Understanding protein shakes

Protein powder shakes once were consumed almost exclusively by professional body builders or gym rats looking to increase their muscle mass. But long gone are the days of finding protein shake supplies in specialty fitness stores. Nowadays protein shakes are mainstream and big business for the fitness and diet industry.

Although protein shakes are not a magic solution for six-pack abs or overnight weight loss, they can – when used correctly – make a healthy addition to a fitness and nutrition regimen. With that said, they may not be right for everyone. But it’s important for individuals to weigh the pros and cons of protein products and work with their physicians to find the right regimen for their age, gender, body type, and desired goals.

Protein shakes have a lot of positive attributes. Convenient and portable, protein shakes are formulated with readily available, highly digestible protein to fuel the body post-workout. Protein is essential for building muscle and overall body strength and is an important building block of bones, muscles, cartilage, skin, and blood. It also helps make hormones, enzymes and other body chemicals. Protein shakes deliver whey or casein protein in a convenient way. And because protein shakes tend to be concentrated, many people can consume the recommended level of protein for their activity type without having to eat many calorie-laden meals.

Shakes also can be filling and help people feel satiated longer. Some people substitute protein shakes for meals once per day, eliminating a potentially calorie-laden meal in favor of a low-calorie shake.

While protein shakes can be beneficial, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends that those who exercise should try to reach their protein requirements via whole foods. Protein shakes are not complete meals; therefore, they may create nutritional deficits if they are routinely used as meal substitutes. The Mayo Clinic offers that protein shakes often fall short of supplying significant amounts of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and healthy fats. They’re also generally missing naturally occurring fiber, antioxidants and phytochemicals. Protein shakes may be flavored with artificial ingredients or sweeteners which can be fine when consumed occasionally, but may not be recommended as a long-term meal replacement.

Too much protein may not be a good thing, either. The U.S. Department of Health recommends that adults should not consume more than twice the recommended daily intake of protein, which is 55.5 g for men and 45 g for women. Protein shakes often have 20 to 40 g of protein per serving. So it’s easy to see how consumers of protein shakes may consume more than their recommended amount of protein. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, consistently exceeding daily protein requirements can lead to weight gain, high blood cholesterol, an elevated risk for heart disease, and kidney complications. Also, The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine states that consuming too much protein can raise a person’s risk of developing cancer, osteoporosis and kidney stones.

Protein shakes are convenient forms of a nutrient that active bodies need. When used in moderation and as part of an overall healthy eating plan, they should be safe. But it’s important to discuss any dietary and exercise concerns with a doctor before making drastic lifestyle changes.

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