By Eric/@trimon29/Bubba-mon/My good looking husband/triathlete/engineer/former GNC owner (and that’s a mouthful)

I use protein to curb muscle loss from endurance training. Pamela uses it for appetite control.

This is the third in a series regarding supplements. For the first two and some background on why I feel qualified to write on the subject please check out Everything You Wanted to Know About Supplements and Were Afraid to Ask and Dietary Supplements are Not Evil and Can Make Your Life Less Painful.

The supplement industry is basically unregulated. Manufacturers can and do make outrageous claims they don’t have to back up. In this series I am trying to cut through some of the BS and provide useful information. Please know that I am not a doctor and this is not medical advice. If you are trying to deal with a significant medical problem please see a professional.

Proteins/ Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAA) and Creatine in my simple mind fall into the “things that work” category. Proteins are essential for life and good health. In a perfect world with a perfect diet you should be able to get what you need directly from what you eat. However, because we don’t live “there,” supplemental protein can be very valuable.

Proteins supplements are typically derived from either whey (milk products), egg, soy, or animal parts. There are mountains of studies you could spend a lifetime reading on the differences. However, our bodies are not all the same and some trial and error is required to figure out what works best for you.

One common side effect of protein consumption is intestinal distress (gas, diarrhea). As an example Pamela (aka Pamelot) uses Atkins pre-made protein shakes as meal replacements with no problem at all. If I drink one of those things, I can’t get off the toilet all day. If you are having gastric distress, try a different brand. If that makes no difference, then try a protein made from a different source. I personally have the most trouble with soy protein.

Uses of Protein Supplements:

Weight Gain. For adults and teenagers trying to gain weight, protein supplements — typically shakes — are a great way to go. Stores are filled with weight gain products. They are high in protein content per serving and typically also very high in calories and carbohydrates. This is great if you are consuming them while on an aggressive workout program. However, don’t think that they will magically add muscle mass. If you drink them and hang out on the couch playing video games all day, those calories will readily turn to fat.

If weight gain is your goal, DON’T drink the shake before your meals. They are very filling and will curb your appetite. Instead, drink your shakes after breakfast, after lunch, or at the latest in the middle of the afternoon. This will allow you to eat a full regular meal in addition to the shakes which is what you need to do to gain weight.

Weight Maintenance. Here is where I fall in. If I am working out hard for triathlon, I lose weight and muscle mass. Protein supplements (along with a few other things discussed later) help me hang on to muscles.

Weight Loss. Using protein shakes as meal replacements to lose weight is not a bad idea as long as you keep a few things in mind.

1. Make sure the shake you are drinking is not full of sugar and carbs.

2. Look closely at what meal you are “replacing”. For example, if you are drinking it instead of “breakfast,” but breakfast to you is normally a slice of toast and coffee, then you might actually gain weight drinking the shake. If breakfast was a Cinnabon, eggs and bacon, then you will likely make progress. Pamelot finds that a protein shake for breakfast, while higher in calories, curbs her appetite and desire to snack mid-morning.

3. Even though it is often most convenient to make breakfast the meal you skip, it is not always the best idea. The food you consume at breakfast gives you the energy to get through your day, to be sharp, and not to crash. This is important not only for those the work their bodies, but also those that work their brains. If you do neither, go ahead and skip.

4. Be sure to add fiber into your diet as you add proteins. You will thank me later. It’s hard for me to get enough fiber in my regular diet so I drink a concoction that has psyllium husk every morning. It is not the most pleasant texture or taste in the world, but the alternative is far worse.

5. If you use the protein as a meal replacement, make sure you are getting the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrition you miss when you skip the regular meal. Do that by either taking them in pill form or using a protein product that contains them already mixed in.

Muscle Building:

For those that are relatively athletic that want to either gain or preserve muscle mass, adding BCAA’s and Creatine is a great idea. There are many good protein drink products that already contain these ingredients. Creatine could be a whole topic on its own (ask me questions in the comments below if you are interested).

There are many good protein products out there. Companies like MuscleTech, EAS and BAS all make GREAT pre-blended (stacked) products. This means protein powders that also contain different vitamins, minerals, and other useful ingredients. If just a good pure protein is what you are looking for, the chain store name brands are actually very good and less expensive. For best tasting (along with excellent quality), I don’t think anyone beats Labrada products.

