Protein shakes are all the rage amongst the keep-fit fraternity, but knowing when to take them, which type to choose and even how, or if, they’re beneficial are frequently asked questions. Here’s all the vital information you need to know about protein shakes.
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Importance of protein
The body needs protein for growth and repair of tissues, and to build muscles, bone, skin, blood and cartilage. Protein also aids in the formation of hormones and enzymes.
To fulfil these bodily functions, protein is converted into amino acids. Foods that contain all the essential amino acids that the body requires are called complete proteins and are usually derived from animal sources, such as meat or fish. Incomplete proteins, which are typically plant sources, aren’t made up of all essential amino acids, so you need to eat a varied diet to get all the amino acids your body needs.
This is where protein shakes come in. If your diet is lacking in all amino acids, or you need extra protein if you exercise a lot, shakes can be a convenient and useful protein top-up source. Since protein helps to build muscle, weightlifters often consume protein shakes as part of their goals to bulk up.
Some protein shakes are marketed at those looking to lose weight. Be careful about such claims, however. Read what other ingredients are included in the shake, and look for ones low in fat or carbs, and with no added sugar. Crucially, take an overview of your whole diet and calorie intake before using protein shakes as a form of weight loss. Bear in mind that protein is filling, which can prevent snacking in-between meals, and so could help with weight loss in this way.
Types of protein shakes
Many people are baffled by the array of protein shakes available, and what they consist of. While they all pretty much fulfil the same function, some vary in price, nutritional content, taste and absorption ability.
Whey concentrate is a popular form of protein added to shakes. It’s the cheapest type, and, arguably, has the best flavour. However, it has lactose in it, which can cause digestive upsets to those who are lactose intolerant.
Some shakes contain a protein called whey isolate. This doesn’t contain lactose, so is a good choice if you can’t tolerate lactose. However, it’s more expensive than whey concentrate. That said, you get about 90% protein with this type and fewer calories. Plus, it’s quickly absorbed into the body.
Whey hydrolysate is also a protein powder used to make shakes. Similar to isolate, this type is easily absorbed and boasts a high protein content of 95%.
If your shake contains casein protein this will be absorbed over a period of several hours. Casein also contains glutamine, which can aid muscle recovery.
For vegetarians or vegans, there are shakes available that contain soy protein or other plant proteins such as pea and rice.
Generally, the average protein shake per serving consists of 20-40g of protein. Men typically require 55.5g of protein per day, and women need 45g, although protein requirements will be higher if you exercise a lot.
When to take your shake
There’s a lot of debate about when you should consume a protein shake for optimum results. Some experts reckon you should aim for around 45 minutes before or after a workout. Alternatively, if you’re planning on taking a protein shake before bed, choose a casein-based option, where the protein is digested slowly.
Others claim that it’s what you add to your shake that is important, and the total amount of protein and calories that you consume across the entire day. Protein shakes that consist of just powder and water are less nutritious than those that are mixed with ingredients such as milk, oats, fruit or nut butters. However, don’t go overboard with the extras, as your calorie load could start to soar!
Remember, protein shakes can be a convenient tool to ensure you get adequate levels of protein, but they’re not miracle workers. If you want to build muscle and get lean, it’s how much effort you put into your workouts that matters the most.