The protein and amino acid supplement market is big business. Bars, shakes, giant tubs of powder and specialist amino acid supplements dominate supplement shelves.
But the decision to use them is based more on slick marketing claims than anything else; protein supplements offer few real performance benefits that an athlete’s normal diet isn’t already delivering.
A good diet.
Few athletes would disagree that more muscle is an advantage in their sport. And protein is the perfect source of the amino acid building blocks needed for new muscle growth and repair.
Taken together, strength training and sufficient protein will stimulate new muscle protein synthesis. Note that the keyword here is sufficient, because this is where protein supplement marketers like to extend to “the more the better”.
So how much protein do sportspeople need? Consensus position statements such as those produced by the American College of Sports Medicine give the range of 1.2 grams to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
But the top end of that range is for elite endurance athletes, power sportspeople and those in the early stages of a strength training phase. The “recreational athlete”, which describes the majority of active sportspeople, should aim for the bottom end of the range.
So how do those protein requirement numbers stack up against a regular diet? As an example, protein intake and body weights collected in the 2011-2012 Australian Health Survey show the average Australian male already eats 1.2 grams and the average female 1.1 grams of protein per kilogram body weight.
And this is for mostly sedentary people who are not following any special “high protein” training diet.
Sportspeople do have higher energy needs. But by simply eating a greater volume of food with a focus on higher protein content, it’s very feasible for an athlete to get their protein requirements from food alone.