydrate to protein ratios for recovery.

There is still a clear need for long term studies designed to illuminate the course and magnitude of effects in muscle protein metabolism in response to protein supplementation in the power athlete. More research is needed in order to more accurately assess the impact of supplemental nutrition interventions on the rate of muscle recovery and growth.



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Comment on this post


  1. gilmoreran on November 2, 2012 at 7:56 am

    I think a continuous research and studies should be done to assess the effectivity, accuracy and impact of protein supplementation for strength athletes.

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