As interest in health and nutrition continues to grow, still more people are trying protein shakes as a way to lose weight or enhance their sports performance. What do protein shakes consist of, and what are their true benefits? Here's some information to guide you.
Protein is one of the body's main building blocks for muscle, bone, skin, and other tissues. Used often by athletes, protein shakes come in many combinations of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. They can range from 100% protein to mostly carbohydrates with a little added protein and fat. Protein shakes come in a variety of flavors in powder form or in ready-to-drink packages, such as cans or foil packs.
What are the benefits of protein shakes?
Safe for people who are healthy and fit, 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). 'Most people can't make a meal immediately post-workout', he says. 'So these ready-to-drink shakes are really your best alternative'.
According to the ISSN, protein shakes are a safe way to ensure enough protein, when used as part of a balanced, nutrient-rich diet. This counters the view that protein shakes can be harmful to kidneys or bones.
Although research hasn't proven their role in sports performance and muscle strength, protein shakes may offer certain benefits.
An endurance athlete may find it easier to train with the help of protein shakes, says Antonio. That's because they help the body recover from intense exercise. Protein shakes do this mainly by restoring muscle glycogen, a fuel source for exercise, which gets used up during workouts.
For the strength athlete, protein shakes can also help repair damage to muscles that can occur with serious bodybuilding.
The general fitness enthusiast who works out hard but doesn't want to be a marathon runner or bodybuilder may also benefit, says Antonio. This is the kind of person who might run twice a week and lift weights twice a week.
Some research shows other benefits as well. For example, a study of 130 U.S. Marines looked at intense exercisers who supplemented their diet with 10 g of protein, 8 g of carbohydrates, and 3 g of fat. They had fewer infections, less heat exhaustion, and less muscle soreness. Some protein shakes may help with weight management, as well. But more research is needed to confirm this.
How much protein do you need?
Almost all people can get the protein they need from whole foods and drinks in their diet. The recommended daily intake of protein for healthy adults is 0.75 g of protein per kilogram of body weight, or about 45 to 56 g of protein a day.