Exercise programs for weight loss often recommend drinking protein shakes. But do protein supplements actually build muscle or get stored as fat? According to a recent study, downing a protein shake, as suggested by your personal trainer, may actually put more fat on you, while not increasing your muscle mass.

The results of this research, demonstrates that adding a protein shake to exercise programs for weight loss can be counterproductive.

This recent study illustrates the dangers of overconsumption at the gym.

Supplementing a tough lifting workout with a protein shake is common practice at the gym. It is based on the premise that weight training breaks down the muscle and that protein helps build it back up. Protein powders promise to maximize the muscle-building effects of a good workout.

Recent Study Shows Protein Shakes May Not Build Muscle

Protein powders typically contain a mix of high-quality proteins, amino acids, electrolytes and carbohydrates, and are mixed with water or milk. They are readily available at gyms, pharmacies, grocery stores, online and at specialized nutrition stores. They particularly appeal to men who believe that more protein equals more muscle.

Protein Supplementation Study Background

But a recent study published in Science and Sports noted that too much protein can build more fat than muscle.

  • Researchers from France and Tunisia hypothesized that when it comes to the use of protein supplements among gym enthusiasts, the gap between science and practice is huge.
  • They assumed that the average gym member is getting advice about supplements from peers at the gym, magazines and blogs versus more professional guidance that takes diet and gym habits into account.
  • So while most studies in controlled conditions have shown protein supplements can be effective in building muscle, in real life their use is anything but controlled.
  • Frequency of use, dosage and type of supplement fluctuate considerably from user to user, which has a significant impact on efficacy.

How Protein Supplementation Study Was Conducted

  • Researchers followed the lifting and dietary patterns of two groups of male gym regulars for eight weeks.
  • Participants were similar in age, training experience, body composition and fitness.
  • One group finished every workout with a protein shake (maintaining their current self-prescribed dosage), while the other abstained.
  • Both trained for 90 minutes three times a week, following an identical routine that was supervised by a trainer.
  • They also supplied food and exercise diaries that were reviewed by the research team.

Results of Protein Supplementation Study

  • At the end of eight weeks, there was a distinct difference in the body composition of the two groups.
  • The results indicate a major body mass gain in the group consuming supplements.
  • However, the analysis of body composition revealed that a gain of body fat was responsible for this significant difference.
  • The group consuming supplements gained fat mass while the group who didn’t consume supplements lost fat mass.
  • The unexpected gain in fat mass was largely due to the quantity of supplements consumed — up to four times the amount used in several studies where the dosage was controlled, many of which resulted in the opposite effect (an increase in fat-free mass and a decrease in fat mass).

Don’t Add Protein Shakes to Exercise Programs for Weight Loss

The idea that the overconsumption of protein supplements can lead to unexpected and often unwanted weight gain isn’t new. Yet it’s a message that exercise enthusiasts are particularly resistant to accept, and one that hasn’t been adequately demonstrated until now.

Ideally, the amount of protein supplements consumed should be based on current diet and exercise habits. Exercisers who already consume lots of good-quality protein (beef, eggs, milk, yogurt, etc.) and spend a moderate amount of time in the gym probably have all the protein they need to promote adequate muscle repair and growth.

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 1.2 to two grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day for athletes, depending on training volume. Yet the amount of protein consumed by the exercisers in the study was closer to 2.4 grams per kilogram of body weight, irrespective of the volume of training, which accounted for the unexpected gain in fat mass.

The best person to help guide gym enthusiasts toward the proper use of protein supplements is a certified nutritionist or a registered dietitian. Don’t rely on a personal trainer to give you solid advice on nutrition. When it comes to supplements, more isn’t always better.

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