"Supplements" and "Protein" are the two of the most misunderstood terms of the 21st century and ridiculously controversial.
Everybody talks how "bad" supplements are. But nobody can explain WHAT they are!
Everybody warns each other about the "side-effects". But nobody can cite even a single case where the so-called side effects were caused!
Everybody cries "Excess protein! Organ damage! But their diets lack enough protein to even meet the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) let alone support muscle growth!
The Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) are quantities of nutrients in the diet that are required to maintain good health in people.
Why isn't anybody crying "Excess body fat!" when that is easily seen to damage the body's entire metabolism and functioning of all organs and physiological systems? Especially when India is facing rising obesity in its population. India has the dubious honor of having the world's highest number of diabetics! All thanks to its diet which is traditionally & culturally high in carbohydrate & low in protein!
This is the paradox that all technically-sound Indian nutrition/fitness professionals and the defamed supplement industry need to constantly battle.
Association with steroid use in sports and bodybuilding - fear of so-called "side" effects"
Although their use is illegal and banned by the IOC, anabolic steroids are used by many athletes including bodybuilders. These greatly increase testosterone levels, tremendously boosting anabolism and dramatic muscle gains may be seen.
Due to the change in sex hormone levels out of the normal physiological frames, many side effects are possible. They may range from temporary minor effects such as acne and hair loss, to serious permanent effects such as impotence, gynecomastia (breast formation in males) and liver/other organ damage.
Due to the extreme competitiveness and attempts to break the boundaries of genetic limitations, steroid use is on the rise.
This has proved to be the BIGGEST BANE to the fitness and supplement industry. Supplements have always been paying the price of steroid use and abuse.
Hearing the serious side effects of steroids has clouded the minds of most of the public. Their minds strongly associate supplements with steroids. They easily equate something that is "not food" with "not natural, i.e. artificial" and quickly jump to the panic-stricken conclusion that food supplements are "Drugs!" or "Steroids!" with alarm bells ringing in their minds.
Improper or ignorant use
Improper intake of anything is bad. Even if a person is careless about his/her food and water intake, it can lead to dehydration, acidity or even metabolic disorders such as diabetes. That is not the fault of the food but of the irresponsible consumer! Little do people bother to realize that!
Certain stimulants may be indiscriminately used as "shortcuts to fat loss", substituting a correct fitness and nutrition regime. Ladies or those from the film/glamour industry often fall prey to this illusion of an easy way to get slim or ripped without training or following a restricted diet.
When used, these stimulants are to be taken only in a LIMITED dosage as an addition to a sound training and nutrition regime, NOT AS A SUBSTITUTE. Their labels clearly state that they are not to be used by individuals with existing or underlying conditions such as; hypertension, heart problem, thyroid abnormalities, asthma, etc; when pregnant or nursing; or if under any anti-depressants, etc. These warnings are often ignored.
Again, the supplement pays the price for consumer carelessness.
Media hype and misinformation
Media needs a sensation to sell. With the cut-throat competition, splashing stories with shocking or sensational headlines is rampant. Another contributing factor is irresponsible or careless journalism without verification of facts in a hurry to meet deadlines or just to write what the reader wants to read. For example "creatine kills two" will probably be more eye-catching than "creatine increases power"! Articles providing correct supplement information are rare, and if printed, may be less prominently placed.
The media again has also been a major player in creating and amplifying the two phobias discussed above, steroid-supplement confusion and supposed "harmful effects". Articles discuss protein, creatine, drugs and steroids in the same sentence with absolutely no distinction in their nature, use or effects. Misleading, incomplete and contradicting sentences try to hide the obvious lack of information. This further increases the ignorance and myths, and instills a strong fear in the minds of gullible readers.
For example, when an Indian athlete was caught for doping in the Olympics, a top national daily ran articles on the abuse of 'steroids, protein and drugs' in sports that has influenced youngsters, leading to an 'alarming' increase in use of 'harmful creatine, drugs and stimulants' for fast gains. The athlete was caught for Anabolic steroid usage & the daily blamed supplements.
