Bonjour all! Today I’d like to dispel some myths about protein shakes and share some general advice on what to look for when shopping around if you decide to use a protein shake as part of your diet. As the name suggests, a protein shake is simply protein (combined with other swallowable consumables) abstracted from many sources such as milk (whey), eggs and soy beans to name a few, blended and dried to form a powder substance. Added with milk or water (which I recommend), the solution turns into a creamy milk shake-like drink which, depending on the brand you use is yummy (mainly because they’re filled with sugar)!
What are Protein Shakes used for?
Bulking up…isn’t it? I have to laugh whenever I hear people in the gym talking about using protein shakes to ‘bulk up.’ Though they’re not completely wrong, it is interesting to find that many people still don’t really understand the body’s use for protein - let alone a protein shake! Let’s have a quick lesson on protein and its uses.
According to WikiPedia:
‘Proteins are essential nutrients for the human body. They are one of the building blocks of body tissue, and can also serve as a fuel source.’ Full article available here!
If I had to re-write that second sentence I’d say it is the main building block for body tissue and in our case ‘muscle tissue.’ Protein is what the body uses to repair and rebuild broken down muscle tissue and can also serve as an energy source as it contains 4 calories per gram, as do carbohydrates.
Side note: - without effective training and breaking down of the muscle(s), consuming all the protein in the world won’t “build” anything.
Now that we understand some very basics about protein and it’s functions in the body, we can now revert back to our original question...
"Are Protein Shakes Necessary?"
Unfortunately there is no quick answer to this question as it all depends on the individual but, let’s take a look and some benefits of adding a protein shake in your regime. For this, I’m going to assume you already have your macros worked out or you’ve already had a consultation with a personal trainer so there is no guess work involved with your protein intake.
Benefits of using Protein Shakes
Easy to consume: The majority of protein shakes actually taste great and because they’re prepared in a liquid form, it’s a lot easier to consume than a solid piece of meat on your plate.
Minimal preparation time: Just add around 400mls of water or milk, shake and go! Definitely beats turning on the oven, waiting 10 minutes for it to warm up, placing a tray [with protein source] in the oven and then waiting half an hour for it to cook.
High protein value per shake: Typically you can expect to consume between 20-40g of protein per shake. This is extremely beneficial if you’re having trouble consuming all of your protein from your natural food sources.
Above are just three benefits off the top of my head that make protein shakes a good idea if you’re using them correctly. It’s only fair that if I list some benefits, I should also list some negatives.
Negatives to using Protein Shakes
Expensive: The supplement industry is designed for one main reason - to make money! To buy a decent protein shake, it’ll cost you anywhere around £35-£50 (around the same numbers in US dollars) and combined with the costs of your chicken and tuna fish, this all adds up really quickly. Considering a tub of protein shake will only last you maximum 1 month - this is an expensive recurring expenditure!
Unknown ingredients: How many times have you looked at the Nutritional Information label at the back of your protein shake, skimmed through until you checked how much 'protein per 100g' there were and the higher this number over it’s competitors, you just purchased?! The problem with bodybuilding is we focus on whatever the person(s) we put on a pedestal say - if they say consume high amounts of protein, that’s exactly what we do and totally ignore the small print.
Fact: Independent laboratory tests of three servings each of 15 protein supplement products revealed varying amounts of heavy metals in each of the drinks and powders, according to a report published in the July 2010 issue of "Consumer Reports." The highest levels of heavy metals -- arsenic, lead, cadmium and mercury -- appeared in the chocolate and vanilla creme flavours of Muscle Milk powder.
Chris Broderick of Megadeth (Photo via Ted Van Pelt/Flickr)
"Heavy metal"? Isn’t that a music genre? Lad’s and laddettes, if we’re none the wiser in what contents they put in our protein shakes, is it not safe to say let’s abandon them until further studies reveal if they’re safe for YOU to consume? How many of you are lactose intolerant? Yet, I bet you still use a Whey protein shake right? Do you even read the labels on the back or do you just become a victim of the fancy slogans they put on their artwork? Definitely something to think about…!
I highly recommend you take a read of this article published by Kaplan University entitled ‘Protein Supplements: The Good, The Bad, and & The Ugly…’ minus the guidance on protein intake per day as there are up to date studies showing larger amounts of protein intake is in fact NOT harmful to the body - more on this in future posts.
Protein is Protein: It doesn’t really matter if it’s in liquid form or solid food form. Your body still recognises the substance and utilises accordingly. There is a slight issue though if your sources of protein are incomplete proteins - more on this in future posts. A liquid form is easier absorbed as the body doesn’t have to use as many breaking down techniques as it were to extract the amino acids before utilising but everything consumed passes through the exact same areas in our body therefore, eating chicken is just as good (arguably better) as drinking a protein shake.
High simple sugar content: You’ll find this is more of an issue the cheaper you go when looking for a protein shake. Carbs are fine depending on your physique goals during whatever period of time it is for you (bulking/cutting or both) however, simple sugars I’d rarely recommend. There are tons and tons of information out now with many diseases linked in some form or the other to high sugary food intake (added sugar) and besides, complex carbohydrates work just as well for an energy boost if you use them properly in regards to consumption timing!
As you can see from the above, there are both reasons for and against taking a protein shake however, if you wish to ignore all the techy information and generally just want to know whether to use a shake or not then my first suggestion is to work out if you need additional protein in your diet and if it’s difficult for you to physical EAT, then yes - look for a quality protein shake (if your budget allows).
So how much Protein should I consume?
It’s most definitely not a secret that the large chaps in the gym consume high amounts of protein but how do they work out how much? Well, many are either qualified fitness instructors or will use a personal trainer to work it all out for them but I’ll give you some basic numbers to go with and you can adjust accordingly as you see results:
Per lean pound of body weight - consume 1g of protein!
This is an ideal starting figure for those lifting weights to see great gains. I’d also recommend you train at least 4 days per week and don’t slack on your workouts. If you find yourself getting leaner and bigger then continue to re-evaluate your 1g of protein per lean pound of body weight (your weight will fluctuate so I recommend checking weekly/bi-weekly). If on the other hand, you find yourself putting on more fat, well, something is probably wrong with the rest of your macros but for now, let’s just say reduce your overall calorie intake gradually until you find the sweet spot,
Protein shakes were created by the supplement industry - "supplement" being the key word. They’re supposed to be a supplement your diet, NOT replace meals! Start by working out how much protein you should be consuming per day then see if it’s attainable through natural food sources - eating/chewing/chomping! If you cannot eat all of your protein requirements naturally and/or if your work schedule omits that then source out a quality protein shake. A quality protein shake should consist of high protein and depending on your current goals - low carbohydrates but especially the information on the nutritional label that read’s - ‘of sugar.’
General rule of thumb: - Per 100g, of sugar should be 10g<
Let me know what you think below and post your questions, I’d be happy to answer!