A nutritional supplement is something you consume to assist a balanced diet which may be lacking in a certain nutrient. So supplements aren't ESSENTIAL unless you cannot get enough of what you need in your diet.
Protein is essential for growth and repair, for maintaining a healthy body composition and those who are very active require more of it.
Lacking enough protein can lead to fatigue, more aches and pains and potentially a poorer body composition (ratio of muscle to fat)
When considering whether or not YOU need to supplement you should take in consideration the QUANTITY you need, The QUALITY of protein you consume and the CONVENIENCE and COST of supplements.
What you NEED to know
For someone who is exercising intensely several times per week, it would be advisable to consume 20-30g of protein with each meal of the day. This CAN be done from diet alone. eg. 1 small chicken breast or 3 eggs or a 200g pot of yogurt will all supply 20g of good quality protein.
Its is also worth considering the timing of the protein intake, your body cannot store protein for use, so to ensure a constant supply it is best to split the requirements between all of your meals.
Most people consume protein during their evening meal and little , if any, during breakfast, lunch and snacks.
What else you should know:
The protein Quantity is something which is individual to you.
The basic protein requirements for a SEDENTARY person is around 0.75g per KG of body weight.
So if you weigh 70kg (11 stone), you should eat about 52.5g of protein a day.
and although figures vary from study to study , someone who exercises regularly would require between 1.2 - 1.7g of protein per KG of body weight. The higher end would be for someone who does regular weight training the lower end of more endurance based activities.
For someone who weighs 70 kg this could be between 84g and 119g of protein per day. Find out how much you need and then divide it by how many meals you have each day.
What you NEED to know
The better the quality of the protein, the more use it is to your body.
High quality proteins come from eggs, meat and dairy, protein found in grains, nuts and beans are lower quality as they are regarded as 'INCOMPLETE' proteins.
Whey protein and casein protein (found in protein shakes) are formed from milk, and therefore are high quality.
What else you should know
Protein is made up of many different units called amino acids, we need a little bit of all of them to make the proteins which are in every tissue of our body.
some of them our body can create by its self, but some have to be obtained from food. These are called ESSENTIAL amino acids. Meat and dairy contain all of the amino acids we require, these are 'complete' proteins. Those who do not eat these foods would need to get a variety of different vegetables, grains and pulses to acquire the nutrients they need.
Very few grains contain all of the 'essential' amino acids we require.
A Whey protein shake will contain all of the amino acids required.
The convenience of a protein shake is something many take advantage of, especially as many lead a busy lifestyle and cant find the time to cook balanced meals and prepare them ready for when they need them.
A protein supplement will usually have over 80% protein, whereas most FOOD sources don't come anywhere close to that.
This means you can get your protein requirements in a smaller portion with supplements; a protein supplement can deliver 20 - 30g of good quality protein with little or no fat or sugar and it is as convenient as filling up a bottle with water.
Convenience is arguably the main factor which encourages many to use a protein supplement, and this convenience comes with a price. How much is that convenience worth to you financially?
supplements companies can charge what they like for supplements, they can make bold claims of incredible physique transformations to draw in the crowds*. these products are often marketed as 'discounted' to even still absurd prices.
It's true that we should feel confident in investing in ourselves, especially if its for our health, but its easy to get ripped off. the more often you plan on using a supplement the less you should plan on paying for it.
if you are just testing the idea of protein supplements buy small quantities (1-1.5 kg) if you are planning long term use then buy in bulk (2.5 to 5 kg at a time).
We don't NEED supplements if we are able to find the required nutrients in our diet, supplements are a CONVENIENT method of ensuring you consume the right QUALITY and QUANTITY of your desired nutrient, but should not be a replacement for a balanced diet.
Some people assume that protein supplements are 's
ports supplements' and should only be taken on exercise days. This is not necessarily the case, as supplements are required whenever you are lacking a nutrient and cannot provide it in your regular diet.
Make a decision based on your lifestyle and personal requirements, If your circumstances change and you have more time for eating whole foods rather than supplements, then change back. Just remember that supplements are not magic potions, they will not transform your physique and you can achieve your goals without them.
*The association that the media make between increased protein intake and the body of your dreams (leaner or more muscular) has its roots in truth, as its easy to under consume adequate quantity and quality of protein especially with an active lifestyle, but the marketing dramatises this to convince people that these supplements have physique transforming magical powers.