If you’re confused about the role of fitness supplements and whether you need them, here are some expert tips you can use.
Investment in the fitness industry is growing at an impressive rate in India. The value of the sector is estimated to rise to $34 billion by 2027, according to German data firm Statista. The fitness products market is expected to be worth $6 billion by the end of this year, thanks to a slew of apps, equipment, apparel, and most of all, nutritional and food supplements.
As can be expected from a rapidly expanding market, there is a lot of confusion and lack of specific information when it comes to fitness products in India, especially when it comes to supplements. Much of the information on fitness and wellness comes from social media influencers, gym trainers, and friends, who are often not experts in the field. This often adds to misinformation.
To eliminate the clutter, we spoke to qualified nutritionists and dietitians to cut through all the misinformation and half-truths. How exactly do supplements like whey protein and BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids) work, how can they help you, and how do you take them for maximum benefit? To find out, keep reading.
Whey protein: This is one of the most popular products out there and often the first supplement anyone tries. Whey is a type of protein obtained from milk during the curdling process, says Niyati Naik, a clinical dietitian at Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital in Mumbai. “The water that separates from the milk solids during this process is the whey, which is then commercially dried to form a powder,” she adds. This is what we get when we take a tub of whey protein.
How does it help? Proteins are the building blocks of the body and can aid in all aspects of your fitness journey including muscle building, better immunity, better hair, skin and nails. Our body absorbs whey faster than other proteins like casein, making it the optimal choice for meeting the body’s protein requirements, explains Naik.
When should you have it? Naik suggests splitting your whey protein intake into two doses, one before training and one after. This helps ensure better performance during training and improves muscle synthesis after training.
Is it possible to get it from any food source? The water that separates during the curdling of the milk is a rich source of whey protein. You can also get it from whey-fortified drinks, bars, breakfast cereals, and snack foods.
Who should have it? Apart from professional athletes, it can be taken in low doses by those who cannot meet their protein requirements through their regular diet. Always consult an expert before consuming, says Naik.
Protein Isolate: Protein isolates are protein fractions that undergo further processing to produce the purest form of protein. This process also removes other components like gluten, lactose, and fat that would otherwise be present in concentrate form, says Naik. They are more expensive than whey protein.
How does it help? Since it has a higher amount of protein, fewer carbs, and negligible fat, it’s a very good source for building muscle mass, explains Naik. Apart from the change in composition, it works in the same way as whey protein and improves muscle mass, immunity, hair, skin and nails.
When should you have it? Just like whey protein, you can have a pre-workout and a post-workout aid for maximum gain.
Is it possible to get it from any food source? While protein concentrate can be obtained from milk, isolates can only be obtained after processing the concentrate.
Who should have it? This is an excellent supplement for people who are lactose intolerant, as well as people trying to reduce their carbohydrate and fat intake.
BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids): Amino acids are the building blocks of protein, and BCAAs are a specific group of three essential amino acids (leucine, isoleucine, and valine) that the human body does not produce, says Neha Ranglani, an integrative nutritionist and health coach based in Mumbai.
“These amino acids are classified as ‘branched-chain’ because of their unique molecular structure. BCAAs are primarily known for their role in muscle protein synthesis and muscle recovery. They are often used by athletes, bodybuilders, and people who engage in intense physical activity to support muscle growth, reduce muscle soreness, and improve exercise,” explains Ranglani.
How does it help? BCAAs play an important role in recovery, muscle building and pain reduction. Leucine, in particular, stimulates muscle protein synthesis, which is essential for building and repairing muscle, thus promoting muscle building, Ranglani says.
“Since BCAAs reduce fatigue by inhibiting the production of serotonin in the brain, they help improve performance. BCAA consumption after intense exercise may help reduce muscle damage and speed recovery, while during periods of calorie restriction or fasting, BCAAs help preserve muscle mass and prevent muscle breakdown. They can also be used as a source of energy during prolonged exercise or when glycogen stores are depleted. Additionally, BCAAs can help reduce mental and physical fatigue during prolonged exercise,” he notes.
When should you have it? The best time to take BCAAs depends on your goals. Having it before your workout will provide you with an energy boost and reduce muscle damage during exercise. Consuming BCAAs immediately after your workout can help jumpstart the muscle recovery process, explains Ranglani.
Is it possible to get it from any food source? Some common sources of BCAAs would be meat, poultry, fish, milk and dairy products, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and eggs. Quinoa, soy products, seeds and nuts, oats, and spirulina are also good sources of BCAAs.
Who should have it? Regularly active people who exercise a lot, professional athletes, and bodybuilders should include BCAAs in their nutrition plans.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and co-author of The Shivfit Wayto functional fitness book