Study: Protein supplements are not as effective when eaten as snacks

Protein supplements have been known to be beneficial for building muscle and managing weight. However, the timing of taking protein supplements may affect their efficacy. In a research review published in the journal Nutrition Reviews, it was suggested that protein supplements should be consumed during meals in order to be more effective, as people who take protein supplements as snacks in between meals may be less successful in managing their body weight.

Nutrition experts at Purdue University evaluated the effect of consuming protein supplements with meals, compared to between meals, on resistance-training-induced body composition changes in adults. They screened more than 2,000 nutrition articles across journal databases and identified 34 studies with 59 intervention groups related to the timing of taking supplements. The studies reviewed were chosen based on specific factors, such as the inclusion of healthy adults, evaluating consumption of protein supplements between meals or with meals, whether or not results showed a change in lean muscle mass, and at least six weeks duration for each of the studies.

In their research review, researchers discovered that although protein supplementation efficiently increased lean mass, taking protein supplements with meals helped retain the participants’ body weight while reducing their fat mass. On the contrary, taking protein supplements between meals promoted weight gain. These findings suggest that the timing of protein supplementation makes a difference because an individual may be inclined to adjust their calories at mealtime to include the protein supplement.

“Such dietary compensation is likely missing when protein supplements are consumed as snacks. Calories at mealtimes may not be adjusted to offset the supplement’s calories, thus leading to a higher calorie intake for that day,” explained Wayne Campbell, professor of nutrition science and senior author of the study.

For people who are trying to manage their weight, consuming protein supplements as snacks or in between meals may be less effective. However, for people who are trying to gain weight, the practice may be helpful.

Things to consider before consuming more protein

Before stocking up on protein supplements, there are a few things you need to consider. One of these is your recommended daily allowance for protein. According to nutrition guidelines, a healthy adult should consume 10 to 35 percent of their calories from protein. However, this does not mean that one should eat more protein because eating too much of it may not be helpful, especially when you are trying to lose weight.

Moreover, “getting more protein” also does not translate to “eating more meat.” Although beef, poultry, and pork provide high-quality protein, there are other healthier protein sources from plant foods, such as whole grains, beans and other legumes, nuts, and vegetables.

In addition, if you increase your protein intake, dietary arithmetic demands that you eat less of other things to keep your daily calorie intake stable. Consider that some foods that contain protein may also contain fat, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients. Try to consume protein sources that are low in saturated fat and processed carbohydrates but rich in many nutrients. The dietary changes you make can affect your nutrition, either positively or negatively. Past research suggests that increasing protein intake by eating more red meat and processed meat may do more harm than good.

If you are trying to lose weight and exercise is part of your weight loss plan, you may want to add more protein to your diet. Experts suggest that an athlete or heavy exerciser – someone who exercises more than 10 to 12 hours per week – consume 0.5 to 0.8 grams of protein per pound of body weight. (Related: High-protein supplements may help you recover faster after a strenuous workout.)

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