Investment in the fitness industry is growing at an impressive rate in India. The sector’s worth is estimated to swell to $34 billion by 2027, according to the German data firm Statista. The fitness products market is set to be worth $6 billion by the end of this year, thanks to a surfeit of apps, equipment, apparel, and, above all, nutrition and food supplements.
As can be expected from a rapidly expanding market, there’s plenty of confusion and lack of specific information when it comes to fitness products in India, none more so than in case of supplements. Much of fitness and wellness information comes from social media influencers, gym trainers and friends, who oftentimes are not experts in the field. This often adds to the misinformation.
To cut through the clutter, we speak to qualified nutritionists and dieticians to put all misinformation and half-truths to rest. How exactly do supplements like whey protein and BCAA (branched chain amino acids) work, how can they help you, and how do you consume them for the maximum benefit. To find out, read on.
Whey Protein: This is one of the most popular products out there and often the first supplements that anyone tries. Whey is a type of protein that is obtained from milk during the process of curdling it, says Niyati Naik, clinical dietician at the Kokilaben Dhirubhai Ambani Hospital Mumbai. “The water that separates from the milk solids during this process is whey, which is then commercially dried to form a powder,” she adds. This is what we get when we pick up a tub of whey protein.
How does it help? Proteins are the basic building blocks of the body, and can help every aspect of your fitness journey, including muscle building, better immunity, better hair, skin and nails. Whey is absorbed faster by our bodies as compared to other proteins like casein, thus making it the optimal choice for meeting the protein requirement of the body, explains Naik.
When should one have it? Naik suggests splitting your whey protein intake into two doses, one before a workout and one after. This helps in ensuring better performance during the workout, and improves muscle synthesis after the workout.
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. It can also be obtained from whey fortified drinks, bars, breakfast cereals and snacks.
Who should have it? Apart from professional athletes, it can be taken in low doses by those who are unable to meet their protein requirements through their regular diet. Always consult an expert before consuming, says Naik.
Protein isolate: Protein isolates are fractions of protein that undergo more processing to produce the purest form of protein. This process also gets rid of other components like gluten, lactose and fat that are otherwise present in the concentrate form, says Naik. They are more expensive than whey protein.
How does it help? Since it has a higher amount of protein, less carbohydrates and negligible fats, it is a very good source to build up muscle mass, explains Naik. Apart from the composition change, it works in the same way as whey protein does and improves muscle mass, immunity, hair, skin and nails.
When should one have it? Just like whey protein, you could have one helping pre-workout and one post-workout for maximum gain.
Is it possible to get it from any food source? While protein concentrate can be obtained from milk, isolates can be obtained only after processing the concentrate.
Who should have it? This is an excellent supplement for people who are lactose intolerant as also for people trying to reduce their carbohydrates and fats intake.
BCAA (branched chain amino acids): Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and BCAAs are a specific group of three essential amino acids—leucine, isoleucine, and valine—which the human body does not make, says Neha Ranglani, a Mumbai-based integrative nutritionist and health coach.
“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 individuals engaging in intense physical activity to support muscle growth, reduce muscle soreness, and enhance exercise,” explains Ranglani.
How does it help? BCAAs play an important role in recovery, muscle building and in reducing soreness. Leucine, in particular, stimulates muscle protein synthesis, which is essential for building and repairing muscles, thereby promoting muscle building, says Ranglani.
“Since BCAAs reduce fatigue by inhibiting the production of serotonin in the brain, they help in improving performance. Consuming BCAAs after intense exercise might help reduce muscle damage and accelerate recovery while during periods of calorie restriction or fasting, BCAAs help preserve muscle mass and prevent muscle breakdown. They can also be used as an energy source during prolonged exercise or when your glycogen stores are depleted. Moreover, BCAAs can help reduce mental and physical fatigue during prolonged exercise,” she notes.
When should one have it? The best time to take BCAAs depends upon your goals. If you have it before your workout, then it will provide an energy boost and reduce muscle damage during exercise. Consuming BCAAs immediately after your workout can help jump-start the muscle recovery process, explains Ranglani.
Is it possible to get it from any food source? A few common sources of BCAA would be meat, poultry, fish, milk and milk 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 individuals who work out extensively, professional athletes and body builders should include BCAAs in their nutrition plans.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.