Our society tends to accept even the worst faults of its members, perceiving it as a 'known devil'. Any foreign entrant (even a savior!) is usually treated with suspicion as an unknown dangerous element.
Supplements also receive such step-sisterly treatment. Known vices that severely harm our body such as tobacco and alcohol are not a social taboo. But supplements that can only improve our fitness levels and protect our body from deterioration are seen as extremely dangerous.
In spite of the increasing number of tobacco-related deaths, a father may treat smoking as a natural behavior of the youth and may just mildly reprimand him. But if a box of protein supplements enters the house there is panic!
A popular Indian publication once ran an article warning people about the "Ill effects of Supplementation". And in the same issue was an article giving tips on "Responsible Drinking (Alcohol)". That speaks for itself!
Fear of "excess protein" and "organ damage"
An Indian diet is carbohydrate-based and tends to be high-carb, high-fat and low-protein. Whereas a Western diet tends to be high-protein high-fat and low-fibre with excessive consumption of meat-based junk foods such as burgers and pizzas as sole components of meals. This has led to a whole lot of literature printed in the U.S. on 'benefits of vegetarianism' and 'harmful effects of excess protein'.
Unfortunately, with lack of Indian research and advanced literature, most of the Indian public and professionals have formed their opinions based on literature applicable ONLY IN THE WEST; without bothering to analyze the Indian scenario that is totally opposite!
More than 90-95% of Indian diets do not even meet the RDA of protein, let alone the increased requirements of an exercising individual. An accidentally higher protein intake of a hardcore non-vegetarian or those whose diet has been modified by a sports nutritionist may reach or cross the RDA but still tends to be insufficient for muscle growth.
Only a dedicated fitness enthusiast or athlete will prioritize his fitness enough to take painful efforts to meet his optimal protein requirement. That itself is a difficult task, especially for intensely training individuals with a high muscle mass.
Consumption of 'excess protein' is therefore not easily possible and is a ridiculous term to be heard in the protein-deficient Indian population. If any protein does remain unused due to lack of intense training, it will definitely get stored as body fat. But optimal (or even higher) protein consumption in an otherwise healthy individual CANNOT cause any organ damage; and no such case has ever been reported.
Of course, since liver is a centre for protein metabolism and kidney a means to flush out the nitrogenous waste, if a person has a pre-existing kidney or liver condition, total protein in the diet has to be restricted. BUT whatever protein he/she consumes should be of high BV (since it can be best used for tissue repair) and use of whey protein in limited amounts may be a better choice than a higher amount of low BV proteins in food.
The fear of so-called 'excess protein' and 'organ damage' is nothing but a product of a fear in the West, hyped up by media (both Indian and Western) and compounded by actual cases of organ damage from steroid use.
As just discussed above, nothing damages the liver more than alcohol, and nothing ruins lung capacity more than smoking; Food supplements are incapable of these side effects & can only improve the nutritive value of your diet & yet people are more scared of supplements than they are of Smoking & Drinking alcohol
Protein supplements - Steroids. A world of difference
Protein is a macro-nutrient that is a natural component of our diet. It is indispensable as it is the only nutrient that can build our body's muscles. Neither carbohydrate nor fat can perform its functions.
Steroids are drugs that boost production of male anabolic hormone testosterone, which favors body’s muscle building processes over muscle breakdown. But the body still needs protein to build a muscle.
So proteins and steroids are totally different. The connection is only that both are used to gain muscle mass.
Simple use of the word ‘Anabolic’ DOES NOT mean steroids. ‘Anabolic’ simply means that which increases muscle growth. Any high-quality protein from food such as egg and chicken also supports muscle growth and is anabolic. But of course we know that neither egg nor chicken is a steroid. Well, NEITHER IS WHEY! The term ‘anabolic steroid’ is simply a property used to distinguish them from corticosteroid etc that are advised by doctors to reduce inflammation.
