Have you ever wondered why almost every personal trainer and exerciser always has a protein supplement in their gym bag, locker, or kitchen counter? Have you ever wondered if that is healthy or not? Have you ever wondered what’s in all those protein powders? Have you ever wondered what many of the bodies we admire every day are made of? Have you ever thought that there might be companies that put money above our health? Companies that make millions using unhealthy ingredients in their products? Have you ever wondered why you work out?
So, let’s clarify a few things because our health is precious and because we exercise to be healthy.
First of all, supplements in the exercise and sports field bring millions to the companies that produce them. It is a very profitable industry. Of course, that is not a bad thing. When a supplement is of superior quality, promotes health, and brings enormous profits to a company, it is the ideal condition. But a supplement’s quality may also be poor or harmful, putting our health or lives at risk.
I will talk mainly about protein supplements, vitamins, and multivitamins. They both need some caution. From the beginning, I’d like to say that I do not use protein powders because I prefer natural food. I will only use vitamins or multivitamins if there is a specific reason and always with a mindful product selection. But I would like those who do use supplements to know some basics. That way, they may avoid certain traps and stay healthy.
Certainly, vitamins and multivitamins are beneficial. Often, many people experience health issues requiring some vitamins to overcome or improve a problem. Other times, our diet may not be great for some time, so a multivitamin may help the body get the necessary nutrients. But is it right to take a vitamin or multivitamin daily if no doctor has recommended or prescribed it for a specific reason?
One pitfall when it comes to vitamins and multivitamins is that people who rely on them may not pay much attention to food… to real food, to a balanced diet. For example, someone thinks: I take a multivitamin; it gives me all the necessary nutrients, so even if I don’t eat properly, I get what I need. But that is wrong. Nothing, but nothing can replace real food. And that is proven. More and more research in recent years shows that the nutrients we get from food cannot compare to those from supplements. They are clearly better and absorbed better. In fact, it has been found that some vitamins and other nutrients taken through supplements can sometimes cause health problems. The artificial addition of substances to a pill or other supplement is sometimes unhealthy. After years of following nutrition and fitness topics, my conclusion is that nothing but nothing can replace nature, real food. Let’s remember that so we don’t overdo it and don’t depend on them.
The second thing I’d like to say is that supplements may also have some side effects, just like drugs. Some of which I experienced in the past and made me skeptical. For example, there was a period when I wasn’t eating that well; I couldn’t eat as well as I wanted, and I thought a multivitamin would supplement my body with some nutrients… which is correct. In times when we don’t eat well, that may help. And while I chose one of the best brands (at that time, I was also in the US and had more options), I still felt something was wrong. Although I had chosen a natural and organic product, I had a strange feeling every time I took it. I wasn’t myself. I looked at the product again and saw that a combination of ingredients it contained (that I hadn’t noticed) was used to give more energy and stimulation to the body, which I didn’t want. Some others may like that. But I didn’t feel good using it. If I hadn’t figured it out, I wouldn’t have known why I wasn’t feeling well. I wouldn’t have known what was happening to me. Luckily, I discontinued it, and I was fine. Of course, I should mention that the most common thing with some vitamins or multivitamins is that they can upset the stomach and cause some discomfort, nausea, etc.
Another multivitamin gave me unnatural and excruciating leg cramps in unusual parts of the legs. I understood again that something was wrong. What I had changed during that time was that I had started that multivitamin. It was, again, natural and organic. Perhaps it was the best on the market at the time. So, I searched online for more information about it and was surprised that others reported the same side effect. Many pointed to the large amount of an ingredient in the product that was probably causing the problem. I discontinued it immediately, and the cramps disappeared. So I understood that even if you choose the best product, it may not work for you as it should. We are all different, and everything can have its side effects. Always listen to your body.
So my opinion, like that of many scientists, is that a multivitamin should only be taken when we are not eating properly. And always, of course, with a doctor’s and nutritionist’s guidance. When our diet improves, we should stop using it and rely again solely on our healthy and balanced diet. So, the advertising or, I’d better say, the brainwashing that has been going on for decades that we all need a multivitamin daily definitely needs some caution.
Now, a few things about protein supplements… Again, we have been similarly brainwashed into believing that to build a beautiful body, we must take a protein powder. In my opinion, that is not correct. For one more time, I believe the best choice is good food.
But what is protein, and what are its benefits? Also, what is a protein supplement good for?
In simple words, among other things, protein is the “brick” of our muscles, but it cannot work miracles. I’m saying it again: it cannot work miracles. After a workout, we should have a full meal to get the necessary protein and other nutrients to restore and improve our muscles and body. Of course, we can get the protein the muscles need from pure and healthy food. Protein shakes are simply easier to use. Their preparation and digestion take much less time than a meal. They also often give you more protein than you would get from a single meal. But is their use always safe?
Let me share some of my thoughts on this and discuss some risks. Then, whether and how to use a protein supplement is, of course, your decision.
