The protein supplement industry in America is worth billions of dollars because people think that it can help them gain muscle and/or lose weight. While companies that sell these protein supplements tell you that you could always do with a little extra protein, do you really need to supplement your diet? Another big question is whether these supplements are safe. Here’s what you need to know.
Protein supplements are a huge industry and the Council for Responsible Nutrition, an industry trade group, estimates that 11% of adults took protein supplements in 2016. In 2015, Americans spent $4.7 billion on protein supplements 2 years ago and that number is expected to rise to $8 billion by 2020, according to market research firm Euromonitor.
Why Supplements Are A Cause For Concern
Products marketed as supplements are largely unregulated. The FDA doesn’t approve protein supplements or test them like conventional medications. Protein supplements are usually not just 100% protein. There may be ingredients in some designer, proprietary supplements that have never been tested for safety or for their effects on the human body. This is a huge cause for concern.
What Protein Powders Contain
In 2010, Consumer Reports tested 15 protein drinks for heavy metals such as cadmium, lead, arsenic, and mercury. Three of them had potentially harmful amounts of contaminants, based on federal safety guidelines. In the same year, ConsumerLab, which independently tests supplements, said nearly a third of 24 protein supplements they tested for quality assurance failed. Two of them had a potentially risky amount of lead. Others had more cholesterol or sodium than was listed on the label.
More recently, in 2015, Brazilian researchers tested 20 protein supplements. Eleven of them, including four made in the U.S., had less protein than stated on the label. These tests make one question the quality and quantity of protein in your supplements.
Does Protein Affect Your Kidneys?
This is a big question that most people have when they start taking protein. The answer is both yes and no. According to experts, you should get 10% to 35% of your calories from protein, and most people should eat between 50 to 60 grams of protein per day. When you get more protein than you need, whether it is from food or supplements, your kidneys have to work much harder to process all of it.
This puts extra strain your kidneys which could cause damage in the long run. While there is no conclusive evidence yet, the best thing to do is to make sure your overall protein intake is within limits. If you have or are at risk of developing kidney disease, you need to be extra careful. Excess protein in kidney patients could cause harmful buildups of urea, phosphorus, and acids.
Supplements Are Not Entirely Bad
Athletes often need extra protein either through their diet or supplements to help with muscle recovery after a workout. Research does show that extra protein is effective in such cases. The International Society of Sports Nutrition states that protein supplements are a practical way of ensuring adequate and quality protein intake for athletes.
However, more protein does not mean better results. If you get about 30 grams of protein per meal, then you’ve given your body all the protein that it can absorb, digest, and handle to stimulate the maximum muscle growth.
While there is scientific evidence to show that whey protein supplements can promote weight loss and weight maintenance, you can easily get your daily requirement of protein with a protein-rich diet. If you really want to get on supplements, talk to your nutritionist about your diet, lifestyle, and daily physical activity so that you know exactly how much extra protein you need.