Protein supplements are governed by law FDA-FSSAI (Food Safety and Standard Authority of India) and CANNOT contain any steroids. They also CANNOT contain any stimulants (even something as common as caffeine) unless mentioned on the label. Stimulants are present in various combinations in fat loss supplements, never in protein supplements. Use of these stimulants is to be limited only as required.
Whey also known as (Cheese/Paneer or Curd left over Water) protein is a natural component of milk. It is found only in milk.
A whey protein supplement can be prepared ONLY by extraction of whey from milk or milk products. It CANNOT be manufactured or artificially synthesized. Nature is its only source.
Casein also known as (Cheese/Paneer) can only be derived from milk; albumin can only be derived from egg & soy isolates can only be derived from soybeans. Hence every supplement on the market may be produced in a factory, but finally the source has to come from nature.
Protein supplements do contain safest zero calorie sweeteners such as Sucralose (derived from sugar) and natural or natural identical flavors, so as to make a low-carbohydrate protein product more palatable and acceptable. But with a level of sweetness that is 600 times that of sucrose (Table Sugar), their contribution is small and in normally accepted quantities.
Whether something is good or bad for you has got nothing to do with whether it is natural or artificial. For example, there are mushrooms that are tasty and good for health, but there are deadly mushrooms that are poisonous. They both come from nature.
Even the plastic from which your Laptop, Mobile etc is made up from comes from the nature.
An irony of this discussion is that even as we are spending a lot of time and effort in explaining and clarifying the word 'supplements' and urging individuals to use it according to their requirement, mothers all over the country are forbidding their kids to go to school or play without a glass of Horlicks or Complan or Bournvita!
If you look closely, THEY ARE ALL SUPPLEMENTS. And so are Farex and Cerelac which we have fed our babies for years.
They differ from the supplements we are discussing in that they contain high quantity of carbohydrates and very small amounts of protein, providing less protein benefits to adults.
Human milk has the highest quantity of whey. That is why breastfed infants always grow at a faster rate and develops a stronger immune system than infants, who due to any circumstance are fed only cow's milk. Cow's milk contains only 20% whey.
Thus, Nature HAS DESIGNED whey to be available to a newborn because it is easily absorbed (very light on the stomach), supports faster muscle growth and has immune-boosting properties! So why not use it for our muscle growth too?
Supplements and their Government Regulation, In US and India
A 'Supplement' or a 'Dietary or Nutritional Supplement' is used to describe a nutrient, a formulation or some type of compound that is drug-free or natural. The word 'Supplement' means 'in addition to' and so supplements are meant to ADD TO the intake of nutrients from food, and not to act as a total substitute for food.
The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) was passed in the United States in 1994 [the final version of which was published in 1997], which amended the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938.
It defined a supplement or 'dietary supplement' as "a vitamin, mineral, herb (e.g. ginseng) or other botanical ingredient (except tobacco), amino acid (e.g. glutamine, leucine) and a concentrate, metabolite (e.g. creatine, glucosamine, alpha-lipoic acid, co-enzyme Q10), constituent, extract or combination of any of the above-listed ingredients" or any other dietary substance for use by humans to supplement the diet and increase total dietary intake.
Ingredients listed separately tell us the sources of the protein, carbohydrate and fat, giving us a further indication of the quality. The ingredients are always to be listed in descending order of the quantity present in the product. So even though the exact quantity of various protein and/or carbohydrate sources used may not be disclosed, their relative proportion can easily be judged.
In India, classification and regulation of supplements is done by Weights and Measures Act and the PFA (Prevention of Food Adulteration Act) now FDA-FSSAI (Food Safety & Standard Authority of India) by Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India.
The Next question, after a person has got over the issue of 'side effects', is always to ask with a curious look, "Do I REALLY need supplements?”. There is no one-word answer for that.
Supplement use is not an end or a goal in itself; they are not to be consumed just for the heck of it. They are A MEANS to reach your ultimate goal, i.e. your desired change in body composition and fitness by the intake of the correct quantity of superior quality nutrients at the specific time required.
