Use of protein shakes is on the increase and you may have noticed that they are now being promoted a lot more but, sometimes the promotions are misleading, even to the point that some claim that you can simply drink your way to a better body.
More of my clients are asking whether or not they should be taking supplements to help them achieve their health and fitness goals and more commonly mention protein shakes. Here’s what I tell them…
What is a protein shake?
Basically, shakes consist of whey protein, although casein (milk), soy, egg, hemp, rice, and pea protein powders are also available.
To be clear, protein shakes are not a magic muscle pill and unlike steroids, they have no direct influence on your hormones. They are purely nutritional. A foodstuff, in other words. They deliver amino acids to muscle cells, helping them to recover after strenuous workouts.
How much protein does my body actually need?
Without enough protein, training hard will leave your muscles with a deficit of the building blocks they need to recover, which means you’ll never build new fibres.
There are lots of guidelines but, the traditional recommendation for muscle building is 0.7g of protein per pound of body weight per day.
This means the average man of 170lbs (around 12 stone) needs 119g of protein per day if he does a heavy weights program with the aim of gaining muscle.
That’s the equivalent of 2 60g chicken breast x 2, 3 eggs and a 6oz Steak.
Consuming two chicken breasts and a steak per day sounds like a lot but it’s not an impossible task. So protein shakes are not strictly essential. At the same time, you can see why they offer a convenient alternative. One shake can save you a lot of time and money.
The amount of protein you need is dependent on the level of training and the type of training you’re doing. For example, a bodybuilder needs more protein than someone who is not exercising, because he or she needs the nutrients to repair the damage to muscles that weightlifting causes. Equally, an ultra-marathon runner would need more Vitamin C to optimise their immune system than someone who jogs for 30 minutes once a week. Recommended Daily Allowances are always to be taken with caution.
Should you use protein shakes?
In my opinion, the most important factor to consider when deciding whether or not you need protein shakes is to remember that it’s just a food supplement. Don’t expect instant results: whey protein is a great source of protein, and that will help you build muscle, but it’s not going to ‘do’ anything for you that food wouldn’t do.
Like all supplements, they’re best used as part of your overall health and fitness efforts, which will include planning the correct training and intensity, consistency, adequate rest periods, and, of course, a diet designed for your personal goals.
In my view, protein shakes are a convenient solution to modern life. They’re not a magic wand that will turn your body into a temple overnight.
My advice to the average exerciser
Consume protein in moderation and if a shake makes it easier for your routine, then take that route. Buy the best that you can afford that’s low on sugar and preservatives.
Remember: you don’t really need protein shakes. They just make your day a bit easier sometimes.