Protein shakes are consumed for a variety of purposes, including muscle growth, weight loss, and injury healing.
While many foods, such as eggs, meat, chicken, milk, and legumes, are high in protein, protein shakes and powders have become a popular, high-quality source of this vitamin. You’re not alone in wondering if these shakes will deliver the results you desire.
The fact that protein powder exists at all demonstrates how much protein is loved by humans. And with good reason: as a component of virtually every cell in the human body, this macronutrient is essential for functions like immune response and hormone production, as well as, most notably, the building and repair of our body’s cells and tissues, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
So it’s understandable that individuals are always anxious about needing more of the same thing.
Protein also appears to be the only macronutrient that isn’t often sabotaged by fad diets. Whitney Linsenmeyer, Ph.D., R.D., nutrition and dietetics instructor in the Doisy College of Health Sciences at Saint Louis University and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, tells SELF, “Our food culture in the United States appears to be fascinated with high-protein diets and products.”
The assumption that we need to supplement our diets with concentrated protein to correctly and thoroughly heal our muscles and optimize the advantages of our gym time—not to mention the cumulative billions of dollars we spend on protein powder each year—is perhaps the clearest indicator of our protein obsession.
The efficacy of protein shakes for muscle building, and weight loss is the subject of this article.
What Are Protein Powders?
Protein powders come in a variety of forms. Whey, soy, and casein protein are the three most frequent types. “Whey is the most often utilized since it is a water-soluble milk protein,” explains Peter Horvath, PhD, associate professor in the State University of New York at Buffalo’s department of exercise and nutrition sciences.
“It’s also a complete protein, so it’s got all those benefits,” says the author. (Complete proteins are made up of all nine amino acids required for human nutrition.) Vegans may choose soy protein, while Horvath points out that it has a more disagreeable flavor and doesn’t dissolve as well in water.
Protein powders also have a broad range of prices. “The expense isn’t that essential for the casual athlete who doesn’t have a certain demand at a given point of their training,” Horvath explains. “So, if you’re going to utilize them, you can get almost the same effect from the less expensive, more widely accessible proteins.
Protein powders can be effective in very particular situations. Carole Conn, PhD, associate professor of nutrition at the University of New Mexico, adds, “They’re an accessible and accessible source of complete, high-quality protein.” But keep in mind that most individuals, including athletes, can get what they need from lean protein sources like meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products.
So, when do you think you’ll want to utilize them? According to Barbara Lewin, a dietitian and sports nutritionist who has worked with NFL, NBA, and NHL athletes as well as Ironman racers, there are a few reasons why an average athlete would want extra protein in his or her diet:
Because a teenager’s body is still growing and requires more protein in general, they require extra protein to fuel their exercises.
When you’re first beginning off in a program, if you’re new to working out and want to gain muscle, you’ll need more protein than you typically would.
When you’re looking to increase the intensity of your exercises, if you regularly go out for half an hour a few times a week but suddenly want to prepare for a half-marathon, your body will require extra protein.
When you’re trying to get back on your feet after an injury, athletes who have sustained a sports injury typically require additional protein to aid in their recovery.
If you’re planning to go vegan. Vegans and vegetarians exclude a variety of typical protein sources from their diet, including meat, chicken, fish, and dairy and eggs in certain cases.
The following are some of the most popular protein powders on the market:
- Whey protein: It is a dairy-based protein that is quickly absorbed. All of the necessary amino acids are present.
- Casein protein: It is a dairy-based protein that is slowly absorbed. All necessary amino acids are present.
- Soy protein: It is made from soybeans and includes all of the necessary amino acids. Soy isoflavones are also present, which may have some health advantages.
- Hemp protein: It is a plant-based protein that is high in omega-3 and omega-6 fats but low in lysine, an important amino acid.
- Rice protein: It is a plant-based protein that is low in lysine, an important amino acid.
- Pea protein: It is a plant-based protein that is low in cystine and methionine, two non-essential amino acids.
Do Protein Shakes Really Work?
Protein powders, when taken appropriately, can help you gain muscle growth and increase your protein intake. However, according to Bonci, using protein powder alone will not miraculously enhance muscle growth. Instead, Bonci explains, “It’s a mixture of consuming protein and carbohydrates, as well as a strength exercise.”
Protein powders can also benefit busy athletes who exercise for long periods of time and find it quicker to drink a protein shake than to prepare a meal or snack, according to Ehsani.
Protein powder may be mixed with beverages or other meals in addition to shakes, such as:
- Pancake batter
- Spaghetti sauce
Protein supplements can also aid muscle recovery following an exercise. After an exercise, the optimal time to consume protein powder or any other sort of protein is within 30 minutes.
