Protein Supplements: How effective are they for athletes?
The effect of nutritional supplements on improving athletic performance and recovery is important, especially when the benefits provided cannot be achieved with food alone. Nevertheless, when it comes to the intake of protein and amino acid supplements, it cannot be uncontrolled, but it should be personalized for sports people and athletes by experts.
“Proteins help in many different functions of the body, including tissue growth and maintenance, muscle and bone metabolism, as well as to maintain muscle mass and physical performance in the elderly. They carry nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals, as well as oxygen, to the cells through the bloodstream. In addition, proteins contribute in the synthesis of hormones, such as cortisol, which plays a key role in metabolism. Furthermore, they support the production of antibodies to fight any infection. This is why protein deficiency can lead to a number of health issues”, as explained by Mr. Dimitris Oikonomakis, Specialist in Dietetics, head of a team of nutritionists and trainers who love good nutrition and exercise.
Under normal circumstances, the body breaks down the same amount of proteins that it needs to build and repair tissues. The average person who eats a usual Western diet receives enough protein to cover his/her daily needs. However, other times, your body needs more protein, such as for instance in periods of illness, when recovering from an injury or surgery, during pregnancy and while breastfeeding.
In comparison with people leading a sedentary lifestyle, the body of those who exercise regularly and intensively has a greater need for protein so as to ensure adequate energy production to achieve the high targets they set, as well as for sufficient immune function. Protein need increases along with increasing intensity of the training to achieve the highest possible efficiency. This is why athletes receive large amounts of proteins during the day that cannot be fully covered through nutrition.
Therefore, in recent years, both amateur and professional athletes use widely protein and amino acid supplements (amino acids are chemical compounds that synthesize thousands of proteins in the body and support muscle growth and regeneration) for both muscle development and to improve their performance.
To meet these requirements, various supplements have been developed, such as Branched-Chain Amino Acid (BCAA) supplements, which are recommended both to improve workout performance and to mitigate post-workout muscle soreness and fatigue during the workout.
Apart from their effects on athletic performance, their effects on the body should be also taken into account, as the excessive intake of proteins leads to the presence of moreindigestible substances in the large intestine, which may also have negative effects.
The required amounts of proteins and their effects vary considerably between athletes and other users, and depend on the personal level of athletic performance, overall nutrition and body’s metabolic status. Training intensity, type and source of proteins, and protein ingestion timing from any source affect their effectiveness.
However, formal recommendations for the amounts to be consumed vary. In the US, the recommended dietary protein intake for an average adult is 0.8 g of protein/kg/day, while in the European Union is 0.66of protein/kg/day in healthy adults, irrespectively of their gender. Recommendations differ when it comes to athletes, and they are more complicated depending on the type of training (endurance/strength).
The scientific community has already recognized that current recommendations are inadequate for athletes, the elderly or obese people who want to lose weight, and that is why new studies are constantly being conducted.
Therefore, when recommending a nutrition plan with high protein content, special attention should be paid on the source of these proteins and their total amount. As far as protein and amino acid supplements are concerned, they are beneficial when consuming the right amounts depending on physical/sports activity, as amateur athletes are more sensitive than professional athletes. In any case, they should be taken as supplements when our nutrition includes proteins.
“In general, the role of proteins and amino acids in good physical condition, as well as in managing body weight and controlling body composition, is somehow difficult to understand and complex to implement. To use safely such supplements, many variables should be adequately understood, and only professional nutritionists have this knowledge. Therefore, before taking any supplement, we should consult with a specialist to ensure that the type and amount of the supplement are the right ones to achieve our goals safely”, Mr. Dimitris Oikonomakis concludes.