First, to see results from a pure protein powder, we would need to consume an amount usually greater than what we would get from a good meal. And now I’m wondering: Are our organs made to process more protein daily? Is our liver built to do that extra work every day? Also, many athletes don’t know that if they consume more protein than the body will use, that extra amount will be used for energy or stored as fat. The body cannot store protein. So, if we take a significantly higher amount of protein for bigger muscles, we won’t necessarily see better results.
Now, one may say: I prefer to get that amount of protein from my food, which I consider better. I would have the same thought, too. But what happens? To get the same amount of protein from food (and see some results), we might need to consume 5 to 10 egg whites a day or eat a lot of meat daily. But does that sound normal to you? Although the egg white is a natural and excellent source of protein. However, if I had to choose protein from supplements and protein from food, I would choose the food. But I still wouldn’t like any exaggeration.
So, protein should be used in moderation, whether from a supplement or food. Now, what is moderation? A good dietitian can define and clarify that to us. The dietician will help us reasonably use protein from food or a supplement. Overdoing it is never good… in everything.
But what happens, though… That logical protein consumption cannot work miracles, as I said above, which means it cannot create flawless bodies, the ancient statue-like bodies, or massive bodies we often see around us. How are all those made? Undoubtedly, with the use of other substances, which are not always harmless.
So, what is the right course of action? To get the protein and everything else the muscles need from food. And in a quantity a nutritionist suggests. That should be the right order. I repeat that… that should be the right order. In my opinion, anyone starting strength training, whether a teenager or older, should first see the limits of their body with natural food. They should train for at least 1-2 years without supplements, and if they don’t like their body after that period and want something more, yes, it is not bad to try a pure protein supplement, and always with a nutritionist’s guidance. But they should be aware of the dangers and pitfalls.
For some, a perfect body does not necessarily require endless hours in a gym, dozens of exercises, tons of sweat, and years of training. Unfortunately, in just a few months, someone can have a very impressive body by using dangerous substances. But then, no one can guarantee they will be healthy in a few months or after a few years. So let’s be very careful.
Of course, many exercisers do not easily admit to using such “powerful” supplements because I think they feel little guilt. Most of the time, they say that they have built their great body naturally or by simply using some pure protein. But, anyone with a bit of experience and knowledge in that field knows very well who uses “strong” supplements and who doesn’t, who uses simple and pure supplements, and who works out entirely naturally. It will take some years, but if we all start talking about these issues (always politely), good change will definitely come, and things will improve. Then exercisers will either use a simple and pure protein in moderation or build their bodies entirely naturally without any supplements (which I believe is best).
You may also often hear that some protein powders are better than others, which is why they are more effective. In other words, they give bigger muscles. But that is not entirely correct. Yes, the quality of a protein (how pure it is) certainly plays a role in the results one will see. But nowadays, most companies produce high-quality protein. The question now is: why are the results often different? That is because some other ingredients for muscle mass are usually added to some protein supplements. So, the phrase “this protein is better” is not always about its purity and quality but about what else is in the protein container. Let’s remember that pure protein alone cannot give us the flawless muscles and muscle mass we are used to seeing. It helps, but a little, up to a point.
Now, another issue about protein powders. Let’s imagine that there are no dangerous supplements. That everything is good and healthy. But would it make sense to consume them for the rest of our lives? And why I’m saying this: Most exercisers who start using supplements for muscle growth don’t know that if they want to maintain any muscles they’ve gained, they’ll have to take the supplements for life. Most mistakenly believe that if they take some supplements for only a few months (even stronger and more dangerous), they can maintain their muscles with good training after they stop them. But that’s not true… After you stop taking a supplement, you soon return to the body you had before taking it. So, one quickly understands that something is wrong there. You should take a protein powder for the rest of your life (if you trust it) or take it for short periods. In the first case, is it reasonable to consume a daily supplement for the rest of your life while high-quality food is always around you? In the second case, would you like to be thinner for some months and more muscular for others? I wouldn’t like that.
Another issue now about protein supplements. The dependence…or addiction, I would say, in quotes, of course. The dependence that many exercisers have on the protein or other supplements they consume. I believe if you hide the protein from an exerciser, they will go crazy. If you want to tease them for a bit, tell them you accidentally spilled it on the floor. That dependence on supplements is quite significant. It’s the magic powder that bulks up the muscles. Training without it makes no sense. Many even believe that training without a protein powder will have no results. It is where advertising has done its job excellently. And I’m wondering now… what role does food play in this world? Because if we continue to overuse supplements, food will act as a supplement, and supplements will ultimately replace our meals.
Now, another problem with protein powders. Unfortunately, in some cases, protein and other similar supplements contain ingredients that are not clearly listed on the product label or not listed at all. For example, the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) states on its website that it found in the past 300 products advertised for weight loss, sexual activity enhancement, and muscle growth that did not list specific ingredients. Or the ingredients listed were intended to mislead the consumer. Such products have also been found in other countries, and of course, once found, the drug administration of those countries prohibits their sale.
