“Protein” is a macronutrient (a nutrient is a chemical element and compound which is essential for life and for growth of living organisms. A macronutrient is a nutrient that is consumed in a large quantity for the purpose of maintenance of the body) with excellent public relations. It has received great interest amongst various populations, both in the community and amongst patients and of course is referenced in nutritional treatment. This great interest is justified as the roles of proteins are well known and many – it is important for conservation of existing muscle mass and for development of new muscle mass; it contributes to treatment of wounds and pressure sores; it helps in controlling diabetes, supports weight loss processes and more. Its consumption is important for both the healthy individual and in the event of various illnesses, and sometimes the demand also increases.
In the light of high awareness protein powders have started to be produced which enable receipt of concentrated doses of protein, and which have become popular firstly amongst elite athletes and in the body building industry and at present also serve for additional objectives for all ages and even the geriatric population. There are many types of protein powders on the market which differ in their content, quantity and type of protein, and are designated to improve health and disease. Sometimes these improvements also contain supplementary nutritional components which could also serve as a meal replacement.
Amongst those hospitalized in rehabilitation wards part of the objective of the nutritional therapy is to maintain muscle mass and its growth in support of the paramedical treatments. Sometimes use is made of protein powders in order to supply a large quantity in volume for a small meal, when there is a loss of appetite or if there is another factor that restricts eating. For the most part there is a response to their consumption in the light of the positive connotation that they generate, when the situation improves and it is possible to rely solely on food, dieticians encounter a significant number of patients who feel secure with the protein enrichment and find it difficult to let it go.
The question is asked – why in fact shouldn’t one continue to rely on protein powders?
And so, because there is no unequivocal answer in regard to the advantage of consumption of protein powder as compared to an equal quantity of protein in food. The opposite could be true. In the world of research there is a dialogue at present that suggests that eating raw food in entirety (that is as it comes naturally and when it has undergone as few processing processes as possible) could be more effective in muscle development than eating any component separately. Many studies have examined the effect of isolated protein or a specific amino acid on the balance of the proteins in the body and in developing muscle, however only a few have examined the effect of the food itself.
A study from 2006, which is one of the first studies that examined the issue, raised the assumption that “’whole” milk (which has not undergone processing processes and fat reduction), raised the increase of the amino acids level in the muscle as compared to consumption of low fat milk. In another study from 2017 the effect of eating a whole egg (egg white and yolk) was examined, as compared to eating only the egg white, on developing muscle after physical training. The two studies provided the same quantity of protein and the amino acid Leucine specifically. The consumption of the whole egg caused a higher increased stimulus in developing protein in muscle.
It should be emphasized that consumption of isolated protein has an effect on the general balance of the proteins in the body in the same way that consumption of protein enriched food has an effect. However it is possible that this will hide the processes taking place in the muscle tissue specifically. It is assumed that protein from nutrition has other anabolic effects on the muscle tissues of the skeleton when it is consumed it its natural and whole state. The reason for this is still unknown; it is possible that the potential of the “whole” food to encourage muscle development after physical training rests with a combination of protein with other “non-protein” components such as vitamins, minerals, fatty acids and so forth.
Consumption of protein with carbohydrates and fats has a good effect on absorption and slows it down, this for both good and bad. The slow absorption is preferable in certain circumstances however the claim in favour of the isolating protein powders when we are discussing building muscle, rapid protein absorption is preferable in order to enable availability of amino acids for the muscle in a short time period. In practice, it was not found that this had an effect on building muscle in the long term during the day, however, the majority of the research discusses the need for a high quantity of protein during a meal as compared to equal distribution throughout the day.
Protein exists in a wide range of animal and plant based foods and for the most part it is possible to obtain sufficient consumption from food. In addition to the culinary advantages and the sense of healthiness experienced by the ability to eat and not to reply on medical food, it is possible that there is also a preference to consume raw food both in regard to developing muscles and for sufficient consumption of the rest of the nutritional components required.
It is clear that there are exceptions and cases in which the protein powders take priority. The requirement for protein is individual and very dependent on various factors. In order to determine the quantity of protein one should calculate the type, the medical history, personal data and personal preference of the individual. Remember, protein has the ability for undesirable effects on the body and in order to produce the best from our nutrition, it is recommended to consult with a professional.
The information presented in this article is general. It does not constitute medical advice or replace consultation with a physician. It should not be regarded as a recommendation or an alternative for medical treatment.
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