Protein pills are a way to increase your overall intake of the macronutrient, but they’re not the same as taking protein powders or more traditional forms of the supplement. When taking protein in pill form, you might get it as collagen or bone broth, rather than soy or whey protein, for example. That can change the health benefits and the potential risk of protein capsules and pills compared to powders and shakes.
Why Do We Need Protein?
Protein is part of a healthy diet, and proteins are made up of amino acids. These are chemical building blocks. Our body needs these amino acids for building and repairing muscles and bones. The body also uses proteins to make enzymes, hormones, and energy sources. Your body will use protein to grow and repair your cells and function properly.
Most of us get adequate amounts of protein from our diet. For example, it’s in animal and plant sources like eggs, meat and fish, dairy products, and legumes such as beans and lentils.
Since most of the protein most people get from their diet comes from animal sources, vegans and vegetarians might need to supplement or ensure they’re getting a wide variety of plant-based foods with protein.
If someone doesn’t get enough protein, which is rare, it can cause wasting and shrinking of muscle tissue, anemia, and edema, a build-up of fluids in the feet and ankles.
As people age, they have to be especially mindful of getting enough protein because starting at around age 50, we begin to gradually lose skeletal muscle. When you get enough protein daily, it helps you maintain strength and muscle mass as you age.
What About Protein Supplements and Powders?
Protein supplements, including powders and shakes, are extremely popular. Most people may not need to supplement with protein, at least not powders. These powders can be helpful for someone who doesn’t eat a lot of protein in their diet, has a particular disease or health issue that affects their protein intake, or is actively trying to build muscle mass and strength.
People who exercise frequently and especially do strength training might use protein shakes and supplements before or after workouts. This helps them to put on muscle mass, and protein plays a role in muscle recovery.
Protein Pills vs. Powders
Protein pill supplements aren’t the same as powders. First, they’re often made of collagen or bone broth rather than whey protein.
Collagen protein pills can help with exercise and muscle recovery, and they also help with skin health, joint health, and the health of the bones. Collagen contains a different amino acid profile than something like whey. It’s higher in glycine and proline but has less leucine, for example, than whey protein.
Supplementing collagen protein pills can help reduce skin aging and wrinkles. It may help promote the strength of the cartilage, which is important for joint health. Collagen protein supplements can also lower the risk of osteoporosis or help reduce some symptoms if you already have the condition.
There are some evidence collagen protein pills can help with heart health. Collagen can strengthen the arteries so they can deliver blood from your heart to the rest of your body optimally.
Bone broth is also often included in capsules. Bone broth is brewed from the connective tissues and bones of animals. Bone broth protein can be made with cows, chickens, and fish bones. Along with protein and collagen, bone broth has many essential nutrients like selenium, fatty acids, iron, and vitamins A and K.
Protein pills are unique compared to powders not only because of the type of protein they contain, but they’re also lower in calories. Protein powders and shakes can be very high in calories, so someone has to be careful unless their goal is to gain weight or mass.
Are There Any Risks of Protein Pills?
Protein pills have a lower protein content overall than powders, so fewer risks exist. For example, powders can lead to digestive upset, and this risk is nearly nonexistent if someone uses pills with protein. There’s also a fear for some people that too much protein will lead to kidney problems, which is a possibility. The risk with pills is minimal, and the risk is higher with protein powders.
If someone has a very high protein diet, it can put a strain not only on the kidneys but the liver, and it can lead to excessive loss of calcium, increasing the risk of osteoporosis.
Some people may have protein intolerance, although it’s a rare condition. Protein intolerance can develop from metabolic, genetic, and immunological mechanisms. Someone with a protein intolerance may experience severe gastrointestinal symptoms.
Overall, getting protein in pill form is considered safe for most people, but you should still talk to your health care provider before you take any supplements.