Are protein shakes necessary?

How many times have you read in a fitness magazine or website that you should be loading up on protein in order to gain muscle mass and/​or lose weight? Does your trainer recommend daily protein shakes to carry you through your workouts? Are you worried that if you ate only real, wholesome food throughout the day and missed your protein bar/shake that you would feel incomplete and your waistline would start expanding?

As I work with clients, I regularly come across many of the above attitudes about protein. We can’t read or talk enough about protein – how much we eat, how we like it prepared, which protein shake is the best, and how can we make it with just the right ingredients to make it delicious. Protein is all the rage in the fitness and weight loss worlds – and for good reason. It is one of the key nutrients in the diet. It helps us to move, build and repair muscle, stabilize blood sugar levels, and is a necessary component of enzymes and hormones in the body. But do you really need extra protein if you eat a wholesome diet? Keep in mind that any excess calories you consume will turn to fat. Therefore, if you take in more protein than your body needs, it will be stored as fat –defeating your weight loss and muscle-​building efforts. Most people eat much more protein than their bodies require, even for an avid exerciser. So let’s take a minute to figure out how much you actually need. Multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8–1.2. This is the number of grams of protein your body requires each day. Non-​​exercisers or very casual exercisers can use the lower end of this range, while regular exercisers and athletes can use the higher end of the range. For example, a person who weighs 68 kilograms requires 54–82 grams of protein per day. How do these numbers translate into real food? Every ounce of animal protein (fish, chicken, turkey, beef, etc) contains about 7 grams of protein. Therefore, 8 ounces of chicken has 56 grams of protein (8 ounces x 7 grams per ounce) and to reach the top end of the range above, 12 ounces of fish will do the trick (12 ounces x 7 grams per ounce).

So, do you benefit at all from including protein shake/powder in your diet? While the answer to this question primarily depends on your ability to get enough protein from “real food”, there are also other considerations you should have in mind. Let’s briefly look at some of the pros and cons associated with the consumption of protein powders ( primarily whey protein).

Pros

  1. Protein shakes are clearly a convenient and cheap way of increasing the total daily protein intake, and many serious strength trainees find that they aren’t able to get enough high-quality protein into their diet without supplementing.
  2. Protein powders can help speed up the recovery process and this is of special concern to those who perform several workouts during the same day.
  3. Protein powders are considered functional foods that have positive effects on health beyond basic nutrition. Whey protein plays an important role in the prevention and treatment of metabolic diseases.

While there are many health benefits associated with the consumption of protein powders, there are also some potential adverse effects

Cons

  1. Consumption of whey protein can increase acne severity
  2. Whey protein has a very powerful effect on insulin secretion.
  3. A lot of protein powders on the market are of poor quality and contain metals and ingredients that lack safety data.
  4. Some people develop allergy and intolerance (gas, bloating, or other problems) following the consumption of protein powders because their bodies are unable to produce the necessary enzymes to break down all of the ingredients in the supplement.

The moral of the story: If you include a healthy protein source at most of your meals and snacks, it is quite simple to reach your daily protein requirements with wholesome and nutritious foods without any protein shakes! Next time you have a protein powder box in front of you try reading all the ingredients (most of which you can’t pronounce) and ask yourself if you really want all those chemicals in your body when you can easily substitute it with ‘real’ food.

 






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