Many athletes are now using supplements such as protein shakes and bars to increase the speed at which they can build muscle from working out. In fact, more than just serious athletes are now using these supplement options: more amateurs than ever before are making sports-nutrition purchases to help them achieve their fitness goals.
But just because a lot of people are doing it does not mean it is effective, or even safe. And if you care about your personal health as well as your personal fitness, you should be concerned about both factors, effectiveness and safety. Safety is obviously always important because you don’t want to hurt yourself(especially while trying to do the exact opposite), but in this case it’s particularly important because you will already be asking a lot of your body, and the goal of anything you add to your diet should be to make it easier on your body to improve your physique.
First, let’s tackle the question of whether (and how) protein shakes and bars are effective for helping people gain muscle. The fact is, these supplements can indeed be quite effective if used correctly, but many people don’t use them correctly. The key to making a protein supplement effective is using it at the right time. Specifically, use it in that 45 to 60 minute window right after a workout, to allow your muscles to absorb the protein at the height of their sensitivity to it.
Working out primes your muscles for growth, making them more receptive to nutrition such as protein and glucose than they are at any other time. And guess what? Most protein supplements are very rich in exactly these two types of nutrition, and they are so fast and easy to prepare that taking one immediately after a workout is very simple to do.
On the question of safety, there are many worries about whether people should be taking bars and shakes because it is now common knowledge that too much protein can cause damage to kidneys and even lead to complete renal failure. And these concerns are not at all baseless; you can seriously hurt your body if your protein intake far exceeds the ability of your kidneys to process it. But this damage can be prevented, and rather easily.
The key to damage prevention and muscle-building success is proper management, and proper management can only come after proper measurement. So keep track of your diet, at least roughly, especially in terms of how much protein you are eating. Your food sources combined with any protein supplements you add should result in your getting no more than about 1.6 to 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of your own weight, assuming you are quite physically active. (For those with less active lifestyles, experts recommend about half that amount of protein.)
That said, most people don’t keep a close watch on their intake and they still don’t cause severe and lasting damage to their kidneys. This is because kidneys are quite resilient in all but the most extreme and enduring situations, and if you simply drink enough water and don’t go crazy with supplements (stick to one or two per day, since the most important part is timing anyway), you won’t be likely to harm your body. But getting enough water is indeed important, because water is what fuels your kidneys to flush excess nutrients out of your system.
So as it turns out, the answer to both sides of the coin is: if used correctly, protein supplements can be a great benefit to you in terms of gaining muscle. Just be sure to take them in moderation, use the right timing, and keep track of your nutritional intake as well as your progress toward your goals. You’ll get there in no time!