Shake, shake, shake. Protein supplements are available in a large variety of forms and flavours in the UAE as they cater to an ever-growing demand from diet-conscious, fitness enthusiasts across age groups Image Credit: Stock photo

ABU DHABI: Whether it’s to burn fat or rebuild muscle, protein has become the staple of every diet trick in the box. As pharmacists and gym cafes report an estimated four-fold rise in the sale of concentrated protein over the last two years, the question remains - is it as healthy as it claims to be?

Huge variety

Dr Joseph Alvaris, who works at Life Pharmacy, said the pharmacy chain sells at least 14 to 16 brands of protein in powder form.

“About five years ago, whey (liquid remaining after milk has been curdled and strained with a high protein content) dominated the market. Now there are vegan, beef and many other protein options. Traditionally, only chocolate and vanilla flavours were available, but now you can get coffee, acai berry and even spinach. More variety means more consumers.”

A local gym named Bare Fitness in Business Bay recently added a superfoods café at its premises. Bali Bowls serves some healthy snacks as well as a variety of protein shakes.

“Our maximum capacity per session is 36 and almost everyone buys the ‘instant recovery shake’ or the ‘acai protein smoothie. We have close to 25 different shakes and we are always experimenting with seasonal fruits,” said Jimmy Ricardo, who is in charge of Bali Bowls at Bare Fitness.

Instructors at Barry’s Bootcamp Dubai, a US franchise gym facility located in DIFC often advise their clients to have a shake right after the high intensity session.

“When consumed within 120 minutes of a high intensity session, they can do wonders to the body. The protein gets absorbed into the system quickly, helping muscles to regain elasticity and of course, avoid fatigue. Athletes, body builders, vegetarians, pregnant women or people recovering from surgery benefit from supplementation,” said Barrie Birse, trainer at Barry’s Bootcamp Dubai.

But there are many who beg to differ. Dubai-based yoga instructor and raw food connoisseur Amrit Kaur believes these supplements are harmful. “I have been a vegan for nearly 12 years now, and I completely rely on nature for all my food. My stamina, BMI, iron levels and even muscle mass have improved without supplements and I don’t think anyone needs them,” said the 28-year-old.

“Vegan protein powders are a myth and they have ingredients that can take five-six years to digest. In my opinion, that is worse than having soda every day,” she added.

Stephanie Karl, clinical nutritionist at Emirates Integra Medical and Surgical Centre in Dubai Healthcare City said protein shakes, like any other supplements, can only ‘help fill gaps’.

“It is always better to eat protein-rich food as part of a normal diet. An average scoop of powder can deliver around 20 grams of pure protein, the same as a palm-sized portion of lean chicken, fish or meat, which is usually enough for a grown up adult. Vegetarians, on the other hand, may substitute the same with tofu, broccoli and quinoa,” she said.

According to her, rich protein diets can lead to the accumulation of ‘protein’ stones in the kidney. “Proteins must be taken along with carbohydrates, fibre and vitamins for your body to be able to break them down,” she added.

Protein powder

1. Hemp seeds
2. Nutritional yeast
3. Greek yogurt
4. Cottage cheese
5. Spirulina as protein

Source: Barrie Birse, instructor at Barry’s Bootcamp Dubai