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Protein Shakes: Do You Need Them?

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Are protein shakes right for you? What's in them, and what should you look for if you're trying to choose one?

Almost everyone can get enough protein from foods. Healthy adults should get about 45 to 56 grams of protein a day.

protein drink with can and measuring cup on counte

If you exercise regularly, you may need a little more protein, from any source, than people who aren't as active.

Protein shakes are used mainly by athletes who need nourishment right after their workouts, says Jose Antonio, chief executive officer and co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN). 

Protein shakes can range from 100% protein to mostly carbohydrates with a little added protein and fat. They come a variety flavors in powder form or in ready-to-drink packages, such as cans or foil packs.

Choosing a Protein Shake

Read the label.

Protein shakes vary in protein content. "If you're a body builder, you're going to shift to the drinks that have a bit more protein," Antonio says.

If you're an endurance athlete, like a marathoner, you may favor drinks with more carbs, Antonio says. But the most important thing is simply to drink something after your workout.

If your goal is to lose body fat, change to a protein shake that's mainly protein, has fewer carbohydrates, and only a little bit of fat.

"Make sure the product is more than 50% protein if your goal is body fat loss," Antonio says.

What are the Different Types of Protein in Protein Shakes?

Protein shakes use different types of protein in varying amounts. They may include:

  • Milk
  • Whey
  • Casein
  • Egg
  • Soy
  • Rice

The source of the protein and how it's purified during manufacturing may affect how well your body can use it.

Although it's best to get protein through your diet, supplementing it with a combination of whey and casein is a good choice, as long as you tolerate dairy well, since both come from milk.

Soy protein is another option. It's a plant-based protein. It's as effective as most animal sources of protein, Antonio says. Soy is also rich in nutrients.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on July 11, 2014

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