This month John has been mostly eating… protein!

After a body composition test reveals surprising results, our writer delves into the supplement market

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One of the great Simpsons episodes of all time, King Size Homer, sees our hero twig that if he gains a ton of weight, then he can be registered disabled and do his nuclear power plant job at home, free from Mr Burns’ ignominious workplace gym classes.

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There’s a scene where Homer, his gut already bursting out of his shirt, heads to Springfield’s ‘Nutrition Center’ and gleefully plonks a tub of protein powder onto the checkout. He’s looking to gain weight, fast.

“Luckily for you this stuff doesn’t work,” the shop assistant tells him.

I first watched it as a teenager and it’s always stayed with me. Does this stuff really work? Millions think it does, given the billions of pounds the global protein supplement industry is worth.

While I’m not looking to pile on the pounds like Homer (though who doesn’t like working from home?), the last few months I’ve made a concerted effort to up my protein intake, while reducing fat, in an effort to be a lean, mean, fighting machine in time for the Deloitte Ride Across Britain, which I’m riding this September. A body composition test last summer at the Porsche Human Performance Lab had revealed I was slightly, yet technically obese – and unlike Homer it wasn’t intentional!

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21.2% body fat!

The protein products I’ve been using aren’t the weight gain products Homer was gorging on, but low fat, high protein supplements that are useful for muscle repair.

“A lot of cyclists don’t think of protein because they’re scared they’re going to bulk up and gain too much muscle,” says Will Girling, the nutritionist for the One Pro Cycling pro team, in a feature in issue 338 of Cycling Plus, appealingly titled ‘Eat More, Lose Weight’. It is the wrong way for cyclists to think. The feature went on to say you should be eating 2g of protein per kilogram of body weight, so for me that meant 160g each day. Without protein supplements, for someone who’s trying to cut down on meat in their diet already, this would be difficult. There’s only so many lentils a man can eat.

In a couple of months’ time, post-protein fest, I’ll be doing another composition test to see how things have changed. In the meantime, here are the products I’ve been testing out. While it’s hard to say whether any or all of them do what they say, what I can say is I’ve been training as well as I’ve done for a couple of years and my appetite for the kind of food that isn’t good for me is well down. Protein supplements are snack-killers!

SCIENCE IN SPORT WHEY20 – £2.50 each

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Not your average way to consume protein. Each 78ml pouch has 20g of protein, with virtually no fat (0.1g) and only slightly more carbs (1.4g), and flavours include lemon, strawberry, chocolate orange, caramel and the new mango and passion fruit. WHEY20 has grown on me the more I’ve used it, the lemon in particularly. I don’t think I’ll ever get there with the caramel or the chocolate orange, mind – their tanginess doesn’t quite suit those flavours in the way they do the naturally bitter lemon.

The gels have a gritty texture and there was probably a bit of a barrier I had to get over before ingesting protein in gel form. I’m over that now and just sip it slowly over the course of 10 minutes after a ride. It’s also handy that there’s no mixing with water/milk involved – handy at the end of big rides or races where you might not have access.

VIFIT SPORT HIGH PROTEIN RECOVERY SHAKE – £14.95/350g

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Even though many protein drinks suggest you to mix with water, I always go with milk. For me it tastes way better and also gives you added protein, which is the whole point, surely? Per serving (35g) plus 250ml skimmed milk gives you 29g protein and 0.9g fat (I always add semi-skimmed, which means more fat, but it’s what my office supplies. What can I say – I’m tight!) It also comes in strawberry and vanilla flavours but I had mango and passionfruit, which wasn’t too sweet and even had a hint of a salty taste, which I found appealing.

OPTIMUM NUTRITION WHIPPED BITES – £19.99/box out 12

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As their name suggests, I was hoping for a Milky Way-like texture but weren’t quite as light or whippy as billed. Even so, the salted caramel flavour bar, which comes in two equal portions and has 20g of protein and no added sugar, were tasty and a decent substitute for the usual array of chocolate and biscuits that tempt Cycling Plus staff on a continuous loop, particularly as we get close to deadline.

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