1,5 Years Later: My Current Stance on Protein Supplementation

protein-supplementsOne of the most popular articles I’ve ever put up here on the blog is my comprehensive article on protein supplements entitled 10 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Use Whey Protein Supplements. When I published that piece back in 2015, I suspected that it would stir up some debate. I wasn’t wrong. The article has attracted quite a bit of attention on the interwebs and its comment section has steadily been filling up with stories and anecdotes. Whereas some people, in particular bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts, and other folks who often use protein supplements on a regular basis, have taken up arms to defend their beloved protein shakes, others have been sharing stories concerning negative experiences they’ve had with protein supplementation.

I’m not at all surprised by these reactions to the article. Drinks, bars, and powders containing whey protein are among the most popular nutritional products on the supplement market today and have, via clever marketing campaigns and endorsements by celebrities, bodybuilders, and athletes, secured a position in the public’s mind as highly beneficial and nutritious food products. Hence, it is to be expected that some people believe very strongly that it’s healthy to use whey protein supplements and are hesitant to change their position, almost regardless of what kind of evidence they are presented with.

That said, it is also to be expected that there are a lot of people out there who find that protein supplements disagree with their bodies, seeing as protein supplements are evolutionary novel, processed food products that have a markedly different nutrient composition than the types of foods that were a part of the ancestral diets that contributed to sculpting the human genetic make-up.

In today’s article, I’m not going to take another in-depth look at the pros and cons of using whey protein supplements. Rather, I wanted to briefly share how my view on protein supplementation has evolved since I wrote the aforementioned article. Has my stance on protein supplementation changed? If so, how has it changed?

May, might, and maybe: Three of my favorite words

I always try to be cautious when I write articles about diet and health. Over time, I’ve learned that it’s better to “hold back”, as opposed to making bold or firm statements, even if I’m as good as 100% sure that I’m correct in my beliefs. The reason is that I like to leave some room for making minor corrections to my theories and ideas in the future, in case I come across new evidence and/or come to new conclusions in my mind. This is the reason why I often use words such as may, perhaps, could be, and might in my articles.

When looking back on my time in the health/medicine/fitness sphere, I recognize that there have been times where I’ve jumped to conclusions prematurely. I’ve tried to learn from those mistakes. Today, I don’t claim to always live up to a perfect standard with regards to wariness and watchfulness; however, I try to remember to remind myself to err on the side of caution when I write and talk about diet and health (and everything else as well, really). I much prefer to wait until I’m completely sure about something before I make a firm statement, as opposed to making a premature assertion that I have to retract later on.

With that said, I’m not afraid to voice my beliefs. As the readers of this site have probably noticed, if I’m sure about something, I don’t shy away from expressing my opinion.

I think most people would probably say that I make some pretty strong claims in my lengthy article on whey protein supplements. I’m not going to dispute that. However, if you read the whole article with observant eyes, then you’ll notice that there are many places where I “hold back” and use words such as may and might when discussing the impact protein supplements can have on the human body.

For example, when discussing how whey protein supplementation affects the human gut microbiota, I’m cautious about making firm statements, in large part because no studies have specifically looked into the link between protein supplementation and microbiota health. There was little doubt in my mind when I wrote the article that a big influx of whey protein into the human gut is likely going to shift the composition of the microbiota that resides there in such a way that the health of the human host is worsened; however, since I didn’t have much hard scientific data to present, I shied away from making bold claims.

Has anything changed?

Today, about 1,5 years later, I’m even more sure that the statements I made in my lengthy article on whey protein are correct. If I were to write a new comprehensive article on the pros and cons of whey protein supplementation today, it would probably look somewhat similar to the one I wrote in 2015; however, I would probably be even firmer in my statements. I would use the same arguments, but perhaps without some of the mays, ifs, and maybes. I would perhaps also try to make it more clear that it’s not just whey protein supplement that are problematic. (Many of the things I talk about in the article also apply to other protein supplements besides those that contain whey protein).

I’m not going to write another article though, seeing as I feel I’ve said most of what I need to say about protein supplementation. I could go back and make some small edits and updates to the 2015 article, but I don’t think I’m going to do that, as I’d like to leave it in its original form, in part to make sure that all the comments below the article are attached to the same piece of information.

Nothing has changed. Protein supplements are still highly processed, evolutionarily novel food products with an abnormal nutrient composition that can adversely affect many physiologic processes within the human body (e.g., processed related to gut permeability and hormone balance). An occasional small scoop of a high-quality protein powder is unlikely to do you much harm; however, regular consumption of moderate-large quantities of protein supplements certainly can. The vast majority of people would be wise to get all of their protein from whole foods such as meat, fish, and eggs.  

Picture: Creative commons picture by sekihan. Some rights reserved.

Comments

  1. Hi Eirik. Whey protein literally makes me physically ill, no might or maybe about it. I’ve experimented with different types and brands over the years, but the results are always disastrous. Possibly it does benefit some people under some circumstances–or at least they like to think it does–but I’m never going to be one of those people. I fully agree that real, unprocessed food is always a better choice.

    • You’re definitely not the only one who reacts that way to the consumption of large quantities of whey protein Shary. I’ve talked to a lot of people over the years who say protein supplementation has caused a deterioration of their health. Not surprising, given that whey protein bars, drinks, etc. are “strange” food products that the human biology (e.g., the metabolic system) has scant evolutionary experience with.

  2. Thoughts on egg protein supplements?

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