Should You Use a Protein Powder?

Protein supplements are pretty much all the rage right now, but should you be using protein powder? Great question! I’m so glad you asked.

Do You *NEED* a Protein Powder?

Before you decide to add a protein supplement to your routine, there are a number of things to consider, the first one being, do you even need it?

In the strictest sense, supplements fill in your nutritional need gaps as a supplement your regular diet. Protein deficiency is extremely rare here in the US, even amongst plant-based eaters. So, chances are, if you’re an average person who is able to consume a balanced diet, you probably don’t *need* a protein powder.

That being said, some circumstances can increase your protein needs. For example, if you are not able to get adequate protein from your diet, whether due to lack of access to protein rich foods, lack of time, or issues with digesting protein. Another reason could be that you need more protein to support physical activity. Our bodies use protein to repair and rebuild, so if you engage in a lot of very strenuous exercise, then you will have greater protein needs than your next door neighbor with a desk job who walks his dog twice a day. And on that note about protein being used to rebuild and repair, if you are recovering from illness or injury, that could also increase your protein needs. Finally, we must consider the convenience factor. It’s definitely easier to toss a protein shake into your gym bag than a steak. So occasionally adding in a protein shake can help on those on-the-go days.

If you’re in doubt about your protein needs, speak with your physician, trainer, or dietician. (Note: I do not work with athletes)

Protein Quality

It’s important to note that the supplement industry in the US is notorious unregulated. This means that there could be issues with quality, ingredients, formulations or health claims and we, as consumers, may never know. So you need to be very cautious and informed when choosing your protein powder. Fortunately, third party resources, such as Labdoor.com and Consumerlab.com, independently test supplements for purity. You won’t find every protein powder available on there, but you will find many.

One thing to watch out for are supplements (almost always in the MLM category) that loudly brag about large numbers of scientific studies that back up their purity or efficacy. Those studies very often are either conducted by or funded by the company that makes the supplements and, therefore, cannot be assumed reliable. If you cannot obtain the actual study documentation and findings or cannot determine who conducted the study, it’s a red flag.

What Type of Protein?

So you’ve read this far. You’ve decided that you would like to use a protein powder. Now what?

Protein powders come in all sorts of varieties – whey protein, pea protein, soy protein, rice protein, even cranberry protein (WTF, right?)! Which one you choose is really up to you – your dietary preferences or allergies, price point, etc. In terms of athletic performance, studies really haven’t found any huge difference between protein types, but you will still see a preference for whey among many body builders.

Whether or not you were already a protein user, I hope this was informative. If you have questions about adding a dietary supplement to your routine, you should consult a qualified professional.

What’s the Deal with Fish Oil?

One supplement that has been all the buzz for a little while now is fish oil – and for good reason, too. In fact, this is a supplement that I, as a certified health coach, recommend to most of my clients. I also take it daily and have gotten my family on the bandwagon, too. Fish oil, also known as Omega-3 fatty acids, is an interesting and multi-talented fat but most people don’t know all of its benefits. So, here is everything you need to know about fish oil.

What is Fish Oil?

Fish oil is the common name for Omega-3 fatty acid supplements because fish are the richest source of these essential oils (here, I mean literally essential, not “essence of”). Fish oil contains two forms of Omega-3s that our bodies can use, EPA and DHA. You don’t need to take a supplement to get your Omega-3s, though. Cold water fish, such as tuna and salmon, contain the greatest amounts of Omega-3s. However, unless you are eating fish regularly (and most of us are not), I strongly recommend you supplement to make sure you are consuming enough to reap the benefits.

Non-Fish Sources of Omega-3s

Flaxseeds, greens, and various other seeds also contain Omega-3s; however, they are in the form of ALA which the human body cannot use. Because of this, when we consume a plant source of Omega-3s, our bodies must convert the ALA into EPA and DHA, forms it can use. Unfortunately, once the ALA has been converted, our absorption of the Omega-3s from plants is less than 5% so you must consume much, much more plant sources than fish sources of Omega-3s to derive the same benefits and your body has to work harder for them. Therefore, unless you have an allergy or food sensitivity that prevents you from doing so, I strongly recommend opting for a fish source over plant sources of Omega-3s.

Benefits of Omega-3s

The more we learn about Omega-3 fatty acids, the more amazing things we learn they do for us. Studies have shown that Omega-3s may help lower your blood pressure, mitigate the effects of stress on your heart, act as anti-inflammatories and anti-coagulants, lower your cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and steady your heart rate. They may also diminish depression and may help protect against Alzheimer’s, dementia, and memory loss. For pregnant women, DHA (a form of Omega-3) has been found to be important for neurological and vision development in babies. Pretty amazing stuff, right?

