Protein and energy supplements – effective or gimmick?

Various workout supplements advertised regularly by the fitness community are becoming increasingly popular among those who want to gain muscle mass or lose weight.

Due to the curious case of Covid-19, people are bound to their homes or the five kilometres of their local area. Staying healthy in these times is extremely important, and there is an ever-increasing number of tools made readily available on the internet to help you. Home workouts, running or walking seems to garner results for some participants but what can they use to “speed up” the results they wish for? Supplements such as vitamins, protein supplements and pre-workouts give people the boost they need to achieve results…fast!…Or do they?

“For many people who are new to the exercising realm they feel that it helps them to lose weight or be more toned when in actual fact it can actually pack on weight.”

First off, there are protein supplements. Protein powders are designed to provide a high caloric intake, containing, as the name suggests, protein, which users then add to water or milk to drink, usually following their workout. The uses for these supplements are to gain muscle mass or to “bulk”. Protein powders paired with weightlifting and other strength and conditioning exercises build up the muscles you work and, due to the calories these drinks contain, they also help energy levels. The measurement of protein per serving is not intended to be a replacement for your recommended daily intake. For many people who are new to the exercising realm, they feel that it helps them to lose weight or be more toned when in actual fact it can actually pack on weight. This is because many powders contain high levels of refined sugar which cause a spike in blood sugar levels; if paired with a lack of exercise, it can be counterproductive. A way to avoid this is to look for natural means of proteins before reaching for the scoopers. Maintaining a well-balanced diet with the right proportions of carbohydrates, sugars, proteins and vitamins is a safer, yet more challenging, way to ensure your body has what it needs to build muscle and mass. If you wish to lose body fat, protein powders are not the best option. To lose weight you must eat in a caloric deficit while also incorporating a healthy balanced diet.

Another very popular supplement class is that of pre-workout. These are a great method to get yourself pumped for a workout or run, but they are also very dangerous if not consumed correctly or responsibly. Again, these are most commonly purchased in powder form. Pre-workouts are powders full of caffeine and assorted ingredients such as creatine. Pre-workouts can give energy, focus, and endurance to the user who has consumed it. While this may seem like the miracle supplement helping people reach levels they feel they couldn’t before, they can be severely detrimental. With users loving the effects of how much harder they can push themselves during workouts, this can lead to a dependency on the product. This can be rather harmful due to the high levels of caffeine in it. The caffeine content can cause intensely high blood pressure and prevention of sleep if taken close to when you may sleep and also in some cases, anxiety or anxious behaviours to those who are vulnerable to those tendencies. If a user was to become dependent on pre-workout while on a regular workout regimen of four to five days a week, that amount of caffeine can cause irregularities and crashes in blood pressure. Not to mention the effect it can have on the mental health and confidence of a person who feels they need these supplements to perform, which is not the case.

“The most important part of having a fit and healthy lifestyle is education and motivation.”

To determine if these supplements are beneficial or not, it is down to the person who is trying to decide the results they wish to achieve before they purchase any concoctions of powders and pills. The most important part of having a fit and healthy lifestyle is education and motivation. Having a plan and end results in mind can also help to this end. Outlined below are two opposite results and methods to get there.

Firstly, gaining muscle and mass. An integral part of gaining mass is how many calories, fats and proteins are being ingested and taken in by the body. Protein powders or “bulking powders” are great for gaining mass quickly. Paired with eating at a level of caloric intake higher than regularly needed is a sure-fire way to gain a lot of mass in a small amount of time. In this case, if keeping a regular diet, controlling sugars and saturated fats, and having a steady workout plan based around strength and conditioning, then protein and bulk powders are an extremely beneficial way to achieve this. If you still do not trust supplements, plenty of protein-based foods are just as good, if not better.

On the other hand, if someone wants to lean themselves off body fat percentage or “cutting”, avoid bulking powders at all cost. Calculate your recommended caloric intake and eat in a slight deficit. These calories recommendations can be found on mobile apps such as Under Armour Calorie Counter. Users input their measurements and select how much weight they want to gain or lose in a time frame and caloric intake is then given and can be managed all within the app. Regular and consistent high-intensity workouts are the main focus.

To conclude, protein powders and supplements must be consumed properly as they can have detrimental effects mentally and physically if not. However, if somebody uses them to their advantage while staying safe and understanding all of the side effects and risks but finding a balance, they can be very beneficial. To those who may not have the knowledge about the products they are purchasing and are unsure about the usage, they can do more bad than good. To summarise, consistent exercise and determining dietary needs during these times are paramount.

Shannon McGreevy

Shannon McGreevy is the Sports Editor of Trinity News, and a Senior Fresh student of Biological and Biomedical Sciences.