So the first question should not be whether to use supplements. It should be
- What is my goal? What body composition/other fitness goal am I targeting?
- What quantity of each nutrient do I need and at what time so that I can most effectively reach my goal?
- Can I get this specific nutrient quality and quantity at the proper time on a daily basis without fail?
This should be answered after a realistic assessment of lifestyle, eating habits (vegan/eggetarians/non-vegetarian), food options available and the changes that can possibly be made in each.
If the answer to the last question is 'No', then YOU DEFINITELY NEED SUPPLEMENTS.
So supplements are not a must and should. But they offer you a way to reach your goal when any of the above-mentioned practical factors are an obstacle.
Supplements offer unique advantages that are, beyond a point, next to impossible to achieve through only food.
Required intake of superior quality nutrients
It is difficult to achieve a high intake of superior quality nutrients through only food as their quantity is usually very limited. For example, whey protein that has the highest biological value is only about 1 gm in a glass of milk! High quantity of pure casein or slow-release micellar casein is also not possible through food alone. The combination of various high quality carbohydrate sources found in supplements, such as maltodextrin and starches from various whole grains, is also difficult to achieve through only carbs from food.
Specific quantity/combination of nutrients desired at the exact time
Foods are all mixes of carbs, protein and fat in almost unchangeable quantities that are fixed by nature. To get a particular combination of nutrients in every meal or at special times such as pre- or post-workout is difficult. For example, non-vegetarian foods give excellent protein but a moderate-to-high quantity of fat (all saturated except for fish). Low-fat high-protein options are limited.
The specific combination of high-glycemic carbs (such as pure glucose) and fast-absorbed protein (such as pure whey) critical for maximum recovery after a workout is not possible through only food. Food substitutions compromise quality and thus the results from the workout.
Powerful antioxidants such as vitamins C and E are required in high doses to neutralize the massive free radical attack and exert an anti-catabolic effect. These quantities are impossible from food.
Putting all other factors aside, convenience is the BIGGEST deciding factor in supplement usage. All limitations in the practical feasibility of a diet are overcome by the simple use of the correct supplement at the right time. This factor alone can help clients maintain a specific diet in spite of practical or lifestyle limitations, and ensure its ultimate success.
A dire need in complete vegans
Vegetarianism is a MAJOR obstacle in achieving both the quality and quantity of proteins absolutely essential for muscle growth. Mostly Plant proteins are of inferior quality, limiting in one or more essential amino acid(s) and are insufficient to support optimal protein synthesis on their own except Soy protein. Also, they are always combined with an undesirably high amount of carbohydrates.
Use of whey and casein supplements, and soy in limited amounts, can easily raise their protein quality adequate for optimal muscle repair and growth.
Eggetarians or lactoovovegetarians (those who consume egg in addition to milk and vegetarian foods) have the option of liberally adding high BV egg protein to their diet but complete vegans (consume only milk and vegetarian foods) do not. Milk and milk products offer excellent quality casein protein but quantities are small and again combined with a lot of carbs.
Use of protein supplements is a dire need for complete vegans.
Supplementation is never a need in itself. Its sole purpose is to achieve a certain protein quality and quantity as required by the targeted goal.
Hence the need for supplementation is relative to the other high-quality protein options open to the consumer. Protein supplements need to be incorporated in quantities according to the consumers requirement and at times when the diet is unable to provide high-quality protein or when a protein source from a supplement offers superior benefits than any from food.
An important factor is whether vegetarianism is followed, and the non-vegetarian food options available.
Vegetarianism, or the reliance on foods of vegetable origin for nourishment, has been practiced throughout history by a wide variety of people for different reasons, particularly focused on religion, health concerns, and ethical qualms about the welfare and killing of animals.
