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Soy Protein for Sports & Fitness

Why Use

Soy

Why Do Athletes Use It?*

Some athletes say that soy protein provides a source of low-fat, cholesterol-free protein.

What Do the Advocates Say?*

Protein is necessary for rebuilding tissue, which is especially important for bodybuilders. All types of protein provide the body with amino acids.

From an athletic point of view, soy is just another type of protein. Choosing soy protein over other types of protein adds variety to the protein choices available. However, because soy lowers cholesterol, it is an excellent choice for those also trying to lower their cholesterol levels.

Soy is a common ingredient in many meal replacements that are designed to provide a large amount of nutrients in a minimal amount of calories.

*Athletes and fitness advocates may claim benefits for this supplement based on their personal or professional experience. These are individual opinions and testimonials that may or may not be supported by controlled clinical studies or published scientific articles.

Dosage & Side Effects

Soy

How Much Is Usually Taken by Athletes?

Adding protein to carbohydrate intake immediately after exercise may be helpful for improving recovery of glycogen (carbohydrate) stores after exercise, according to some,1 , 2 , 3 though not all,4 , 5 , 6 , 7 , 8 controlled studies. Preliminary studies have suggested that protein supplements may have biological effects that could improve muscle growth resulting from strength training, especially if liquid supplements (typically containing at least 10 grams of protein in addition to varying amounts of carbohydrate) are taken immediately after exercise.9 , 10 , 11 However, controlled studies have found no advantage of protein supplementation (up to about 100 grams per day or about 14 grams immediately following exercise) for improving strength or body composition as long as the diet already supplies typical amounts of protein and calories.12 , 13 , 14 In one preliminary study, elderly men participating in a 12-week strength training program took a liquid supplement containing 10 grams of protein (part of which was soy protein), 7 grams of carbohydrate and 3 grams of fat either immediately following exercise or two hours later.15 Men taking the supplement immediately following exercise experienced significantly greater gains in muscle growth and lean body mass than those supplementing two hours later, but strength gains were no different between the two groups. A controlled study of female gymnasts found that adding 0.45 grams of soy protein to a diet that was adequate in protein during an 8-week training program did not improve lean body mass compared to a placebo.16 No research has compared different sources of protein to see whether one source, such as soy protein, has a better or more consistent effect on exercise recovery or the results of strength training.

Side Effects

Soy products and cooked soybeans are safe at a wide range of intakes. However, a small percentage of people have allergies to soybeans and thus should avoid soy products.

Soy isoflavones have been reported to reduce thyroid function in some people.17 A preliminary trial of soy supplementation among healthy Japanese, found that 30 grams (about one ounce) per day of soybeans for three months, led to a slight reduction in the hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland.18 Some participants complained of malaise, constipation, sleepiness, and even goiter. These symptoms resolved within a month of discontinuing soy supplements. However, a variety of soy products have been shown to either cause an increase in thyroid function19 or produce no change in thyroid function.20 The clinical importance of interactions between soy and thyroid function remains unclear. However, in infants with congenital hypothyroidism, soy formula must not be added, nor removed from the diet, without consultation with a physician, because ingestion of soy may interfere with the absorption of thyroid medication.21

Most research, including animal studies, report anticancer effects of soy extracts,22 though occasional animal studies have reported cancer-enhancing effects.23 The findings of several recent studies suggest that consuming soy might, under some circumstances, increase the risk of breast cancer. When ovaries have been removed from animals—a situation related to the condition of women who have had a total hysterectomy—dietary genistein has been reported to increase the proliferation of breast cancer cells.24 When pregnant rats were given genistein injections, their female offspring were reported to be at greater risk of breast cancer.25 Although premenopausal women have shown decreases in estrogen levels in response to soy,26 , 27 pro-estrogenic effects have also been reported.28 When pre-menopausal women were given soy isoflavones, an increase in breast secretions resulted—an effect thought to elevate the risk of breast cancer.29 In yet another trial, healthy breast cells from women previously given soy supplements containing isoflavones showed an increase in proliferation rates—an effect that might also increase the risk of breast cancer.30

Of 154 healthy postmenopausal women who received 150 mg of soy isoflavones per day for five years, 3.9% developed an abnormal proliferation of the tissue that lines the uterus (endometrial hyperplasia). In contrast, none of 144 women who received a placebo developed uterine hyperplasia.31 Although no case of uterine cancer was diagnosed during the study, endometrial hyperplasia is a potential forerunner of uterine cancer. The amount of isoflavones used in this study is two to three times as much as that used in many other studies. Nevertheless, the possibility exists that long-term use of isoflavones could cause uterine hyperplasia, and women taking isoflavones should be monitored appropriately by their doctor.