Yet, instead of using protein powder, you may accomplish the same results in terms of muscle regeneration, body fat loss, and muscle mass by using food-based sources of protein. For example, if you were to ingest 20 grams of protein, Bonci recommends the following food-based sources:
- 5 oz. Greek yogurt (plain).
- A third of a cup of cottage cheese
- 3 oz. canned tuna
- Three ounces of lean chicken, beef, or seafood
- A plant-based burger, which can provide anywhere between 11 and 20 grams of protein per serving.
Other good protein sources are:
- Grains such as quinoa, buckwheat, and barley
- Some vegetables, including baked potatoes, peas, and spinach
Why Do People Drink Protein Shakes?
Shakes are just an easy method to enhance your protein consumption, which is required for muscle building as well as a variety of other biological processes.
“Protein is required for muscle development, repair, and regular function, as well as the formation of enzymes and hormones, the transmission of nerve impulses throughout the body, and immunological function,” explains Sampson.
“As a result of the stress put on the body during exercise, protein gets broken down. Muscles can repair and heal faster if protein is replaced after exercise.”
Can You Take Whey Protein Instead of Eating?
Whatever your goal, protein shakes should always be taken in conjunction with a well-balanced diet rather than as a substitute for actual meals.
“Getting your protein from food is always better — and typically tastier,” adds Sampson.
“However, there are situations when this is just not possible, whether owing to the amount of food necessary to suit specific requirements or dietary limitations. The more restricted a diet becomes, such as for a milk allergy or a vegan diet, the more difficult it gets to achieve protein requirements naturally via food, which is where supplements might help.
“It’s important to remember the word supplement.’ They should be used to augment rather than replace a well-balanced diet.”
How Much Protein Do You Need To Build Muscle Every Day?
“A daily protein intake of 1.4-2g protein per kg of body weight per day is suggested to develop muscle,” adds Sampson.
“Depending on the individual and their unique goals, higher protein consumption might be useful for particular sports.”
Try to spread out your protein consumption and keep in mind that it won’t help you lift weights.
“For the greatest benefits, aim to take 25-40g of protein each meal every three to four hours throughout the day, rather than one or two larger doses,” adds Sampson.
“It’s also worth noting that muscle can only develop in reaction to resistance training stress. So protein won’t help you grow muscle if you don’t exercise.”
How to Use Protein Powders
How can you best use protein powders to help you improve your performance if you calculate your protein intake and find that you’re not getting enough for your athletic needs (some signs of too-low protein intake: unusual fatigue, feeling weak when lifting weights or doing other strenuous activity, or recovering from injuries slowly)?
To begin, disregard traditional knowledge, which states that protein powders should be consumed soon following a workout. “Carbs are what your body needs before, during, and after an exercise. “They are the gasoline that your body consumes and the fuel that your muscles run on,” Lewin explains. “Yes, protein is crucial for recovery after an exercise, but research shows that the body requires a 4-1 or 5-1 carbohydrate-to-protein ratio at that point.” Because most protein powders include at least 20 grams of protein in each scoop, you’d need roughly 80 grams of carbohydrates to balance out the nutrients!
Lewin suggests a fruit smoothie with yogurt or milk, or, more interestingly, chocolate milk, as a superior “recovery drink” after an exercise. “One of the finest things for healing is a glass of chocolate milk,” she explains.
So, if you’ve concluded that you need extra protein in your diet, when should you utilize protein powders? Lewin recommends using it as a snack or meal replacement throughout the day, but not just before or after a workout.
And, as Conn points out, “protein powders aren’t essential if you have access to a regular, nutritious food.”
Protein drinks make increasing your protein consumption easy, and high protein diets are a terrific way to lose weight and gain muscle. Protein shakes may be useful for weight reduction since they can help regulate your appetite, stimulate your metabolism, and help you lose belly fat. When paired with resistance exercise, they also help you grow muscle and enhance your performance.
On the other hand, taking a protein supplement may be unnecessary if you eat enough high-quality protein sources throughout the day. Also, remember that eating too much protein might contribute to weight gain. If you want to try protein smoothies, several animal- and plant-based protein powders are available in shops and online.
Without the use of protein drinks, most individuals can easily consume enough protein. On the other hand, these supplements are a simple, safe, and tasty approach to boost your protein intake. In addition, if you’re attempting to lose weight, the extra protein in shakes can help you feel fuller for longer, lose weight faster, and reduce the risk of regaining the weight you’ve lost.