What to Look for in a Fish Oil Supplement

When selecting a fish oil supplement, you want to make sure that you are purchasing one that is made with clean, quality ingredients. You may have heard people complain about the flavor of their fish oil supplements repeating on them throughout the day – this is common with low-quality fish oils. As with all supplements, it’s important that you do your research here. You want your fish oil to be sourced from wild-caught fish, not farmed fish. Often, you will find quality fish oils made from sardines. You also want to read the label to verify what the capsule’s coating is made out of. Gelatin is commonly what the coating is made out of; however, some poor quality capsules may actually use PVC or BPA materials (enteric coating) which have been linked to cancer and other health problems. Finally, you want to read the label to make sure that the supplement contains EPA and DHA – the forms of Omega-3s that can be readily absorbed and used by our bodies. Here is a link to the fish oil supplement that I have selected for myself and my family. 

 

The Scoop on Supplements

If there is one thing that I find myself down the rabbit hole on most often, it’s dietary supplements. Through my training as a certified health coach, working with clients, and mentoring by some of the best nutritionists in New England, I’ve learned that dietary and herbal supplements are one of the most misunderstood aspects of health and wellness.

Some people think you don’t need supplements if you eat well. Some people think that all supplements are created equal and they can just buy whatever generic brand at the store. Some people think the more supplements you take the better. Some people think supplements are only for kids and sick people. None of these are totally accurate.

There are a number of reasons for this lack of clarity. First and foremost, supplements are largely based on a strategy of prevention whereas our health care system is based on treatment. Really, it’s not a health care system, it’s a disease treatment system. With this systemic focus, prevention is not going to get its due diligence because it doesn’t fit the paradigm and is not as profitable (though, it is, indeed, a very profitable market).

Since the system is built for them, drug manufacturers have the money and the power in the market. Using this influence, they can control the flow of information, the research focus, etc. Simply put, they are bigger and more powerful so they get the attention.

The structure of the supplement industry itself is not helpful for disseminating useful information to consumers. It is largely unregulated by the government and rapidly expanding, which means two things:

1. You need to do your due diligence as a consumer to make sure you are purchasing a quality product but that information is going to be very difficult for you to find because there are limited disclosure rules.

2. Supplement manufacturers are not allowed to make claims about what supplements do without substantiated scientific evidence. In an industry where the money is concentrated in the hands of pharmaceutical companies, it’s difficult for supplement makers to fund clinical studies so these supplements makers are left with the ability to only make very vague claims about the support they can offer your body.

On top of that, it seems like there is a new supplement out every week with claims about “amazing weight loss” or “body transformations” or “anti-aging.” The industry is expanding so quickly, it’s almost impossible for someone to keep up with. Because of this, I spend a lot of time researching a new product someone has heard of so I can recommend whether it’s worth trying or not (mostly, it’s not). (Pro tip: if it’s offering a quick fix, it is too good to be true. Likewise, be very wary of before and after photos and overly enthusiastic voice-overs.)

My main concern when it comes to dietary and herbal supplements is making sure that my clients are not only getting a safe product but also one that is what it purports to be. A majority of supplement companies claim the backing of scientific studies, but when you request that information a number of things may happen: said study doesn’t exist, the product itself was not studied but the ingredient it purports to contain was, they’ve paid a third party to conduct the study thereby influencing the findings, or the study was never done on human subjects.

Recently, an investigation by the New York State Attorney General found that just 21% of the supplements they tested from GNC, Walgreens, Walmart, and Target actually contained the ingredients they claimed to contain. Contamination and adulteration are also common issues with dietary supplements. The FDA is supposed to inspect supplement manufacturing facilities, but only gets around to a very small number of them – less than 20%. Given these facts, being able to review the studies that prove the supplements are what they say they are is crucial.

Knowing that doing product research can be a herculean task for people balancing work, family, chores, errands, volunteer responsibilities, and more, I made it a priority of mine to weed through the product claims and find a high-quality supplement company that I trust and can recommend to my clients. After months (literally) of research, I came to Shaklee. They have 20 years of clinical research on their products and you can actually access and read those studies online. They test their raw materials prior to production for purity and identity and they test their final products for purity and effectiveness. They will not put a product out there without science verifying its effectiveness. Furthermore, they have been in business since 1956 and have never issued a recall. Because of this, Shaklee is what I trust for me and my family and what I recommend to my clients as well.

If you want to learn more about dietary supplements – the industry, what to look out for, what to know, should you be taking them – then join me on Thursday, June 22nd for a free online event discussing the what, why, and how of supplements.