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The Scoop on Protein (Part 1: Risk Mitigation)

Updated: 15 hours ago

What is protein?

I am sure you've heard of the macronutrient protein by now, but your body needs protein to build and repair cells. It also helps create antibodies to keep you healthy and, bonus, it keeps you feeling full. Dietary protein provides amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, and are necessary for life. You can get protein and amino acids from a variety of foods. For example, foods that are great sources of protein include nuts, beans, lentils, fish, tofu and other soy products, seeds, animal meat, and dairy products. Dietary supplements can also help you reach your protein goals. A few types of protein supplements include whey, whey isolate, casein, and plant-based (e.g., pea, soy, hemp and rice) powders.

*Note: For safety, it is best to talk to a dietitian or your PCP about supplementing before you begin a new regimen. The amount of protein you need varies depending on your age, sex, activity level, lean body mass and even health conditions.

Buyer beware: dietary supplement safety

  1. It is important to ask a few questions before supplementing:

    1. Is there peer-reviewed science that discusses the safety, and effectiveness of this supplement (aka do I need it, will it hurt me or will it work for what I want)?

    2. Can I get enough from my diet via food first?

    3. Did I find out about this supplement on social media from an influencer trying to sell me this supplement? (#RedFlag)

  2. Contents of supplements are NOT regulated by the FDA.

  3. Make sure you are getting third-party supplements if you are choosing to supplement. They are less likely to be contaminated with heavy metals, and other contaminants. Third-party tested supplements are tested to see if the ingredients match what is on the label, but also if the amount you're getting of the ingredients is correct.

    1. NSF-certified (1) tells you more about the safety too so check for the symbol on the packaging before purchasing.

  4. Don't trust Google for nutrition (or medical) advice. Go to an actual nutrition professional if you're seeking nutrition advice. To optimize performance as active as you are as a first responder, you definitely should have more than the RDA.

On that note... How much do I need?

According to the ISSN Position Stand on Protein and Exercise (2), if you are exercising, you mostly likely need a minimum of 1.4 to 2.0 g of protein per kg of bodyweight each day to ensure your activity is sustained and your body benefits from it. Back to our example, 220 lb (100 kg) exercising person, or first responder, would need (1.4 x 100) to (2.0 x 100) = 140 to 200 grams of protein per day.

That sounds daunting, doesn't it? Just make sure protein isn't your only focus and these numbers don't stress you out. Food and fitness don't need to be stressful, and nutrition professionals can help.

Another great resource is the ISSN Tactical Athlete Nutrition Position Stand (3), which has first responder and military specific nutrition recommendations. Last, but not least, getting enough protein can be considered risk mitigation because of the pretty well-known fact that if you don't get enough protein, your risk of injury significantly increases. Don't make a rookie mistake. Get the protein you need!

*Don't miss Part 2 of this post to learn more about the different types of protein supplements!

References (*click the DOI to see the article):

  1. What is NSF certification? NSF. Accessed June 10, 2024.

  2. Jäger R, Kerksick CM, Campbell BI, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: protein and exercise. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2017;14:20. Published 2017 Jun 20. doi:10.1186/s12970-017-0177-8

  3. Gonzalez DE, McAllister MJ, Waldman HS, et al. International society of sports nutrition position stand: tactical athlete nutrition. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2022;19(1):267-315. Published 2022 Jun 23. doi:10.1080/15502783.2022.2086017

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