I hope this helps. I know this is just the tip of the iceberg on the subject but Pamelot is already going to tell me this is too long. So I will stop here and hope that you ask some interesting questions.

Eric

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14 Responses to Proteins: Muscle building/Weight Gain/Weight Maintenance/Weight Loss

  1. Pamela says:

    Nice job, Eric. You have been such a help to me in this area. I know I wouldn’t be half the woman (energy, health, strength, etc) without taking the suggestions you’ve given me over the years. It’s wonderful having a resident expert!

  2. Ally says:

    Great info. What about protein concentrate vs. protein isolate? Does it really matter and how much? Also – I don’t know enough about Creatine, and need to do more research, but any thoughts on safe amounts for teenagers?
    Ally recently posted..Friday Funnies

  3. Eric Hutchins says:

    Ally,
    Sorry for the horribly tardy response. Speaking only from personal experience (and feedback from people/customers I trusted) I do not think there is sufficient advantage to the protein isolates to warrant the cost. I suspect they are in-fact slightly better but the difference I think is negligible. (I wouldn’t and don’t pay for it).

    Creatine is a scary subject for people so I will tell you what I would (and did do) with my teenage son and you can make your own judgement. I was comfortable with giving my teenage Son who was playing football creatine with the following qualifiers
    1. Past Puberty and at an age when most professionals would consider that weight lifting is acceptable. I would love for a doctor to chime in but I view this as a need to let their skeletal structure develop enough to handle bigger, stronger muscles. If their muscles grow faster than their bones and joints can support they will injury themselves while competing.
    2. Use Creatine dosages commensurate with their size as opposed to simply age. At 15 years old my son was 6’4″ and 235 LBS (without any supplements) it did not make sense to me to give child size dosages to someone much larger than I was.
    3. Watch and listen to them carefully, if they are telling you ANYTHING that is not positive, stop, who knows if it is due to the creatine but why take a chance?
    4. Hydrate Hydrate Hydrate. AND THIS POINT really may be the final decision factor in weather you allow your child to take it. CAN YOU TRUST THEM, ARE THEY MATURE ENOUGH to understand the critical nature of hydration and will they do it, or will they just think (Like I thought I was at that age) that they are indestructible? While I don’t know for certain if this is backed up by scientific research, but I would bet anything that the majority of medical problems that have been reported to be related to the use of creatine have the underlying cause of insufficient hydration.
    Hope this helps.

    • Pamela says:

      don’t you also do a certain # of days on, and then off?

    • Ally says:

      Thanks Eric – good info. Especially the size vs age thing. My son is 16, 5’10” and 150+. So obviously different than 6’4″ and 235!! He’s a baseball player – catcher – lifts weights, works out, very active. Has really just started to finally add a tiny bit of “thickening” (I don’t want to say bulk at 150!) this last year. I think I’d start with the hydration thing to make sure he’d stick with it. He’s okay about it, but probably not as good as he should be. If he can do that consistently, then maybe we’ll try creatine.

      And thanks for the protein thoughts, too. I had similar thoughts, so it’s nice to hear someone else agree. What I use is a mix of isolate and concentrate.

  4. great article!
    i have been under the impression that creatine serves to move water into the muscle fibers ‘better’ (more efficiently/effectively?), and that other than making the muslces appear larger, it does little to increase their actual strength. is this true?
    also, any information you can give about shaving my legs would be helpful.
    HAHAHAHA……just kidding about that one…mostly. 😉

  5. Eric Hutchins says:

    Pamela,
    Yes there is a recommended loading, maintenance and “off” cycle with the use of it. Can get kinda complicated. People are likely to throw tomatoes here but I do NOT adhere to that in my own use. AND I am not trying to win a body building contest.
    If you want to use the cycling method (which again is very much recommended by essentially everything I have ever read or seen), you can usually find that directly on the label of any of the good products.

  6. Eric Hutchins says:

    Gene,
    While I am sure there is a study or two out there that might suggest what you have said, I think there is an overwhelming amount of legit medical study work that would disagree. More importantly to me, Placebo or not, I feel very strongly that it works for me. And therefor I will continue to use it.

