THE vitamin and supplement industry is worth about $1.5 billon a year in Australia.
Protein shakes were once the domain of elite athletes to prepare and restore their muscles before and after training sessions, but they are now used by ordinary people looking to eat lean, bulk up at the gym or even as meal replacements.
However, nutritionist Cyndi O’Meara says you should ditch that protein shake and fuel your body with natural foods.
“Always check the back of your protein shake packet or powder,” she said. “Most of us just look at the nutritional labels for fat and sugar break-down, but that doesn’t matter nearly as much as what goes inside these shakes.”
That’s easier said than done, though. A quick glance at most protein shake bottles reveals a big cross section of random letters and numbers.
“They are actually code for an enormous range of synthetic vitamins and minerals and other substances like non-gluing agents that help your body process these ‘false’ foods,” she said.
“If it’s a real food your body will recognise it and know how to process it. You are much better off fuelling your body with natural foods, as close to the real thing that you can get.”
According to Ms O’Meara, the protein craze kicked off in the 1980s with body builders, and thanks to movies such as Rocky, and back then people focused on eating raw eggs.
“This has gone out of fashion given the rising problem in monitoring food standards, but from a nutritional point of view there is nothing wrong with eggs – they are a perfect and whole protein,” she said.
Over the past 20 years there has been an increase in the use of synthetic colours, flavours and additives. Ms O’Meara said these products were unnecessarily complicated and most can be easily replicated from natural ingredients.
For example, the whey ingredient that features in the more expensive protein powders can actually be made from straining natural yoghurt.
“Pour the yoghurt over a muslin cloth. The grey, cloudy liquid that comes off it is the pure protein. You can add that to a smoothie with fruit or nuts,” she said.
Organ meats like kidneys and offal are another great source of protein, vitamins and nutrients.
“They have really gone out of fashion now, but they are really excellent sources of nutrition and protein,” she said.
It’s also essential to listen to your body.
“Once you have cleaned it out of all the foods that are doing you harm, your body will actually tell you very clearly what it needs,” she said.
If you do insist on taking a protein powder, Ms O’Meara recommends products made from hemp or Inca Inchi.
Inca Ichi is made from a seed found in South America. Once it’s cold pressed, you are left with an oil that is a pure form of protein.
“Again these are derived from natural food sources so your body will manage the digestion them effectively,” she said.
Above all, Ms O’Meara recommends a balanced and whole approach to fitness and nutrition.
“If the rest of your diet is crap and you are swallowing a pile of supplements or shakes, they will not work,” she said.
“It’s like when people ask me what foods they should be eating before a big race. And I always tell them, eat the same thing you eat every other night. If you are committed to your health, you need to be making good decisions every day, not just before a sports event or a marathon.”