Protein Shakes: Are They Really Effective
Mon, April 19, 2021

Protein Shakes: Are They Really Effective

Protein shakes, among a host of dietary supplements, have become increasingly popular as a way to lose weight for some and to boost muscle growth for a majority of people / Photo by: Brent Hofacker via 123RF

 

Protein shakes, among a host of dietary supplements, have become increasingly popular as a way to lose weight for some and to boost muscle growth for a majority of people. But it begs the question: Do they actually work? The way protein supplements work is dependent on how our body responds to them, and no protein supplement, whether natural or processed, will make your muscles grow on their own. Naturally, if you exercise regularly, bodily proteins will help build muscle.

 

What is Protein?

There are three macronutrients: proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. The body requires large amounts of macronutrients to sustain life. Proteins provide calories or energy, and each gram of protein contains four calories.

Proteins are nutrients key to building, maintaining, and repairing our muscles in the body as well as other tissues. They are essential to building muscle mass, found in most animal products and in other sources such as nuts and legumes.

Proteins are composed of amino acids, which are organic compounds made of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, or sulfur. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and proteins are the building blocks of muscle mass, according to the National Institute of Health (NIH). 

The nutrient helps build muscles during exercise when muscle fibers are torn. Amino acids repair these muscle fibers, making them bigger and stronger. It is the repetition of muscle repair that makes muscles bigger, with protein playing a vital role. Protein makes up 15% of a person’s body weight. The Institute of Medicine stated that 10% to 35% of daily calories come from protein, but this varies specifically according to age, sex, and level of physical activity. If the body does not receive enough protein, this can stunt bodily development affecting how much protein the body receives and how the body is able to repair and build muscles, including growth. Registered dietician Jessica Crandall said a safe level of protein ranges from 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight or 2.2 pounds to 2 grams per kilogram in very active athletes. Most Americans ingest 1.0 to 1.2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

The Industry of Sports Supplements and Nutrition

Food Navigator USA, a website that offers daily news about food and beverage trends, food regulation and labeling, gluten-free, clean labels, GMOs, stevia, ancient grains, food M&A in North America, shared that the US market for sports nutrition plus energy or nutrition bars and sports drinks is set to reach more than $20 billion this year as reported in Euromonitor International, a market research and statistics company.

There are varieties and modes of taking protein, and protein powders (or protein shakes) come out as heavyweights in the industry of sports nutrition. A 2015 Euromonitor report shared that the category for sports nutrition in America totaled roughly $16 billion, with $2.5 billion in the energy and nutrition bars category and $6.9 billion in the sports drink category. Sports protein powders make up 70% of the market at $4.7 billion, with sports protein (ready-to-drink) at $785 million, sports non-protein products at $700 million, and sports protein bars at $500 million. Protein shakes, commonly referred to as sports protein powders, have grown in popularity and are expected to exceed all other categories by the end of 2020.

Protein shakes refer to drinkable protein in powdered form, shaken and available to consume. Protein powders come from plants such as soybeans, peas, potatoes, hemp, rice, eggs, and milk. Oftentimes, they include other ingredients such as sugar, artificial flavoring, thickeners, vitamins, and minerals. While protein powders are known to serve a health purpose, that is to boost protein, some risks are posed to consumers because the protein powder may or may not have the ingredients that the manufacturer claims, according to Harvard Health Publishing. The Food and Drug Administration is left to evaluate the safety and labeling of the products with not much reason to know if a powder contains what. In addition, there are limited data on the possible side effects of long-term use and high protein intake from supplements, as mentioned by Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The formulation can cause dietary allergies from ingesting lactose due to the milk-based protein powder. The powder solution may also be high in added sugars and calories depending on the formulation of the specific powder, with most containing 23 grams of sugar per scoop with around 1,200 calories in one drink that can cause weight gain and an unhealthy spike in blood sugar. The American Heart Association recommended a limit of 24 grams of added sugar per day in women and 36 grams in men.

Do We Need It?

At some point in bodily development, a boost in protein intake would be beneficial. Even protein supplements have their benefits as they can help ease the inconvenience of eating a protein-heavy meal after a workout and offer an immediate boost after exercise, but they should only be taken as a complement to a balanced diet. “Supplements are for supplemental purposes only,” according to dietitian Crandall as it is not a natural product and may, therefore, pose some kind of health risk. In order to benefit from the effects of protein shakes, regular exercise must be practiced. Protein alone cannot help build muscle.

When choosing protein shakes in addition to regular exercise, it’s best to purchase from a reliable source given the risks on unknown ingredients and unscrupulous manufacturers. When taking protein supplements, natural food should also be maintained, with high protein food such as red meat in the form of beef, lamb, and pork, poultry such as chicken, turkey, and duck, eggs, dairy, yogurt, and cheese as well as fish like tuna, mackerel, and others. Incorporating high protein food, along with protein supplements, will not only boost protein intake but will also contribute to a healthier body and even an improved immune system.

Thus, it is important to remember that protein supplements will work to build muscle and develop our bodies only when taken with a balanced diet and regular exercise.

Proteins are nutrients key to building, maintaining, and repairing our muscles in the body as well as other tissues. They are essential to building muscle mass, found in most animal products and in other sources such as nuts and legumes / Photo by: dolgachov via 123RF