Another thing now we should all be aware of: some unhealthy supplements’ side effects may be noticed long after the beginning of their use. You may feel that everything is going well. But suddenly, after some years of using a stronger or more dangerous supplement, a health problem appears out of nowhere. You may be more relaxed then, exercise, eat right, have your family, and enjoy life more, but you experience a health problem without knowing why. For instance, certain types of cancer, heart problems, and other health issues are often attributed to dangerous substances and anabolics aimed at a better body.
But, the side effects of some supplements can be immediate, too. Problems with the stomach or other organs, hyperactivity, nervousness, outbursts of anger, aggression (and watch out for that too), and violent and criminal behavior are often attributed, according to research, to some dangerous substances and anabolics.
And I’m thinking how happy parents are when their teenage children join a gym. But they don’t know that some may start using dangerous supplements for muscle growth or fat burning… And that happens because their role models are not always right, and no one has explained to them the potential dangers of supplements.
Sadly, even trainers sometimes provide dangerous supplements and anabolics to their clients, even though they do know the risks. Now, you may ask why this is happening… Of course, because money is sweet, sweeter than we think. However, many exercisers and athletes have died or suffered serious problems after using such substances.
And let’s not forget that fat-burning supplements may be unsafe, too. Many weight loss supplements affect the metabolism; the rate our body works (they speed it up). That is why one may experience palpitations, an irregular heartbeat, or other heart problems. Some other substances inhibit the feeling of hunger, but with many dangers, which good advertising often makes people not see.
Now, one more thing about protein supplements: why do we want something fake? I would say that most men who work out for strengthening and muscle mass take some protein supplements. Because as I said above, there has been that brainwashing that you can’t build a body without them. Or because they like a little bigger muscles. In fact, I believe a significant percentage of those also take a stronger supplement. I would love, too, to have a little bigger muscles. But my body type, my genes don’t allow me. So why use a substance to make you more muscular? Those who don’t know admire such bodies. Too few people exercise, relying solely on natural food. But why not love yourself as is, its potential, its genes, its limits? Why should we desire something other than what we were made for, leading us to substances that are sometimes harmful to our health… Sadly, that happens not only to the body but also to the face. Yes, it’s good to try to improve ourselves, but always within some safe limits, appreciating moderation and everything more natural.
It is good to know that there are three main body types. In simple words, these are the very thin, the overweight or obese, and the athletic. What does this mean? Some are thin and don’t store fat easily. Some others are overweight or obese and gain weight quickly, even with small portions. Another category is the athletic type. Those may look fit without doing a single exercise. Of course, each category has its pros and cons.
But we all fall into one of those three main categories. Our genes are mainly responsible for what type we are, and we cannot change that 100%. That means that we can’t become the same as the body of someone in another category. We can look pretty close to it with proper diet and exercise, but we cannot become the same. If we pursue that, we may starve, and our diet will not be good, or we may be led to dangerous substances. So, we cannot jump entirely from one body type to another and be healthy at the same time. We cannot change our genes. Only those who use unsafe supplements and substances can somehow “break” the boundaries of their genes. But no one guarantees that they will remain healthy.
So if we suddenly see muscle mass on a friend’s body that doesn’t look normal, we’d better say something… talk to them, inform them. So they know where to draw the line and never take this matter lightly.
In the next few years, I would really like to see more trainers emphasize a proper diet and less or not at all supplements. I would love to see more trainers with normal bodies setting a good example, not muscle bulk from powerful supplements or anabolics. Of course, I respect the choice of those who use supplements or dangerous substances as long as they do not harm others.
I should also say that we are all somehow responsible for the misuse of supplements… Because we admire flawless bodies we see around us without a second thought. Without wondering whether they are built naturally or with substances. And because that admiration is evident everywhere, young guys who start working out try to build a body like that. But when they can’t achieve that quickly with good food, they try to find other ways, some of which may involve significant risk. I would say that the celebrities and public figures’ responsibility is quite large, too. You know, through TV and social media. Because they also often display bodies that are not made with natural food.
It is wonderful to admire and reward someone for something they have achieved. For a beautiful body as well. But let’s be careful so we don’t unwittingly encourage harmful substances to our health.
What is the conclusion now from all this? Let’s first try to train for 1-2 years with natural food, and then, if we want something more, yes, it’s not bad to try a pure protein supplement. And always under the guidance of a doctor and nutritionist. We shouldn’t play with our health by using supplements and substances that we do not know if they are healthy. We should never trust what each exerciser advises us about them but trust the opinion of a good professional instead. Let’s use supplements wisely and in moderation, respect our body type, value our lives, exercise properly, consume foods that are in a more natural form, follow a balanced diet, and adopt a healthier lifestyle. Anyone can start today!