Protein shakes

As interest in health and nutrition grows, more and more people are trying protein shakes as a way to lose weight or enhance their sports performance. What do protein shakes consist of, and what are their true benefits? Here’s some information to guide you.

What are protein shakes?

Protein is one of the body’s main building blocks for muscle, bone, skin, and other tissues. Used often by athletes, protein shakes come in many combinations of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They can range from 100% protein to mostly carbohydrates with a little added protein and fat. Protein shakes come in a variety of flavors in powder form or in ready-to-drink packages, such as cans or foil packs.

What are the benefits of protein shakes?

Safe for people who are healthy and fit, protein shakes are used mainly by athletes who need nourishment right after their workouts, says Jose Antonio, chief executive officer and co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). ‘Most people can’t make a meal immediately post-workout’, he says. ‘So these ready-to-drink shakes are really your best alternative’.

According to the ISSN, protein shakes are a safe way to ensure enough protein, when used as part of a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. This counters the view that protein shakes can be harmful to kidneys or bones.

  • Although research hasn’t proven their role in sports performance and muscle strength, protein shakes may offer certain benefits.
  • An endurance athlete may find it easier to train with the help of protein shakes, says Antonio. That’s because they help the body recover from intense exercise. Protein shakes do this mainly by restoring muscle glycogen, a fuel source for exercise, which gets used up during workouts.
  • For the strength athlete, protein shakes can also help repair damage to muscles that can occur with serious bodybuilding.
  • The general fitness enthusiast who works out hard but doesn’t want to be a marathon runner or bodybuilder may also benefit, says Antonio. This is the kind of person who might run twice a week and lift weights twice a week.

Some research shows other benefits as well. For example, a study of 130 U.S. Marines looked at intense exercisers who supplemented their diet with 10 g of protein, 8 g of carbohydrates, and 3 g of fat. They had fewer infections, less heat exhaustion, and less muscle soreness. Some protein shakes may help with weight management, as well. But more research is needed to confirm this.

How much protein do you need?

Almost all people can get the protein they need from whole foods and drinks in their diet. The recommended daily intake of protein for healthy adults is 0.75 g of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 45 to 56 g of protein a day.

How much protein do you need? continued…

In most cases, only those who are active and restrict calories or are strict vegetarians are at risk for low protein.

People who exercise regularly do need more energy. They may also need a little more protein than people who are less active. Adding protein doesn’t add muscle mass, though, as many people believe.

The ISSN recommends that exercisers get 1.4 to 2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily. Endurance athletes should be at the lower end of this range and strength athletes at the higher end. How much you need depends on the type and intensity of your exercise, the quality of the protein you eat, and your energy level and carbohydrate intake.

This is what the ISSN recommends:

  • For endurance athletes: 1 to 1.6 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, depending on intensity and duration of exercise and the training status of the athlete
  • For strength or power athletes: 1.6 to 2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily

What is the protein content of protein shakes?

Everyone, including athletes, can meet their protein needs without supplements or shakes. When choosing protein shakes, read the label to select the one with the composition that meets your needs.

Protein shakes vary in protein content. ‘If you’re a body builder, you’re going to shift to the drinks that have a bit more protein’. like Worldwide Sport Nutrition says Antonio. Endurance athletes are likely to favor drinks with more carbohydrates, he says, but the most important thing is simply to drink something after your workout.

If your goal is to lose body fat, change to a protein shake that’s mainly protein, has fewer carbohydrates, and only a little bit of fat, such as Slim-Fast. ‘Make sure the product is more than 50% protein if your goal is body fat loss’, Antonio says.

For those in the middle range — someone who works out regularly but isn’t at the competitive level — a popular protein shake is Muscle Milk. It fits somewhere between high-protein and high-carbohydrate shakes, says Antonio. Muscle Milk contains milk protein, combined with carbs and fats. It contains more fat than the average protein shake, he says, but it’s a type that does not increase cardiovascular risk.

What are the different types of protein in protein shakes?

Protein shakes contain many different types of protein in varying amounts. They may include:

  • Milk
  • Whey
  • Casein
  • Egg
  • Soy

The source of the protein and how it’s purified during manufacturing may affect how well your body can digest and absorb its amino acids, the building blocks of protein. Although it’s best to obtain protein through your diet, supplementing it with a combination of whey and casein is a good choice.

What are the different types of protein in protein shakes? continued…

Whey protein is:

  • A protein found in milk
  • Fast-absorbing
  • In your body for a shorter time
  • A good supplement after intense workouts

Casein protein is:

  • The main protein in milk
  • Slow-absorbing
  • In your body for a longer time
  • A good supplement for meal replacements or to take before bed

Soy protein is as effective as most animal sources of protein, although many male athletes think of it as a ‘girl’s protein’, Antonio says. ‘But this is where public perception and scientific reality clash’. Research doesn’t support the fears that soy protein lowers blood levels of testosterone or reduces lean body mass.

Some women may take soy protein shakes in the hopes of curbing menopausal symptoms. But research results have been mixed.

Soy protein is:

  • A plant-based source of protein
  • As digestible as other sources of protein
  • Known for its antioxidant capabilities
  • A good supplement for meal replacements