Hugo Luna, General Manager, Rick & Ann's GNC Stores
At this time of year, we see a big uptick in the use of pre-workout and protein supplements. People are getting serious about their fitness routines, and they’re looking to get as much as possible out of those routines.
In my last post, I wrote about pre-workouts. In this post, I want to talk about protein supplements: What they are, why you should use them, and how you should use them (and not use them, for that matter). And I’ll also talk a bit about picking the protein supplement that’s right for you.
Why use a protein supplement?
Your body needs protein.
Protein is an essential nutrient that is critical to building and repairing tissues, producing enzymes and hormones, and supporting the immune system. You can (and should) get protein in your diet. You can eat fish, meat, eggs, milk, nuts, and other protein-rich foods, but there are still situations where it makes sense to enhance that dietary intake with a supplement.
To support muscle growth: When you’re on a strength-training program, you need to be sure you’re getting sufficient protein. A protein supplement helps you with muscle growth and recovery. Some supplements are specifically formulated to promote the creation of body mass.
To improve sports performance: Athletes and active individuals use protein supplements to improve their athletic performance and to aid in recovery after exercise.
To meet your daily protein needs: Some people may have a hard time meeting their daily protein needs through whole food sources alone, especially if they follow a plant-based diet or have dietary restrictions. A protein supplement can help them meet those needs.
For convenience: Protein supplements are a quick and convenient way to consume protein, especially when you’re on-the-go or when preparing meals is not possible.
For weight management: Consuming protein can help promote satiety and reduce hunger, which can be helpful for weight management. Additionally, some protein supplements are low in calories and can be used as a snack or meal replacement option.
What is in a protein supplement?
Most protein supplements are dairy-based, but there are also plant-based supplements if you want to avoid dairy or other animal-based products.
Here are the basic options:
Whey protein: This is a byproduct of cheese production and is the most popular protein supplement **by far**. It is quickly absorbed by the body and has high levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) that are essential for muscle growth.
Casein protein: This is another dairy-based protein, one that is slower to digest than whey. It provides a sustained release of amino acids and is often taken before bedtime to support muscle recovery during sleep.
Soy protein: This is a plant-based protein that is a complete protein, meaning it contains all the essential amino acids needed by the body. It is a good option for vegans and vegetarians or for people with dairy allergies.
Pea protein: This is another plant-based protein that is also a complete protein. It is hypoallergenic and easy to digest, making it another good option for people with food sensitivities or digestive issues.
Other protein sources used in supplements include egg white protein, beef protein, and collagen protein. The type of protein supplement you choose will depend on your dietary needs, preferences, and goals.
When should I take the supplement?
The timing of when to take a protein supplement depends on your goals and lifestyle. Here are some general guidelines:
Post-workout: Many people consume a protein supplement within 30 minutes after a workout to help repair and rebuild muscle tissue that may have been damaged during exercise.
Between meals: Protein supplements can also be taken as a snack or to supplement meals throughout the day to increase protein intake and support muscle growth.
Before bed: Some people take a slow-digesting protein supplement, such as casein, before bed to provide a sustained release of amino acids to support muscle recovery during sleep.
In the morning: A protein supplement can also be taken in the morning to help jumpstart your metabolism and provide energy for the day.
Categories of protein supplements
The supplement you choose depends on your goals and your dietary concerns.
We divide the supplements we carry into four groups:
Low carb: These give you the protein without any extra calories.
Meal replacement: These will give you the protein you need, plus additional nutrients to make a balanced meal.
Weight gainer: Here you get the protein along with some calories to help you build mass.
Plant-based: If you want to avoid dairy or animal protein, you’ll want our plant-based supplements.
Check out our website ‘Product Guide’ to see some of the products that we recommend in each of these categories.
How to choose the best product
To pick the best product, I suggest these steps:
First, choose the category (see above) that meets your needs. Look at the products in that category.
Second, look at the product labels on the supplements you are considering. Understand exactly what each supplement contains.
Third, ask us for help. Our in-store experts know our products. They can ask you a few questions and point you in the right direction.
And if you look at protein supplements elsewhere, take this additional step: Make sure that the product is certified or that its quality is guaranteed in some other way.
All our GNC-labelled products are tested in triple-blind studies, and GNC puts the results of those tests on the product label. For any non-GNC product we carry in our store, the manufacturer must submit analyses to prove that the product contents match their labels. Either way, we stand behind our products. Make sure you get that same level of quality if you shop somewhere else.
Making the best use of your protein supplement
Let me give you a few additional tips for getting the most out of your supplement.
First, here’s a question I get a lot: If I’m using a pre-workout supplement, is it still ok to use a protein supplement?
Absolutely! Not only is it ok, I recommend it. A pre-workout supplement gives you the energy and focus you need to power through a terrific workout. A protein supplement finishes the job, giving you the nutrients you need to repair and build your muscles.
Another tip: Heat is bad for protein supplements. It breaks them down. So don’t leave your supplement sitting in a car on a hot day. Don’t use it in your cooking, and don’t mix it with hot liquids.
How about dosage?
My primary advice is don’t overdo it. If you take in more protein than you need, your body just flushes it out. You won’t get any benefit, and it won’t be good for your kidneys, which have to process and flush it.
So what’s a good amount? It depends, of course, on such things as age, weight, and your level of physical activity — a body-builder needs a lot more protein than a couch potato — but a general rule of thumb is that an average adult needs 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day. Those taking part in recreational athletics need a bit more, maybe 1.1 to 1.4 grams, and athletes building muscle mass need 1.5 to 2.0 grams per kilogram per day.
Keep two things in mind:
First, we’re talking kilograms of body weight, not pounds. If you weigh 180 pounds, that’s just 82 kilograms.
Second, you won’t need to get all of that protein from your supplement. You should get a good amount from your regular diet. For an active athlete, a good contribution from your protein supplement is 20 to 40 grams. In general, if you’re taking more than that, you’re just flushing it down the toilet — literally.
Have questions? Just ask us!
For all your supplement questions, just stop into the store and ask us. We’ll help match you to the right product for your specific lifestyle and needs.