Crucial or Craze: Are Protein Shakes Actually Good for You?

WRITTEN BY RYAN PINTO

Contributer - Head Nutritionist & Sports Dietitian

The power of protein is a frequently discussed topic, from hardcore trainers to more casually active people. Its restorative properties aid in exercise, but it’s also just an essential source of energy for everyone.

Protein shakes are known as a quick and convenient way to get your fix, and are very fashionable these days. Regular gym goers can often be seen knocking back a freshly mixed shake by the water cooler, while wiping away droplets of hard-earned sweat. But are they really all they’re cracked up to be?

A Quick Rundown

  • Protein is inarguably important. Its primary benefit is to help our muscles recover and improve in strength.
  • Protein assists with appetite suppression. It keeps you feeling fuller for longer by suppressing the hunger hormone, ghrelin.
  • Wholefoods are prefered for anyone looking to improve their diet.
  • Protein shakes are a convenient and valuable source of wholefoods, but how much you should consume is dependent on a number of factors.
  • Protein shakes can be made from many different sources of protein, from dairy to plant-based protein. These can vary significantly from healthy options to unhealthy sugar-filled drinks similar to milkshakes.
  • Research suggests approximately 15-30g of dairy proteins are most effective at stimulating our recovery processes. Dairy proteins are also higher in naturally occurring amino acids.

So, is the hype around protein shakes warranted or have we fallen for just another fad in the pursuit of trying to improve our health and wellbeing? Let’s take a look at the facts...

 

Is protein beneficial?

You may have noticed that “high protein” has become the new “low fat”. Grocery stores are now overflowing with protein rich foods and snacks, trying to satisfy our appetite and improve our ability to balance our work day, family life and health.

“Protein is inarguably important. Its primary benefit is to help our muscles recover and improve in strength." - Ryan Pinto

Additional benefits of protein extend to appetite suppression. Protein keeps you feeling fuller for longer by suppressing the hunger hormone, ghrelin. This, in turn, helps you to burn fat by keeping your lean tissue primed and ready to use body fat as a fuel source.

 
My Muscle Chef Protein Shakes

 

What type of protein should I consume?

Any nutrition expert, when asked about the foundations of a nutritious intake, would sing from the same hymn sheet as the next. The lyrics? Wholefoods are life! Wholefoods are preferred for anyone looking to improve their diet. If you read between the lines, Rule 101 of any diet trend starts with switching your intake to wholefoods.

  • A predominantly wholefood diet provides you with your daily dose of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
  • Wholefoods tend to be lower in calories.
  • Wholefoods are more satiating, making you feel fuller for longer.
  • They help you to avoid craving foods high in sugar and fat.

Convenience tends to play a major role in stopping people consuming wholefoods. This is why many people hunt for natural and lower calorie snacks and meals. These provide similar amounts of the good stuff found within wholefood options such as vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, protein and fibre.

Healthier protein shakes provide you with necessary amino acids and nutrients required to improve your recovery.

When it comes to protein shakes, there has long been debate as to whether or not they are a healthy option. Should they be consumed daily or are they a waste of time?

The answer: No, they’re not a waste of time, but how much you consume is dependent on a number of factors.

Protein shakes are a convenient form of wholefood and can be made from many different sources of protein, from dairy to plant-based protein.

These can vary significantly from healthy versions to rather less nourishing sugar-filled, milkshake-like drinks. Healthier protein shakes provide you with necessary amino acids (the building blocks of muscle) and nutrients required to improve your recovery. Milkshake-like options tend to be low in protein and packed with sugar.

My Muscle Chef Protein Shakes

 

What sort of protein shake is right for me?

DAIRY PROTEIN

  • You need to ensure when you consume a protein shake, you’re drinking something that will aid your recovery and not just fill you up for the next 30 minutes. Research suggests approximately 15-30g of dairy-based protein (such as whey protein isolate and casein) are most effective for stimulating our recovery processes.
  • Dairy proteins are higher in naturally occurring amino acids to help build muscle mass, so a dairy-based protein shake is a good start for those who can digest dairy.

LOW CALORIE

  • If you’re looking to keep the calories low, you should be mindful of the drinks’ contents; some can reach as high as 500-600 cals per shake! That’s more than some meals! As such, shakes around the 200 calorie mark are a good place to start.

LOW FAT

  • A lower fat shake supports recovery by delivering much needed nutrients to the muscle cells quickly. High fat shakes can slow down digestion, as it takes time for our bodies to break down and digest fat.

ADDED CARBS

  • Carbohydrate levels can also be a hidden nasty in some drinks, as they can be upwards of 50g. Unless you’re an elite trainer and complete 2-3 sessions per day, this isn’t required.
  • This doesn’t mean you need to swear off them though. Carbohydrates are an essential part of exercise, as they prime you for your session and help replenish energy stores post-exercise but an amount of 10-30g is sufficient for most people.
  • Remember too: if you’re required to consume more carbohydrates, eating them is much more fun than drinking them!

PERFORMANCE BOOSTERS

  • Shakes also tend to have a lot of “bells and whistles” included these days and, as with everything, some work and some don’t. Ingredients such as caffeine and creatine are some of the most well-researched ingredients to date and undoubtedly aid muscle recovery, focus and improvements in cognition.
  • If your shake contains either or both of these, you know you’re on to a good thing. You’re not, however, on to quite such a good thing if you come across a shake containing unproven herbal extracts or made from a sub-par protein blend.

ESSENTIAL NUTRIENTS

  • Lastly, always ensure your shakes are fortified with some vitamins and minerals. If you’re opting for a shake instead of a meal, make sure you’re still consuming a nutrient-dense option rich in B-vitamins, which help with managing energy and stress.
     
My Muscle Chef Protein Shakes

 

When should I have a protein shake?

A protein shake can be consumed anytime throughout the day. For some guidance though, most people either drink these shakes as a healthy snack to get them through the morning or the afternoon slump, as fuel prior to exercise (30-60 minutes before) or after training to aid with recovery.

So, now that you know what to look out for in a protein shake, it’s time to put that knowledge to use. We’re confident you’ll know just the right convenient, high protein shake for pre- or post-workout for effective recovery.

Equally, if you’re after a quick snack that isn’t the local café muffin with a calorie content of a three-course meal, it’s time to head out and shake things up!