Protein powders – are they safe? are they necessary?

The biggest guys at the gym all take protein powder, celebrity athletes endorse it, and just look at the photos on the tubs, these powders get you ripped! Or do they? Are protein supplements just burning a hole in your wallet? Are they replacing fibre containing meals and leaving you constipated? Or worse still are they negatively affecting your health from contaminants undeclared on the label?

Some people have higher protein requirements than the general population, and could potentially benefit from a protein supplement:
– endurance athletes in heavy training
– Strength athletes in the initial stages of training
– athletes trying to gain body mass.
Most people will meet their protein needs easily through regular diet, but if you are vegetarian or vegan you may need to consider protein powder. Protein powders could also be more convenient for time-restricted carnivores. The key number to remember is 20g protein. This should be high biological value (i.e. animal or soy protein) to contain all the amino acid building blocks to repair and grow your muscle. Any more protein than this does not stimulate any more muscle growth. Taking 20g protein several times a day can keep muscle protein synthesis maximised during the 24hrs after a workout. To achieve this through normal diet see my blog post on ‘Tone up with your 20g recovery protein’

The main issue here is that the supplements industry is unregulated. Protein powders are not classed as food or medicine, and so many brands when randomly tested have been found not to match up with the label. There have been several lawsuits over the past year over protein supplements containing half the amount of protein promised on the label, but containing extra carbohydrates. They can also be contaminated with steroids and stimulants, which is a risk you cannot take if you are undergoing doping for elite level sports (visit WADA
for more information on this).

If you have made the decision that you would benefit from a protein supplement you will need to consider how to take it effectively and safely.
Effective: – Take the supplement in portion sizes equivalent to no more than 20g protein, any more than this cannot be used by the body.
– Aim to take the supplement within the 30minute ‘recovery window’ after exercise.
– Take alongside carbohydrates in a ratio of 4:1 carbs:protein. The carbohydrates will encourage muscle synthesis by stimulating the release of insulin, a natural anabolic hormone.
– Choose a brand that has been tested so you know the contents match up with the label: look for the Informed Sport
logo on the packet.
Safe: – I would not recommend taking any supplement that has not been safety tested in a laboratory. Look for the Informed Sport or NSF
mark on the packet. Don’t worry there are absolutely loads who go through this quality assurance process, you will still have a wide choice.

In conclusion I’d say yes, protein powders can be safe, but are they necessary? No. You can get the same protein from REAL FOOD, it’s not that time consuming, and it tastes better.  Seeds whizzed up into smoothies are almost flavourless, and once blitzed give a lovely angel delight texture with no grainy bits. Chia seeds particularly are great for adding extra protein and have the added bonus of omega three oils, perfect for anti-inflammatory effects post exercise. I’ve been making this ‘recovery smoothie’ for years and absolutely love it. Give it a go, its beats anything out of a tin or a packet.


Chia & Blueberry Protein Recovery Shake
2015-10-19 20:38:00

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Total Time
5 min

Total Time
5 min

  1. 1 cup frozen blueberries
  2. 1 banana
  3. 1 heaped tsp chia seeds
  4. 4 tbsp low fat natural yoghurt
  5. 300ml semi-skimmed milk
  1. Put all ingredients into a blender…. and blend!
  1. use a frozen banana if you like your smoothies extra thick, or if you fancy a smoothie bowl for the added satisfaction of eating your smoothie with a spoon
  2. Substitute in unsweetened, calcium fortified soya milk and soya yoghurt for a dairy free alternative
  3. A full portion would constitute one of your 5 daily meals/ snacks
By Helen Phadnis
Nom Nom Nerd

Front of Pack Nutrition Labelling:

Nutrient per 100g %RI per 723g serving %RI
Energy kJ 258 3% 1866 22%
Energy kcal 61 3% 443 22%
Fat 1.4g 2% 10.5g 15% Low
Saturated Fat 0.7g 3% 4.7g 23% Low
Total Sugars 8g 8% 57.9g 64% High
Salt 0.1g 1% 0.6g 10% Low
Protein 21.1g __ 2.9g

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