Are protein shakes a supplement or meal replacement, for bulking or weight loss, for pre- or post-workout? What even is a protein shake and do I need it in my life?
Protein shakes first stirred up the food industry in the 90's and have been everywhere since. But do we need them?
The aim of this post is to unlock the truth about protein shakes to help you answer the question: should I be taking protein shake? It is focused on helping those I’ve heard could benefit from it most – girls looking to tone-up.
You are Unique
First, whether you should take protein shake depends on factors unique to you, including: body type, age, gender, fitness goals. It also then depends on which:
- Goal you go for (e.g. fat-loss and muscle gain, strength or endurance)
Time you take it (e.g. pre- vs. post-workout)
Process of extraction you prefer (Concentrate vs. isolate)
Flavour you fancy (chocoloate!)
Form you want your fixin (I’ve missed out puddings, bars, pancakes, etc. out of this blog but they are a thing!)
Source you desire (e.g. almond, egg, hemp, milk, soya)
Amino acid you are after (e.g. whey vs. casein, creatine and glutamine)
The plethora of content out there today preaching the pros and cons of protein shakes is confusing. And yes, I do realise the irony in adding to that content with this post. But my aim is to cut through all that complexity for you. So If you’re hungry for help on most topics above then check be patient and wait for my ‘Which shake to take’ post. For now, let’s focus in on whether you need protein in your life.
Simplifying things down your answer could be yes if your Protein You Need > Protein You Get (put in a box)
You could justify protein shake if your Protein You Need > Protein You Get
How Much Protein Do I Need?
Protein is essential for growth, maintenance and repair of body tissue. Your body will use it for energy if you are low on carb but its main (and less recognised) purpose is to perform physiological functions including:
- Digesting food
- Providing enzymes and hormones
- Fighting enzymes
- And many more..
Your body also has an amazing ability to synthesise the proteins it needs to function on a large pool of existing amino acids. That means daily dietary requirements for the average person are actually quite small.
In 1980 the U.S. Food and Nutrition Board said a normal sedentary adult needs 0.8kg protein p/kg bodyweight p/day, which means 10-15% of daily energy consumption. As an example, consider 25 year old Lucy who weighs 10st (63.5kg). Without exercise she’d need about 51g protein p/day.
“But I’m not a sedentary adult, and I am definitely not normal!” I hear you cry. Luckily, nor is Lucy. She’s looking to tone-up with a mix of 3 strength and endurance workouts p/week and therefore needs more protein to grow and repair her muscles. But how much?
Without citing every study ever, a UK study found 1.4kg protein p/kg bodyweight per day to be optimal. In contrast, US researchers found up to 3.5kg protein p/kg bodyweight per day can be worthwhile if you are training intensely for strength.
Remember, Lucy is looking to tone-up so let’s ignore the 3.5kg maximum. For simplicity, let’s reasonably say 10st Lucy needs 1.6kg protein p/kg bodyweight per day. She then needs about 100g protein p/day. That equates to about 400kcal of protein p/day (like carbohydrates, protein contains 4kcals p/gram). If she needs 1,700 kcals to hit her weight loss target (see link to other blog) that implies protein accounts for about 20-25% of her kcal intake [add link]
How Much Protein Do I Want?
Lucy acknowledges what she wants is not always what she needs. So why might you want protein shake without necessarily needing it?
- Time – Topping up on protein with a Turkey breast might not be the easiest way to get your protein fix for the day. The fact is that most of us are busy and don’t have time to cook or think through healthy afternoon snacks. Protein shakes can be a shrewd shortcut
- Taste – Chocolate, vanilla, peanut butter, birthday cake (yes, it’s a real thing)… The list of flavours is as ridiculous as it is long. But while nutritionists would tell you to steer clear of natural sweeteners, the fact is most of us would rather satisfy a sweet tooth with a lower kcal option
- Money – Not everyone has the cash to fill the cupboard with saffron, salmon and other super-foods recommended by the latest ‘easy’ healthy eating influencer. Shakes can lighten the load on your wallet without sacrificing gains.
- Margin for more – Protein is less calorific than fat (4kcal vs. 9kcal p/gram) and it’s not been categorically proven eating too much causes damage (unless you’ve got existing kidney or liver issues). Plus, excess protein has a better chance of escaping your body before being stored as fat.
How Much Protein Do I Get?
Recall Lucy, our 10st female looking to tone-up who needed 100g protein p/day. Now think about your own goals and diet and think about whether you’re getting enough protein. The below stats might help:
- 1 steak 150g salmon = 30g
- chicken 1 breast 150g 45g
- skimmed milk 200ml – 7g
- low fat plain yogurt 150g – 8g
- baked beans 200g ½ tin – 10g
- kidney beans ½ tin – 20g
- roasted peanuts – 50g 1 handful 12g
- sesame seeds – 25g 2tbsp – 4g
- eggs – 1 medium – 8g
- tofu – 100g - 8g
- quinoa – 100g – 13g
- brown rice – 100g – 3g
Should I buy Protein Shake?
Do you need protein shake? That depends entirely on you and how you answer a few questions:
Does your protein need exceed what you get? If yes, could you get enough protein from natural foods as part of a balanced diet? Whatever your answers..
Do you want protein shake? That could depend on:
- Time – could protein shake save me time and effort in getting the protein I need?
- Taste – could protein shake satisfy my sweet tooth and save me from binging on other food?
- Money – could protein shake be a cheaper way of getting your protein than normal food?
- Margin for more – could protein shake be a safer option if I do overeat?
If you answered “Yes” to any of the above then.. why not?
So there you have it. If you don’t need protein shake, you may well still feel you want it. And that’s fine. After all, life is all about how you feel.
The post is designed to be a good starting point for most and can be tweaked in line with your fitness goal. It stops short of addressing the quality of protein source consumed, protein absorption rates and many other details.
If you want supplements recommendations tailored to you should contact a dietician, sport dietician or nutritionist. Inner Fit do not accept liability for any illness ensuing as a result of following this list. It is your responsibility to adjust and deviate from the list in line with any allergies you may have. All content is guidance only and should be considered as constituting general advice on nutrition for a healthy lifestyle.