By: Dr. Amir Mahmud
With a recent article out in consumer reports magazine about the hidden content in protein drinks and based on how popular these drinks are getting in replacing normal meals I decided to do some research to find out what’s the hype behind these drinks and how beneficial are they for us?
Before we get into our discussion let’s take an overall look at what are proteins and what is their function in our bodies?
· Proteins are made up of amino acids and are the most abundant of the organic (carbon containing) compounds in the body. They are also the key component of all living organisms. Most of the protein is found in our muscle tissue; the remainder is distributed in soft tissue, bone, teeth, blood, and other body fluids. Hormones and enzymes (proteins that speed up the rate of chemical reactions in the body) are proteins as well.
Now that we know an overall view of proteins, the next question is how much protein do you need to stay healthy and active?
The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for an average person is 0.8 grams of protein per kg. of ideal body weight per day. So for example the ideal amount of protein for a person who weighs 77 kg.(170 lbs) is 62 grams per day. This of course is going to vary depending on if you are an athlete, someone who is trying to gain/lose weight, or if you are malnourished (a problem which we don’t really worry about in America, this is mostly a concern in third world countries). Research has shown that extra protein does not automatically make extra muscle. In fact, if you eat more protein than your body uses, it will be stored as fat. The trick is to know when to consume the protein to get the most beneficial effects. The general rule is to consume proteins within 30 minutes after your workout. This is the time that your body needs the most fuel to recover. Keep in mind that depending on your activity/sport (body building, tri athlete, cyclist, runner, etc.) you can get a lot more specific on how much and when to take proteins for it to be most beneficial.
Having said that, the next big question is where are you going to get this protein from? Should you use supplements or would just eating a healthy balanced diet be adequate enough?
In an overall well-balanced diet, engineered protein offers no advantages over chicken, beef, fish, eggs, milk and other standard protein-rich foods. The protein from natural foods works perfectly fine. In fact any animal protein is “high-quality”, contains all the essential amino acids you need to build muscles and is much safer than consuming engineered protein*. The reason that all these supplements (protein shake, bars, recovery drinks, etc.) are so popular is that they claim to offer the same nutritional value as a regular meal but you can take them on the go. They are designed to target the fast paced lifestyle of Americans. The problem with this is that if you start to rely on these products to get you through your day, over a prolonged period of time, you are going to start causing damage to your GI tract, kidney and other vital organs. This brings us to the point of this article.
Consumer Reports did a test on 15 protein drinks, found that all of the products tested had at least one sample containing arsenic, cadmium, lead or mercury—contaminants that can have toxic effects on the body.** Let’s take a look at what each of these elements are:
· Cadmium is a metallic element. It has primarily been used in paints, coatings and batteries. Exposure in humans can cause significant kidney and lung damage.
· Arsenic and lead are also naturally occurring metallic elements that have varieties of uses in industry from insecticides to electronics. But when consumed, they can cause cancer and brain damage.
Aside from the exposure to these chemicals prolonged use of protein drinks/bars can increase the risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis (excess protein reduces the body’s ability to absorb calcium and therefore it is stored in the kidneys and not absorbed properly).
Having said all this, the best thing to do is to figure out how much protein you need based on your goals (gain/loose weight) and activities. The best ways to get these proteins are from natural sources and the best way to make sure you don’t consume too much protein is to have a well balanced diet. If you have any questions in regards to your diet feel free to ask and we will gladly guide you in the right direction.
Dr. Amir Mahmud is a Sports Chiropractor at CSI (Chiropractic Sports Institute) in Westlake Village. Dr. Amir has vast experience working with athletes both professional and Amateur. He is the current Team Doctor for the Newbury Park HS Lacrosse team and travels with the Mobile CSI Sports Medicine team caring for athletes across southern California. He is also an expert in GI and biochemistry associated with the athlete.
* An FDA lists heavy metal content for a variety of foods which are generally good protein sources that seem to contain little or no cadmium, lead, arsenic or mercury. http://www.fda.gov/downloads/food%E2%80%A6totaldietstudy/ucm184301.pdf