Protein Sources: Supplements Vs. Food

Protein Sources: Supplements Vs. Food

Posted by Lori Shemek; April 7, 2015

Anyone who has ever even considered bulking up on muscle and adding some purpose to their workout knows at least this one thing – to improve your muscle mass more effectively you need protein, and plenty of it. This is not a gimmick devised by the supplement industry with the intention of selling you their products; this is a cold, hard fact.

Proteins are essentially a combination of various amino acids, which serve as the building blocks for muscle regeneration and the creation of new muscle tissue. They are essential for our overall health, but they play a particularly large role in the lives of many a fitness enthusiast.

This raises the question of protein sources. While there are many protein rich foods, hard core fitness folk need them in amounts that would require them to devour a smorgasbord of select foods to hit the desired number. For this purpose, the fitness industry introduced a variety of supplements with concentrated amounts of protein, meant to allow you to consume all the protein you need and then some.

Dietary supplements are a slippery subject. While some swear by them and believe that no serious workout regimen is complete without them, others dismiss them for a variety of reasons, from perceived health hazards to fear of anything “unnatural”. Obviously, the shadier parts of the supplement industry have done plenty to disrupt the industry’s overall reputation, with many suspicious products with magical properties being sold on off shore sites and under the counter.

Since I’m sure that there are many people out there who are reluctant to add supplemental products to their diet, we will do our best to answer the question residing at the tip of their tongue: is it possible to get high levels of protein without using protein supplements?

The short answer to that question is “yes”. The more accurate answer would be “it’s complicated”. Basically, it all depends on what type of results are you going for with your workout program.

If your idea is to develop a nice tone and muscle definition so you could proudly flaunt your lean beach body, then you can consider avoiding supplements. You will still need to count your protein and come up with a diet loaded with protein rich foods (meat, fish, yoghurt, beans, nuts, etc.), but you can do away with supplements if that’s what you want to do. If you’re looking for suggestions for a supplement free high-protein diet, perhaps you can try this one, or this one, or this one.

However, if your goal is to look like Schwarzenegger circa mid-70’s, well, that is a bit trickier proposition. The thing with protein supplements is not that they are a healthier or more effective alternative to food – protein is protein, after all – but that they are extremely convenient. Instead of having to gorge on a small village’s worth of a meal or adhere to a painstakingly precise diet, you can simply take a protein shake or some other product that contains everything you want without the excess calories.


This is not to say that you should start using protein supplements. Again, it all comes down to your fitness goals. Even if you have no dilemmas about using protein based products, you should keep two things in mind:

  • Don’t forget proper nutrition: as you can deduce from their very name, supplements are meant to supplement your diet, not supplant it completely. Even though it may sometimes seem so, protein is not the be-all and end-all, and there are other valuable nutrients you get from foods that are not found in your supplemental products. Pay attention to your diet, weigh your protein intake and use supplements to reach the desired numbers.
  • Be careful about what you buy: As already, stated, there are many shady supplement manufacturers out there so make sure you buy over the counter. Also, if you have a choice, consult an experienced fitness professional or other reliable sources of information for recommendations on specific products. Most of supplemental products found in pharmacies or supermarkets carry no health hazards if used properly, so steer clear of “magical potions” and stay within the limits of recommended daily intake.

A balanced diet is essential to your overall health, which has to be your No.1 long term fitness goal. Yes, having a six pack or a well toned tush is  nice and all, but not if it will jeopardize your health in the long run.

Guest post by Jenny Hahn

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© 2015 DLS HealthWorks, LLC.  Lori Shemek, PhD, CNC, health and weight loss expert and author of How To Fight FATflammation! published by HarperCollins.