The answer varies from person to person. Some people take them because their friends take them. Others take them because their nutritionist told them to take protein supplements. Some people take them because they believe that protein supplements increase muscle size, and other people take them because they have fully researched the supplements and believe that they are the supplement for them. Before you decide which reason(s) is the correct one, let’s examine what protein is.
A protein is a chain of amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of organic life and are what your genes (DNA) are made up of. They are tiny molecules, which when stretched into a string (a chain) create a protein. This means that protein can be found in any organic living thing (even jellyfish). It is also present in plant life, but in much, much smaller numbers. This is why vegetarians often need protein supplements, because they are not getting enough through their diet.
Do we need protein to live? Yes we do. We need an awful lot of things to stay alive, such as salts, fats, carbohydrates, protein and minerals. We even need trace elements of matter that would be poisonous in larger doses, such as iron and magnesium. We get all of these elements within our food, which is why people with poor diets often have malnourished-associated problems, such as going blind if you do not have enough vitamin A or rickets if you do not have enough calcium. This is the reason that cheap protein supplements are ideal for vegetarians; so that they can make up for the protein that they are missing through not eating meat (fish is a meat, irrespective of the schoolboy myth that has entered vegetarian society).
Normally we get protein through the meats we eat in our diet, but people who workout and exercise a lot will need more nutrition that people who do not. It is similar to driving a car, in that if you intend to travel further and faster, then you will need more petrol in your tank. People who work out may take cheap protein supplements because then need more protein, but will also need more fats, waters, sugars, carbohydrates, etc.
If people who workout take protein supplements, then why not take fat supplements, carbohydrate supplements, iron supplements, etc? Some people do, but the problem with protein is that it comes from meats, which is more expensive than fats, sugars and carbohydrates. You can buy a chocolate bar for £1.25, a bag of potatoes for £1.99 and a block of butter for £1.50, but 200-300g of beef will cost you anywhere from £4.99 to £8.50. This is one of the reasons that people take protein supplements, because it is cheaper.
The other reason that people think that protein helps to build bigger muscles is through a misunderstanding of the way the body works. If you are working out hard, then your body will create lactic acid that burns your muscles (and makes you ache the day after). This has a side effect of creating a small amount of anabolic steroid, which helps weave protein into your muscles, making them stronger. The trouble is that if you do not have enough protein in your system, then the steroid will just sit around until it is removed from your blood stream by your kidneys. Protein is the building block of muscles. So having it in your system does not mean that you are bound to have bigger muscles, but NOT having it in your system means that your body will struggle to make them bigger/stronger after you work out.
Maria Burns is an exercise instructor. Being a vegetarian, she tries to share through this article information about proteins and reasons for cheap protein supplements to be good for diet.