Nutrition | POSTED September 1, 2021

Are Protein Shakes Healthy?

If you’re trying to build strength and repair muscles, protein shakes can be a good way to fuel your body. That’s because protein is essential for our body to function well and can be found in everything from our skin and hair to our internal organs [1]. In fact, not consuming enough protein can lead to muscle loss and a range of other health issues. 

Using protein shakes can be an easy, convenient way to up your protein intake, but are protein shakes healthy? The answer is yes. Not only can you easily measure out exactly how much protein you are consuming but drinking a protein shake also avoids the need for larger meals and they can be consumed “on the go”. 

There are plant-based protein powders, such as pea, hemp, soy and brown rice, and lactose-based shakes, made from whey. The two main players are whey protein isolate (WPI) and whey protein concentrate (WPC); they both have a high nutritional content and are easily absorbed digested into the body [2]. However, while WPI and WPC both originate from the same beginnings, namely milk, there is a difference to their content. WPI goes through an extra filtration step, so the end produce contains less fat, less sugar and is overall a purer product, containing at least 90% protein [3]. 

While there is a lot of research into the benefits of protein shakes, including muscle growth, weight loss and reducing inflammation, there is some evidence that excess consumption of protein shakes can cause bloating, cramps, and nausea [4]. So, the best way to ensure you get the most benefits out of your protein shakes is to make sure you are consuming the right ones, the right way.

Here’s how to make your protein shake healthy:   

Know Your Daily Intake 

When it comes to getting healthier and taking control of your workouts, knowing how much protein you should consume verses how much you are consuming is helpful. In Australia, the current recommendation falls between 0.6g per kilo of body weight to 1.07g per kilo of body weight [5], but I believe this is insufficient for strength, hypertrophy, performance and improving body composition. I suggest my clients should be getting between 1.6g to 3.1g per kilo of body weight. The exact amount will depend on factors such as gender, age, activity levels and goals. Consuming a protein shake each day can help you hit your recommended daily intake in a convenient, measured way.

Invest in Quality Protein

The same way we should be buying fresh food and reading nutritional labels correctly, we should be choosing a high-grade protein powder with quality ingredients. The first step is to ask your personal trainer for their recommendation of brands to try. Their assessment of your protein intake is also important. It pays to do your research and trial a few brands before you buy. When you are deciding which protein powder is best for you, choose a brand with as few ingredients as possible, little-to-no added sugar and a good reputation. Some brands come in a range of flavours, which can be delicious, but they do limit how you use them. Before you invest in a product, think about how you will most often consume it. Protein powders can be expensive, so you want to make you get best one for you.

Consume it Correctly

There is a misconception among gym-goers that drinking a protein shake an hour after a workout is important. However, there isn’t enough research to back that claim up. While there is some evidence suggesting that consuming protein post-workout is beneficial [6], I believe it’s more important to have a sufficient amount of protein in each meal instead. To further optimise protein intake, I encourage my clients to time their meal frequency to every 3-5 hours for optimal MPS (Muscle Protein Synthesis). The combination of these two things assists with better muscle growth, recovery/repair, and satiety.

Maintain a Healthy Diet  

Along with choosing a quality product and consuming the correct amount of protein for your diet, it’s important to have a healthy diet as well. Pure protein shakes are designed to be a supplement and are best used in conjunction with a well-rounded diet. I encourage clients to have an overall healthy diet with mainly single ingredient foods, such as animal protein, fruit, vegetables. I also encourage my clients to view whey protein (and therefore protein shakes) like any other source of protein. So, when you’re planning your meals for the week, aim to include roughly 80% whole foods and 20% soul foods. These are foods you enjoy and are considered somewhat a “treat”, that might contain processed ingredients. 

Resources

  1. https://www.webmd.com/diet/benefits-protein#1
  2. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9405716/ 
  3. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/263371#types 
  4. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-health-benefits-of-whey-protein#TOC_TITLE_HDR_12 
  5. https://www.nrv.gov.au/nutrients/protein
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6142015/