  7. Luis says:

    Great info! Thanks for sharing.

    My biggest concern with protein shakes is that they will not curb my appetite. I would love to have a shake at lunchtime that would be nice and filling, but I fear that shake would not hold me over no matter how many calories it had. One of my biggest struggles with food is the urge to pick at stuff between meals and I think the shake, since it’s something I’d drink, would make me feel at least mentally that I hadn’t really eaten and that would make the urgeto snack stronger. I don’t know if that makes sense but that’s why I’ve stayed away from shakes. But when I started my weight loss journey a while back my trainer then recommended them and I may have used them a few times. It is easier to control the nber of calories you consume with shakes, and as you’ve written above convenient and beneficial on lots of levels. Just unsure of how shakes would affect me.

  8. Hi Eric. Good info for all different types of dieters. I have struggled for almost 2 years now, trying to lose 100 pounds and keep it off. The first year I lost 60 of it, kept it off for 6 months, then slowly began to gain it back. And why? Because I stopped exercising. I sat my lazy butt on the couch or the computer like my job was done. It obviously was not. So now I’m back on track, trying to lose (at least it’s not 100 anymore) 55 pounds. I walk every day, go to the pool 3-4 times a week and use the weights in the exercise room at our apartment complex. The loss is so very slow though. My diet consists of a regular breakfast (oatmeal, juice and coffee)….then I have a protein shake at lunch….then a light supper. I also work in a couple pieces of fruit. IF I would pay real attention to my hunger (which is NOT there) then I wouldn’t even be tempted to cheat. However, I don’t, so sometimes I do. Long LONG story even longer (sorry) the shake is working but I get hungry (not really but still) and want something to chew. It’s all about the chewing for me Eric. Dang it. I’m keeping at it, though, and making some progress. Yeah! Haven’t even thought about supplements though. Maybe I should.
    Enjoyed the post. Thanks!

    • Ally says:

      Hi Terri – chiming in here – try some cut up veggies dipped in salsa – gives you something to chew, with flavor, low calories and tons of benefit. Just a suggestion that works for me when I’m really trying to watch the intake!

  9. Eric Hutchins says:

    Hey Luis,
    Thanks for the great comments. I think the trick for someone like you (and you are the majority for sure that are not fully satisfied by a shake). Is to find something that also satisfies your desire to munch on stuff. There is something mentally satisfying about chewing that also (to me) helps your body decide it has had enough. What works for you is gonna be trial and error. For some people its carrots and celery and stuff like that. There are some very good, low-in-just-about-everything bars out there too, the names are escaping me right now but, there is one made of puffed rice and some other stuff that are not bad tasting, and something you can crunch on.

  10. Eric Hutchins says:

    Teresa,
    I swear I had not read you post before commenting on Luis’s but the same thoughts apply. I really believe in finding something to chew on.

    You really sound like you are on the right track though and have your priorities right. Exercise is so important, and no, you don’t have to do marathons or some other extreme form or amount of exercise. I think most would agree the key is just doing something that gets you off the couch and elevates your heart rate for a minimum of 20 minutes.

    One thing that is frustrating for all of us is that as we age our metabolism slows down, and what we used to get away with, in the form of eating, or of exercise, we cant any longer as we get older. Stinks, but, you have to work a little harder.

    Overall though I think your eating plan is excellent, just insert something with low calorie content that you can chew on during the day. Consider a few supplements, And keep the faith.

    One last thing, with in the limits of your schedule, exercising earlier in the day has more benefit than doing it later. When you exercise early there is a lasting benefit of speeding up your metabolism that lasts for the whole day.

  11. lbddiaries says:

    That was good info. I like the info stuffed in the replies, too. I used to do shakes but when we discovered sugar in all we had been using, we quit. Can you recomend one without sugar (and almost all have sugar and weird ingredient names no one can pronounce – cyanocobalamin??) or recommend a recipe for meal replacement? A friend recommended mean green but I haven’t checked it out yet – it looked mega nasty (green goop). I can do anything I have to to lose this weight.

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