What do you think of protein powder for athletes?

Touted as essential for gaining muscle mass, protein powders are very popular with athletes, including amateurs. But are they effective and, above all, risk-free? What are these products made of? How much to take? What are the contraindications? We tell you everything.

According to the latest estimates from the research firm Xerfi, protein products represent more than 80% of the sports nutrition market  : in France, 152 million euros in 2021. It is mainly through an army of influencers that the virtues of these supplements – called “whey” and generally sold in powder form – are highlighted. However, are they really founded?

Protein powder: what composition?

Gym subscribers are now accustomed to rows of shakers, these containers containing a milky liquid with a vanilla, chocolate or strawberry flavor. They are especially megaprotein and athletes ingest them to gain muscle mass. Among different types of proteins, dairy ones are the most common.

An industrial process renders them dry, in powder form. This process simplifies the food and strips it of other nutrients such as vitamins. Julien Louis, nutrition professor

Plant-based whey

The stalls also offer proteins of plant origin , often "based on soya or, more recently, peas". The expert points out that these powders are produced from natural foods: “they are not synthetic proteins”.

Is the composition of protein powder regulated?

In 2016, a European Commission report on foods intended for athletes noted that up to 40% of products made unauthorized claims on their packaging .

Others could even contain banned substances, such as anabolics. Two years later, 60 million consumers pointed out “  unreliable labeling  ”. In the protein market, there would therefore be something to eat and drink.

To find your way around, “you have to  refer to the labels  ,” advises Julien Louis. “They supervise the manufacturing processes and ensure that what is written on the label corresponds to what is in the box.” According to the expert, in France, it is the  Afnor label which represents a guarantee of reliability and quality.

Protein powder: what is it for? for what result?

Made up of amino acids, the building blocks of all our proteins , these products will “ stimulate protein synthesis” , says Julien Louis. “Without amino acids, without dietary proteins, we cannot renew our muscle proteins, and thus maintain our muscle mass ,he continues. “Even less can we produce new muscle proteins if we want to develop our muscles.”

Is their effectiveness proven?

Yes , and the claim “helps increase muscle mass” is authorized. According to Dr Benoît Fréville, author of Whey and other proteins (ed. Amphora), consumption “during twelve weeks of training allows you to gain between 300 and 400 g of muscle and lose between 400 and 700 g of fat  ”.

But you must keep in mind that these protein powders are as effective as food proteins such as those from meat or cottage cheese. Julien Louis.

“The only nuance is that it is a more practical solution  : they are more easily transportable and immediately consumable within the hour following the effort”.

Protein powders: do they carry health risks?

There is no risk for a population without pathologies, believes Julien Louis. For a healthy person who practices physical activity with a balanced diet, there is no danger.

And “for the moment, no study shows negative effects,” he adds. What if we increase the doses  ? “It won't do anything more, except that you will have to drink more to eliminate nitrogenous waste.”

What contraindications?

However , health authorities do not recommend these proteins to people with  impaired kidney function, placing greater demands on the renal system. Certain powders may contain caffeine , they also discourage their use “by people with cardiovascular risk factors , suffering from heart disease or impaired liver function, children, adolescents and pregnant or breastfeeding women”.

How much protein powder should you take?

The expert insists, protein powders are suitable if they complement a balanced diet . “For the general population, the recommendations are around 0.8 g/day of protein per kilo of body mass  ,” he specifies.

For sports and bodybuilding

For athletes , intakes must be increased to meet muscular objectives. “We will tend towards 2.2 g/kg per day.  » Example: for a 75 kg person, this represents 165 g/day of protein. For 4 meals, she can therefore absorb 20 g of protein per meal through her diet, and supplement with 4 20 g shakes. “To maintain muscle mass, it is above all regularity that is important.”

Beyond post-workout consumption, Julien Louis emphasizes the importance of distributing protein intake between different meals.