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The protein in protein shakes can come in many forms; powders are derived from soy, egg whites, and most commonly, whey.

Making protein shakes is an extremely easy process, you just add water or milk to these powders and give them a shake!

This source of protein is an extremely efficient source of protein because of it’s high bioavailability, meaning it is well-absorbed by the target tissue.

Whey actually has the highest bioavailability of all forms of protein.

These shakes are a simple way of getting essential amino acids into your diet. Amino acids help maintain muscles and organs, and help support the creation of antibodies and hemoglobin.

Protein shakes are used as a supplement enabling the user to get extra protein into their diet. Some use protein shakes to support weight loss while most use them after exercise to assist muscle gain.

Quick Protein Definition

Protein is made up of 22 amino acids, eight of which can’t be produced in adult bodies. These are therefore considered ‘essential amino acids’ as we have to actively derive them from our diets.

Amino acids are vital for growth, they support our bodies in a variety of ways: hair, nails, organs, blood, skin, hormones and muscle growth.

Protein’s effect on muscles is particularly of note; protein makes up the basic structure of our muscles, is part of the enzymes within the muscle, and is a source of energy when muscles contract.

Protein Shakes And Weight Training

One of the main reasons people drink protein shakes is to support muscle development when involved in weight training.

Protein shakes also help muscles heal faster.

They are particularly useful if the powder is mixed with water and drunk in under thirty minutes after the end of the training session.

To ensure your body is in an anabolic state (your body is repairing or building tissue), have a small amount of protein before exercising, and a larger amount afterwards.

Daily guideline amounts for those wishing to use protein as a way of gaining muscle mass is 1-2 grams per pound of body weight.

Protein Shakes and Weight Loss

You might be wondering how the consumption of protein shakes could possibly relate to weight loss might.

Many top fitness bloggers and health professionals advocate the use of the Big Ass Breakfast to help correct leptin resistance.

The Big Ass Breakfast guidelines are as follows:

Try to eat as soon as possible upon rising in the morning, ideally within 30 minutes of waking.

Make sure that breakfast has little to no carbs (less than 50 grams), and has a lot of protein and fat.

I use as a general rule 50-75 grams of protein with most patients. Some patients can use less and some need more.

The key point of knowing how much is right for you is your hunger later in the day.

If you remain ravenous throughout the day, you need to eat more protein in the morning.

If you can hold off eating until dinner you probably are at homeostasis for you.

If you can skip both meals you likely are overdoing it at breakfast.

As for sources, I suggest pastured or organic eggs first, served with left over dinner scraps of grass fed meats, poultry, or fish. A third option, although less ideal, would be whey protein or protein shakes.

Are Protein Shakes Good For You?

So, we know protein is good for us, but are protein shakes as good as the real thing, and do they benefit our health?

Many studies have investigated the way protein shakes effect our bodies, some reporting quite positive results.

For example, one study (1) found that 5g whey protein per day for two weeks improved participants vascular (blood vessel) functioning. This infers that whey protein could have beneficial effects on the heart. Another study (2) found that whey protein can help control the free radicals which assist the development of prostate cancer.

When it comes to weight loss, a study in Toronto (3) found that whey protein can reduce appetite and lower short-term calorie intake. Another study (4) saw that individuals on a calorie-controlled diet with additional whey protein lost more fat and less muscle than those without whey.

Protein can regulate blood sugar levels, so protein in the morning, along with good fats and unprocessed carbohydrates, is an excellent way to allow sugar to be released slowly which keeps you feeling fuller for longer and avoids a post-carbohydrate ‘crash’.

Protein is also great for metabolism functioning, meaning that glucose and fats are converted to energy rather than stored. In addition, when your brain gets the glucose it needs you’ll be better able to concentrate on whatever task is at hand.

Are Protein Shakes Bad For You?

The downside of getting your daily allowance of protein from shakes are the additives and sweeteners used to make the shakes tastier.

These additives are thought by some to cause headaches and nausea, and some can be mildly carcinogenic. Sticking to ones with natural ingredients, like those using Stevia as a sweetener, and using shakes sparingly (e.g. only after working out if you’re using protein shakes to build muscle) is wise.

Other than taste enhancers, some shakes contain small amounts of heavy metals, such as lead and mercury, and levels can build up as it takes a long time to pass metals from our bodies.

However, the Council for Responsible Nutrition states that levels of heavy metals within the shakes do not pose any health risks.

Misuse Of Protein Shakes

One of the main problems with protein shakes is that some people misuse them, choosing to have a shake instead of a meal in a bid to lose weight faster.

By doing this you will not be receiving the fiber, nutrients and vitamins your body needs. A number of protein shakes do have some vitamins and minerals added to them, and while this may seem like a great thing caution must again be exercised, particularly if you are using other supplements.

Another problem is that people can overuse them, often in an attempt to bulk up quicker. Having protein shakes too often can upset your stomach and may damage your kidneys.

It is really important to remember that these shakes are simply a form of supplement and should be used in conjunction with a balanced diet.

In addition, getting your daily protein allowance from natural sources is more beneficial for your health. Meat and fish are excellent sources of protein, as are nuts, milk, beans, cheese, yogurt – and plenty more!

Choosing The Best Protein Shake

The first thing to consider when choosing or making protein shakes is how much processed carbohydrates they contain.

You want to limit this form of carbohydrates as much as possible, so sugars and sweeteners, jams and honey are out!

Instead, add nuts and seeds or fruit (high fiber fruit being the most beneficial).

Whey protein shake powder comes in various flavours, chocolate and vanilla being the most common.

Choose one that’ll match the fruit you’re adding to make a delicious addition to breakfast. Or incorporate it into breakfast by adding the whey powder and fruit to oatmeal, or even making an amazing shake-oatmeal hybrid by throwing it all in the blender.

It might sound confusing but look out for shakes using cross-flow micro-filtration. These shakes are the best for keeping their included proteins in their natural form.

Final Thoughts

Protein shakes can prove a useful and healthy addition to a balanced diet and can support weight loss or muscle gain.

However, it’s all to easy to rely on them for protein that can be found naturally in various foodstuffs.

It’s also easy to abuse protein shakes and cause more harm than good. So, my advice is choose well and use wisely.


(Photo: [email protected]. via flickr/CC Attribution)