It is very easy to read an article in a magazine and believe everything it claims simply because it is presented professionally. The implications of this are particularly important when the article contains information about one’s health. Before acting upon the information found in an article, it’s a good idea to question the claims it makes through a thorough analysis. For example, Anne Cusack of the Los Angeles Times calls herself the healthy skeptic, but one must analyze her article “Protein Supplements are Handy Boost to Athletes” before depending on her information.
While the article appears under Anne Cusack’s by-line, a closer look reveals that the article was written by Chris Woolston. Very little information can be found regarding Cusack’s credentials for an article of this sort, but Woolston is a regular contributor to this column and has a strong background in health-related topics. According to the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (2009), Woolston has been a science/medical journalist for several years after having achieved a master’s degree in biology. While these would seem to be strong credentials, the truth is that not much information is given about Woolston’s knowledge in this particular area, but he does have a stronger background in the subject than I do and is more likely to understand what he is looking at when comparing labels among protein supplements, which is what this article is about.
The article is an exploration into whether or not protein supplements contribute to the health and body-building activities of many athletes. He cites a professor of health and exercises science and athlete as proof that this is a strong trend among training athletes and proves he is aware of his topic by discussing some of the more popular products currently on the market. The article is made easy to read with bold subtext that separates the article into clearly labeled sections that include the claims and the bottom line, giving the impression that the truth is about to be revealed.
According to Woolston, marketers typically claim these products will provide athletes with better stamina, better power, and better recovery. He cites another expert in the field, the chairman of the department of health and kinesiology and director of the exercise and sports nutrition laboratory at Texas A&M University in College Station, as proof that the athlete’s body does require additional protein to continue building. However, after revealing what the recommended amounts should be based on individual activity levels, Woolston also points out that the necessary protein is easily achieved through a normal diet. Protein products can be most helpful when taken right before, during, and right after a workout when a dose of protein might not otherwise be feasible. Other than this benefit, Woolston claims, with verifiable professional support, that there are few practical differences among the higher quality proteins on the market and none of these are guaranteed to go straight to the muscle as it will still require a great deal of work and effort to achieve the chiseled results many are seeking. After presenting his findings, Woolston concludes that while protein supplement products may help athletes gain the additional protein that they do require to build muscle mass at the most beneficial moment, protein supplements aren’t required for athletes to make the most of their training time.
Attempts to discover any fallacious claims made by the author were successful only in finding further support for the information he provides. Nancy Clark, for example, with a master’s in science and a registered dietician, writes that athletes regardless of their activity level, are likely to be getting enough protein for their dietary needs through regular eating habits. She offers that protein supplements may be helpful in some situations, such as in the case of anorexics who are more likely to drink a shake than eat a meal, but they don’t add much to the normal individual’s health. Elizabeth Quinn, reviewed by the Medical Review Board, also supports the claims that additional protein intake in athletes through protein supplements is not necessary to build muscle; however, where the other authors claim that extra protein is just flushed out of the system, Quinn suggests that there are dangers to getting too much protein. Among these risks are increased chances of some forms of cancer, increase calcium excretion, and therefore increased risk of osteoporosis and a reduced intake of vitamins, minerals fiber, and phytochemicals. This discrepancy suggests that not using protein supplements would not retard athletic progress while too much protein may or may not harm the body while it will decrease the available money in the wallet.
While the intake of too much protein may introduce potential health problems to the system, I believe the reason why Woolston neglected to go into this detail was two-fold. First, it seems he is limited in the amount of space he has to write and thus must keep his articles confined to a single issue that he attempts to support with strong evidence and credible sources. Second, his purpose is to relieve athletes’ fears regarding protein and get them to relax and understand that they are likely getting all the protein they need just in their regular eating habits. If their fears are released, they will be less likely to overdo their protein intake and these issues won’t be a problem. However, introducing the possibilities without the space to fully discuss them would have the opposite effect in causing more reason for the readers to be upset.
- Clark, Nancy. “Athletes and Protein: The Truth About Supplements.” Active Nutrition. (2002). Web.
- “The Healthy Skeptic.” Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. (2009). Web.
- Quinn, Elizabeth. “Sports Supplements – Protein and Athletic Performance.” Sports Medicine. (2009). Web.
- Woolston, Chris. “Protein Supplements are Handy Boost to Athletes.” Los Angeles Times. 2009.