The British Dietetic Association (BDA) has condemned some adverts for protein supplements, saying “a lot of false advice” is promoted in magazines and online.
Professor Graeme Close, who works at John Moores University and is a spokesperson for the organisation, branded certain ads “wrong and immoral”.
He suggested thousands of people are using protein powders, shakes and other products as a “substitute not a supplement”.
“I always talk about supplements being exactly that. The rise of Instagram and Twitter makes people think you can buy these bodies out of a bottle,” he told the BBC.
“Some of the advertising by some of these companies is wrong and immoral.
“You will see some ridiculous claims that you can move from out of shape and overweight in four weeks by taking a pill.”
Speaking to HuffPost UK, Prof. Close said not all protein supplement manufacturers get the advertising wrong and he doesn’t want to “slander the entire industry”.
“But you’ll see these advertisements in magazines where you’ve got someone who’s small and skinny and six weeks later they look like they’re about to appear in ‘Gladiators’,” he said.
“The suggestion is ‘I did it because of this shake’, whereas actually they did it by training hard for a long period of time and eating a really good diet. The supplement probably had a negligible, if any, contribution.”
Prof. Close also raised concerns that the prevalence of such images could lead to body image issues among men, especially the young and easily influenced.
“It’s a bit like where we were 10 or 15 years ago with young females getting aspirational images that weren’t realistic. I think we’re in danger of doing that to young males at the moment,” he said.
“I’ve got a young boy who’s only eight and he’s already talking about getting a six pack. It’s going around the primary schools already.”
Prof. Close’s concerns are backed up by a 2015 study by Dr Richard Achiro and Dr Peter Theodore, which found that many men who use protein powder to build muscle feel similar psychological pressure to people who’ve been diagnosed with recognised eating disorders.
In the study of almost 200 men who use the powders, 29% said they were worried by their supplement intake, while a further 8% admitted they’d been advised to reduce their use by a medical professional.
The study suggested body-conscious individuals often began consuming high levels of protein believing those with ripped torsos must be “healthy”.
Previously speaking to HuffPost UK, nutritionist and BDA spokesperson Chloe Miles said by focusing on consuming a lot of one nutrient, such as protein, you are likely to be restricting other food groups, such as carbohydrates.
“This may lead to you missing out on other important parts of a diet, such as fibre,” she said.
“Fibre is found in fruit, vegetables and wholegrains and is really important for a healthy digestive system.
“There are risks of having an unbalanced diet including vitamin and mineral deficiencies and in the long term increasing the risk of developing chronic conditions.”
However, Prof. Close said one of the biggest dangers you’ll encounter with protein supplements is losing track of how much money you’ve spent.
“The way it’s often advised, you’re looking at spending about £100 a month, so £1200 a year. If you’re eating the right foods that is a complete waste of £1200,” he said.
“Some of your cheaper supplements are often contaminated with ingredients that are not on the label, so there may be health implications if you’re taking things you don’t realise you’re taking.
“So if you are going to do it, you need to use reputable, tested brands and not necessarily go for the cheapest ones you can find.”