Mr Muscle: The Rise of Protein Supplements

Photograph courtesy of Tyler McNally


Nowadays, it is almost impossible to stroll around Queen’s campus without seeing a handful of young males clutching a protein shake or other supplement. Whilst it is encouraging to see so many following healthy lifestyles; with pre-workout supplements like ‘Jack 3D’ and ‘Craze’ flying off the shelves, are we really fuelling our bodies correctly?

Stephen Crooks, a personal trainer and fitness expert with over six years experience, explains that the popularity of such supplements may largely be down to cost. Whilst it is no secret that a healthy diet and keeping active is the quickest way to get into shape, it is also expensive. Keeping a student fridge stocked with fresh produce on a tight budget is no mean feat. Crooks highlights that we often search for a “quick fix,” especially young males. “There’s no such thing as a perfect diet,” he explains. “Supplements are a lot cheaper than fresh ingredients so often, the supplements are made a priority.”

The low cost of these supplements means students are often using them as meal replacements, a practice Crooks warns against. He emphasises that our bodies are intelligent and will go into a catabolic state, or starvation mode, when our stomachs aren’t full enough. In this state, the body clings onto fat, thereby slowing down the weight loss process. If we fuel our bodies correctly, the stomach recognises this and the body goes into an anabolic state, encouraging fat burning. Crooks says that he often tells clients that it is about “taming the beast” of hunger. “Irish culture dictates three big meals a day with nothing in between, making it hard to lose weight.”  In other words, by eating little and often we can stem cravings and hunger, keeping the body in that anabolic state.

Crooks points out that supplements like protein shakes can complement training by repairing muscle fibres and aiding recovery. Taking too much, however, is a pointless exercise as he points the body can only absorb 25-30g of protein an hour. He also encourages clients to think carefully about pre-workout supplements. With names such as ‘Black Powder,’ ‘Juggernaut’ and ‘No X-Plode,’ these products seem like the perfect solution to training harder and for longer. However, Crooks advises careful consideration as these products can often contain over 300% of the recommended daily allowance of caffeine, potentially leading to nausea and heart palpitations. ‘Jack 3D’ is also under investigation by the FDA for its steroidal value.

Crooks agrees that the marketing of such products is clever, with images of Men’s Health type models often adorning their advertisements. But he makes it very clear that a proper diet and exercise regime is the key to “bettering our bodies and bettering our health.” He compares the body to a £1 million racehorse that requires tailored training and a good diet. “You would do it for an animal you paid over £1 million for – so why not do it for your own body?”