Some postmenopausal women taking the soy isoflavone genistein have experienced gastrointestinal side effects (abdominal pain, epigastric pain, dyspepsia, vomiting, or constipation).32

Interactions with Supplements, Foods, & Other Compounds

Soy contains a compound called phytic acid, which can interfere with mineral absorption.

Interactions with Medicines

Certain medicines interact with this supplement.

Types of interactions: Beneficial Adverse Check

Replenish Depleted Nutrients

  • none

Reduce Side Effects

  • none

Support Medicine

  • none

Reduces Effectiveness

  • Dessicated Thyroid

    Ingestion of soy products simultaneously with the thyroid hormone levothyroxine appears to reduce its absorption. To be safe, people taking thyroid medications should not consume soy products within three hours of taking their medication. In addition, infants with congenital hypothyroidism given thyroid medication must not be given increased or reduced amounts of soy-based formula without consulting a pediatrician or pediatric endocrinologist.33

    The interaction is supported by preliminary, weak, fragmentary, and/or contradictory scientific evidence.
  • Levothyroxine

    Ingestion of soy products simultaneously with the thyroid hormone levothyroxine appears to reduce its absorption. To be safe, people taking thyroid medications should not consume soy products within three hours of taking their medication. In addition, infants with congenital hypothyroidism given thyroid medication must not be given increased or reduced amounts of soy-based formula without consulting a pediatrician or pediatric endocrinologist.34

  • Liothyronine

    Ingestion of soy products simultaneously with the thyroid hormone levothyroxine appears to reduce its absorption. To be safe, people taking thyroid medications should not consume soy products within three hours of taking their medication. In addition, infants with congenital hypothyroidism given thyroid medication must not be given increased or reduced amounts of soy-based formula without consulting a pediatrician or pediatric endocrinologist.35

    The interaction is supported by preliminary, weak, fragmentary, and/or contradictory scientific evidence.
  • Liotrix

    Ingestion of soy products simultaneously with the thyroid hormone levothyroxine appears to reduce its absorption. To be safe, people taking thyroid medications should not consume soy products within three hours of taking their medication. In addition, infants with congenital hypothyroidism given thyroid medication must not be given increased or reduced amounts of soy-based formula without consulting a pediatrician or pediatric endocrinologist.36

    The interaction is supported by preliminary, weak, fragmentary, and/or contradictory scientific evidence.

Potential Negative Interaction

  • none

Explanation Required

  • Ipratropium Bromide

    Atrovent® and Combivent® for oral inhalation contain soy lecithin. Rarely, people very sensitive to soy have reacted to these drugs,37 and life-threatening anaphylactic reaction is possible, though extremely rare. Ipratropium bromide nasal spray and solution for inhalation contain no soy lecithin.

  • Theophylline

    In a study of healthy volunteers given theophylline, ingesting daidzein (one of the major isoflavones in soy) in the amount of 200 mg twice a day for ten days inhibited the metabolism of theophylline, resulted in higher concentrations of the drug.38 The amount of daidzein used in this study was greater than what would be found in a normal portion of soy foods; it is not known whether consuming average amounts of soy would have a similar effect.

    The interaction is supported by preliminary, weak, fragmentary, and/or contradictory scientific evidence.

More Resources

Soy

Where to Find It

Relatively large amounts of isoflavones are present in whole soybeans, roasted soy nuts, tofu, tempeh, soy milk, meat substitutes, soy flour, and some soy protein isolates. In addition, the isoflavones present in soy are available as supplements, in capsules or tablets.

Resources

See a list of books, periodicals, and other resources for this and related topics.

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