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Protein Powder Pitfalls

Protein PowderIn a society that's becoming obsessed with high protein diets, the advent of mass produced protein powders couldn't come soon enough. Yet, the lowdown from nutritionists is that protein powders, which are usually taken post workout, won't do the average consumer much good unless they happen to be an elite athlete.

According to leading nutritionist, Dr Rosemary Stanton OAM, most Australians are consuming more than enough protein in their diet already. While Stanton concedes muscle recovery after prolonged exercise is better with protein (and carbohydrate), she says there is no need for anything other than a glass of skim milk after a workout.

"Those just playing some sport or even an ordinary visit to the gym will be fine with milk or a normal meal afterwards," she says. "The popularity of protein powders and shakes is due to marketing, not any health requirement." And clever marketing it has been too. Last year the sports foods market reached the $80 million mark, a rise of 27.7% over the previous year.

With no sign of this trend going anywhere but up, it's clear who the real winners are, and it's certainly not the consumer, according to Stanton.

Body-conscious boys as young as 16 are attracted to protein supplements for their perceived muscle enhancing properties, while adolescent girls tend to use them as a meal replacement product, a practice Stanton says, that reinforces poor eating habits. "While these powders are unlikely to cause any direct harm, if they replace foods such as fruit and vegetables, and teenagers in particular consume these way under recommended levels, then that may also give a false idea that their diets are adequate," she says.

Associate Professor Tim Crowe, a nutrition academic within the School of Exercise and Nutrition and Sciences at Deakin University agrees but says it's "the waste of money" that's his main issue. "The spin that's put on these protein supplements is that you need them and while they are supported by a small amount of science, it has very little relevance to the average punter".

He says the recommended dietary intake for the average Australian, which should meet 98% of the population's needs, is 0.75 grams per kilogram of body weight for women and 0.84 grams per kilogram for men. "Yet the average Australian male already eats 1.3 grams per kilogram [of body weight] of protein while the average female eats around 1.1 grams so you can see most of us already eat enough protein to cover most sports areas unless you're an elite sports athlete."

Like Stanton, Crowe says a glass of milk following a workout will do the trick. "Good old-fashioned flavoured milk is as good as protein powder because you get the carbs from sugar, the protein from the milk and all the amino acids you need into the bloodstream." But try telling your patients that!

By Amanda Davey - 6 Minutes