Protein Supplementation Part 2

Article by Tanya Mezher

Although it is recommended to meet your protein needs through dietary sources, there will be times when those needs are not met and supplementation can fill in the gaps. There are many options out there, so here is some more information on common choices. 

Which is best: whey, casein, or plant proteins? Studies have shown consumption protein after resistance exercise is effective in muscle re-building and strengthening. Two popular options are milk-based proteins, casein and whey. These are both complete proteins, meaning they contain all 9 essential amino acids, and are the main proteins found in milk. Although casein represents the majority of protein in milk, it is slower to digest, and therefore takes longer to release amino acids into the bloodstream. For this reason, whey protein is more commonly used in protein supplements and powders. Those who are lactose-intolerant may benefit from a version of whey protein powders made from whey isolatewhich is more highly processed (removing the majority of lactose) versus whey concentrate. Opting for a plant-based protein like soy, pea, or wheat can also mitigate the effects of lactose-intolerance. Current evidence shows that dairy protein supplements appear to be superior than other proteins tested, likely due to the leucine content (see more on BCAA and leucine below), digestive capabilities, and structure of dairy proteins. However, further studies are warranted to test isolated plant-based protein in comparison to dairy protein supplements. 

Leucine is an essential, branched chain amino acid, important for metabolic functions and protein synthesis. Supplementation of leucine alone appears safe in doses up to 500 mg per kg per day (i.e. 38 grams per day for a 75 kg / 165 lb individual). However, there is limited evidence of the beneficial effects of supplementation if adequate dietary protein is already being consumed.

Branch Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) are named in reference to their chemical structure. The three branched chain amino acids include leucine, isoleucine and valine. BCAAs are essential amino acids, meaning they cannot be made in the body but must come from food. Especially good sources are animal products such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs and milk. BCAAs make up about 16% of the amino acids in muscle proteins and unlike other essential amino acids, they can be metabolized for energy during exercise. Although BCAA supplementation of up to 20 g/day appears safe without adverse effects, there is limited research and minimal evidence of improved performance for endurance activities such as running. BCAA supplements may help muscle gain and strength when combined with weight training, however because the other essential amino acids are also required for protein synthesis, it is not likely BCAA supplements alone are any more helpful than eating sufficient high quality protein foods. 

Bottom line: It is recommended that protein needs be met through dietary sources and only supplemented if adequate needs cannot be met via diet. Protein supplements such as whey, casein, or plant proteins may be indicated when adequate needs are not met through a variety of dietary sources. Dairy is proven superior over isolated plant proteins at this time, and whey is more common due to its digestibility. BCAA supplementation (of which Leucine is most popular) may be safe up to 20 g/day and only beneficial if adequate dietary intake is not met.

Protein Supplementation

Article by Tanya Mezher

Protein is necessary to build, maintain and repair muscle, particularly when combined with exercise, which increases muscle protein turnover. The recommended dietary intake of protein is 0.8 g/kg/day for healthy adults and 1.2-2.0 g/kg/day for athletes. High quality sources should be eaten regularly after exercise and throughout the day for optimal use. Greater intake may be necessary for short periods of intense training, reduced energy intake, or injury, to prevent body mass and muscle loss. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends regular intake of high quality protein from dietary sources such as lean meats, eggs, milk, and vegetable proteins, using supplementation as a last resort when whole food protein sources do not meet needs. There is minimal evidence from well-controlled studies that support the use of protein supplementation to improve athletic performance. If you must supplement with products such as protein powders, make sure to look for certification labels such as NSF or USP to ensure the product is safe and you are getting what you pay for. 

Bottom line: Most people can meet their protein needs through whole food protein sources like meat, poultry, seafood, dairy, beans, eggs, soy, nuts, and seeds.  

For more info:

ACSM Position Stand: Nutrition and Athletic Performance

NIH: Dietary Supplements for Exercise and Athletic Performance

Supplement Spotlight: Vitamin D

Article by Tanya Mezher

It seemed like winter would never end here in New York City, but technically it is spring, isn’t it? Afternoons in the park, blooming cherry blossoms, rooftop drinks - expectations are set for consistently sunny days. But May grey is no joke! Even as summer season slowly approaches, it is highly unlikely most of us will consistently get enough direct sunshine to produce adequate vitamin D. Although vitamin D can also be found in dietary sources of fatty fish such as salmon and tuna, egg yolks and fortified foods such as milk, cheese, and breakfast cereals - deficiency has become a global concern. Along with being locked at a desk behind windows all day, darker skin color and living at geographical locations above 35 degrees latitude (NYC is 40 degrees) are among other contributors of increased vitamin D deficiency.

Vitamin D plays a significant role in bone health through its regulation of calcium and phosphorus absorption and metabolism. It also supports other bodily functions such as muscle strength, heart health and immune function. Before rushing out to stock up on multivitamins or supplements, a comprehensive blood test can determine if an individual is vitamin D deficient. Generally, levels below 20 ng/mL may indicate vitamin D deficiency and this may warrant supplementation. According to Consumer Labs (an independent testing and online review of nutritional products), the overall top picks for vitamin D only supplements included:

1)   Source Naturals Vitamin D-3 liquid drops (easily adjustable)

2)   Thorne Research Vitamin D

3)   Kirkland Signature D3 2000 IU (high dose)

4)   Vitacost Vitamin D3 Mini Gels (very high dose)

5)   Bio Tech D3-50 (extremely high dose)

Definitely check with your healthcare providers or reach out for more information as to what is best for you and your overall health. And remember to get some skin-safe amounts of sun this summer!