Science of Supplementation (2 of 3): Protein Supplements

Last month we discussed the benefits of fish oil for the body and mind.  This month we will look at some of the latest research on protein supplementation.  There is a great deal of research on how beneficial protein is for athletes to develop and maintain skeletal muscle, but we are going to focus on how it may affect a person recovering from a large surgery such as a total knee arthroplasty/replacement.

Protein is one of the three essential components in the human diet, along with carbohydrates and fats.  Protein provides the raw material for both muscle construction and repair, keeps a balanced pH level in the blood, helps the immune system, the endocrine system, and the transmission of nerve impulses.   All of these systems contribute to the overall health of a person and their energy level.  When a person has a large surgery, their body is working overtime to restart all the systems in the body and heal the injured area.  The body must get rid of and work through the anesthesia and other necessary medications.  Constipation, fatigue, diarrhea, and weakness are common side effects to surgery, and the last thing on most people’s mind is eating healthy.  This is where the additional of a protein supplement may have a great benefit.  Before we go any further, nutritional experts all agree that the best way to ingest protein is to eat a well-balanced natural food diet.  Some typical food sources of protein are eggs, cheese, milk, chicken, seafood, fish, beef, pork, lamb, veal, soy, nuts, and legumes.

If the body has a shortage of protein, a supplement will assist in the correction of the deficiency.  The body will not be able to repair and maintain muscle structure if it is in a protein deficient state.  On the other hand, if too much protein is ingested, it puts additional strain on the liver and then the kidneys. So, you must pay attention of how much protein you are getting in your diet especially after an injury to the muscloskeletal system.  When using a protein supplement, it has been shown to be more effective if consumed 30-60 minutes after exercise.

It is in my professional opinion, that a person should increase their protein intake after a large surgery to help balance and keep their body in a muscle repair mode.  The faster your muscles repair, the faster you recover.  The extra protein should first be ingested through a balanced diet and then through a protein supplement.  The supplement can be in the liquid form (like Boost or Ensure) or powder/pill form that you put in a shake.  If you have any other questions, please refer to your physician and/or nutritionist.

Written by:  Jeremy Kethley, PT