But the number of true vegetarians or vegans (in the sense that they eat no animal based foods) may be small. Many non-vegetarians may deliberately turn vegetarian in the mistaken belief that all non-vegetarian foods are the biggest contributors to excess body fat and health problems. This has been especially escalated with the cry for vegetarianism as the answer to widespread obesity and heart problems in the West, where diets are higher in protein and saturated fats, and low in fibre.
Complete Vegans avoid milk, cheese, butter, eggs, and all other products derived from animal sources, even though animals are not killed to produce them. Fruitarians are rare; those who do not eat animals, animal based products, vegetables, or cereals, leaving them with a diet of only dried fruit, nuts, and perhaps honey.
Much more common are Lactovegetarians and Lactoovovegetarians (eggetarians) they do not eat any food obtained by slaughtering animals but have no objection to consuming products derived from animals without slaughter, such as milk (lacto in Latin) and possibly, eggs (ovo).
Ovolactopollovegetarians eat poultry in addition to eggs and milk. Pescovegetarians consider fish an acceptable food (and perhaps also eggs, milk, cheese, and so on) but not any land animals.
Complete Vegans / Lactovegetarians
In complete vegans, the only main sources of protein available are Soy/Soya and Soyabean products such as tofu.
- Soya and tofu offer better protein quality than other pulses and legumes.
- Sprouts and daals (legumes) provide very poor quality protein, extremely low in methionine. Mutual supplementation with the protein in cereals does occur. But it cannot provide enough quantities of even the essential amino acids, let alone the non-essential amino acids, required to support a fast rate of protein synthesis required by an exercising individual. It cannot reach the standard of a first-class protein.
- Also, all the above foods are combined with a higher quantity of carbs, especially pulses. A high-protein low-carb meal is not an option. Complete vegans DO NOT HAVE ANY pure source of high quality protein.
Protein supplements are a MUST for complete vegans seeking to improve their body composition or fitness. They need to be incorporated as liberally as the client can accept; especially at crucial times such as post-workout, when high quality and quantity of protein is paramount and at night, when a high-protein low-carb meal intake may be required and when a good quality protein can easily favor anabolism over catabolism.
This also applies to Lactovegetarians. For them, Milk and milk products such as paneer and skimmed milk powder are an option. These offer excellent quality casein protein but quantities are limited, and always bring along more of carbs.
Eggetarians or lactoovovegetarians (those who consume egg in addition to milk and vegetarian foods) can obtain good quantities of precious amino acids from liberal use of eggs. But protein-fat combination in eggs is a limiting factor. To obtain the best amino acid profile, both the egg white and yolk need to be consumed. But the egg yolk also adds saturated fats and cholesterol to the diet. Exclusion of yolks again drops the protein quality.
A compromise can be reached by including egg whites and yolks in a certain combination such as 4:2 or 3:1 depending on the individual's goal and whether other high quality proteins are available to the body.
An eggetarian diet, especially if low-fat, suffers in protein quality. It cannot supply optimal quantities of essential and non-essential amino acids required to favor anabolism over catabolism.
The need for protein supplements is HIGH.
Non-vegetarians may seem to have ample choice of high quality proteins from eggs, chicken, fish and red meat.
But many nutritional considerations tend to narrow the food options
Egg yolks and red meat need to be restricted due to the higher fat and cholesterol content. The white meat also needs low-fat cooking media, depending on the extent of fat restriction required. Consumption of only chicken is also not the best choice as it supplies only saturated fats. Fish is also needed to supply omega-3 fatty acids essential for efficient metabolism and fat-burning.
All food options aside, the BV of none of the above foods can meet that of whey. More importantly, foods CANNOT MATCH UP to supplements at crucial times like Pre and post-workout.
The specific needs of a pre- (slow-acting) and post-workout (fast-acting) protein, supplying rich amounts of anti-catabolic amino acids such as BCAAs and glutamine cannot be met through any food sources.
So there is a DEFINITE need for protein supplements, even in Non-vegetarians, especially pre and post-workout.
Practical or lifestyle limitations further increase the need for protein Supplements in all three classes in order to meet their requirement for High-quality proteins.