Despite the fact that there has been little reputable research into the roles and effects of sports performance and nutritional supplements such as protein shakes, they now play a huge role in the lives of an increasingly health conscious population. So much so, that these protein shakes are now one of the major players in the ever-expanding, multi-billion dollar nutritional supplement market, and with millions of fitness fanatics downing these pricey supplements every year, it’s big business!
Chances are that if you’re part of this ever-growing health-conscious population (which I’m assuming you are), you’ll have at least considered using protein shakes, bars or other protein-rich products to supplement your regular diet and some of you might already be regular consumers. It is important to remember that it was these same protein shakes that were once used almost exclusively by the most serious bodybuilders and weightlifting fanatics in the 1970’s and 80’s, although the taste has been improved greatly since then.
So, what’s changed? Protein shakes are as good an example as any of the impact that advertising and marketing has on our lives. In the last 10 – 20 years, the many claimed benefits of protein-rich supplements such as shakes and bars have been ‘shoved down our throats’ (not literally of course) through the medium of advertising and most worryingly of all, very few of us have stopped to think whether or not these protein shakes are actually good for us or not.
Of course, this isn’t the whole story as the world is genuinely waking up to the fact that sitting in an office all day is doing very little for our personal health and to compensate, regular exercise and a good diet are paramount. However, the question still remains, are protein shakes bad for you? Or are the claims made by producers of these products legit?
How Much Protein Do We Need?
First of all, lets establish the amount of protein our bodies actually need on a daily basis and why. Protein is one of the fundamental building blocks for our bodies as every single part including skin, muscles, bones, vital organs and even the hairs on our head are all built from protein. Because of this, we need to ensure that our bodies have a constant supply in order to stay healthy.
I won’t go into too much detail about the exact uses (such as enzyme creation) our bodies have for protein in this article, but suffice it to say, without protein, we wouldn’t exist.
So, exactly how much protein do we need? Well, the answer to this question will greatly depend on your daily exercise routine and/or workout programme. The USDA’s dietary guidelines suggest that the daily protein requirement for an average American is 0.8g per kilogram of body mass; this means that for a 90-kilogram man, the daily protein requirement is going to be around 72 grams. If you prefer to work in pounds, the requirement is your total body weight multiplied by 0.36; so for a 180-pound man, the daily protein requirement will be 64.8 grams (although 65g won’t hurt).
If you are physically active and/or involved in heavy weight training on a regular basis, you are going to need to increase your protein intake if you don’t want to lose muscle mass. Again, the exact amount you need to increase your intake by is going to depend on the exercise/training that you are doing but no matter how active you are, I would never recommend any more than 1 gram per pound of body mass per day; not unless this had been approved by a medical professional.
Here is a rough guideline for daily protein intake:
Very little/no physical exercise: 0.8 grams per kilogram of body mass
Moderate weight training (2 – 3 times per week): 1.0 – 1.4 grams per kilogram of body mass
Heavy weight training (4 -6 times per week): 1.5 – 2.0 grams per kilogram of body mass
Why Protein Shakes Could Be Bad For You
Now that you can see the amount of protein you should be consuming on a daily basis, you need to think about how much protein a protein shake is going to supply you with. Typically, one scoop of protein powder will give you between 15 and 30 grams of protein and usually, recommended serving suggestions are either one or two scoops per shake. That means that one protein shake alone could supply you with anywhere between 15 and a whopping 60 grams of protein! This is likely to be a significant chunk of your daily protein intake requirement, especially if you’re having more than one protein shake per day.
One problem with protein shakes is that people can easily ingest an excessive amount of protein each day without realising it. When you combine the protein you’re receiving from protein shakes with the protein you’re getting naturally in your diet, it is easy to consume far too much. You might think this wouldn’t be much of a problem but it most certainly is as any excess protein is removed by your kidneys. If they’re given a ‘hard time’ on a regular basis, this is going to put strain on your body and possibly lead to kidney problems.
Another problem comes when you replace a normal, healthy meal with a protein shake. Protein shakes are not designed to be used as meal replacements, but rather as supplements. If you are using protein shakes as a replacement for a balanced, nutritious, healthy diet, then chances are that your body is going to become starved of the essential vitamins, nutrients, carbohydrates and even fats that it needs to function.
We also need to remember that protein shakes are unnatural in their very nature as they contain virtually no other nutrition besides protein. Our bodies have developed over millions of years to be vehicles of perfection, nourishing on the natural produce that the earth has to offer. There are so many nutrients that our bodies need on a daily basis and protein shakes contain none of these.
Do You Need To Consume Protein Shakes?
The quick answer to this question is ‘no’. In an ideal world, everyone should be getting their entire daily protein requirement from natural, healthy foods as these will also contain other essential nutrients and vitamins. However, if this isn’t possible and you are incorporating heavy weight training into your workout routine, you are going to need to get that extra protein from somewhere and protein shakes are going to be one of the best sources.
If you do find that your diet doesn’t include enough protein, try incorporating more natural protein-rich foods such as nuts, lentils, chicken or peanut butter into your diet before resorting to a protein shake. If you do decide to consume protein shakes on a regular basis, we recommend no more than one a day and make sure that you aren’t exceeding your daily protein intake requirement as this could have adverse affects on your health. We also must stress that protein shakes are NOT a replacement for a nutritious, healthy meal!
Some protein shakes are also better than others for a number of reasons (protein content, BCAA’s, amino acid profile, price etc) so it pays to pick a good one. If you’re unsure, check out our top 10 protein powders list.