• Ciaran O’Connell

Protein shakes - do you need them?

Protein is one of the most important things to focus on when looking to build muscle and/or lose weight.

Why? It is the basic block for repairing and growing muscle. It is also creates a high thermic effect when being digested. What this means is that it takes more energy to digest protein than it does any other macronutrient.

Protein isn’t just essential for gym goers and health advocates. Our body is made up of many cells and muscles that require protein for healthy function.

With this in mind getting adequate protein should be a priority for pretty much everyone. But how much is needed?

This can vary person to person but as a rule of thumb I ask my clients to consume 1.8-2.2g / kg / BW. For example a 70kg person would ideally be consuming 126-154g of protein.

The reason the starting number from me is slightly higher than government recommendation is that the government don’t review it constantly and protein is a much higher priority than people think.

It’s important to remember that if you consumed your protein goal but were over your calorie goal, then you will still struggle to lose weight. Weight loss = calorie deficit above all else. Protein intake is next for weight loss.

In an ideal world all of your protein would come from whole foods in your diet, but we all have very busy lives or can struggle to eat the amount that’s needed to hit our protein goal. This is where protein shakes come in.

For most of their existence protein shakes have been used by athletes or experienced gym goers looking to get big. But as people have been educated on protein and its role, more people use shakes as a convenient way to get their daily protein.

Most protein shakes are made of whey protein. Whey is a by product of milk and is high in protein with relatively low calories. Other shakes can be made of casein (slow releasing protein), soy, pea etc as more cater for peoples diets.

For most people, protein shakes won’t have any side effects and are generally a safe way to add protein to the diet. The downside to protein shakes tends to be the taste. No matter how much a company promotes it being a ‘great taste’, I’m yet to find one I don’t have to force down (and I’ve had many).

Something to address with protein shakes is the myth that you have to consume one right after your session to get the benefits of the protein. Another is that the more protein in a protein shake, the better.

I’m just going to quickly debunk these two myths.

Firstly, studies have been done to see how muscles respond to protein in take after a session at different time points. The same muscle protein synthesis (muscle growth) response happened at 30 mins post exercise as 4 hours post exercise. The only reason you might want your shake right after is to top up your protein and keep muscle protein synthesis high (regular feedings of protein will do this).

Secondly, studies have also been done to see the optimal amount of protein utilised for muscle protein synthesis and it turns out that 20-25g is the perfect amount for a protein shake. Anything more won’t be used for muscle growth in that feeding. However, it doesn’t mean you can’t have 40g of protein in a scoop because this will still help reach the daily total protein goal.

The important thing to remember is that the timing of protein is far less important than the total daily amount. Hitting the total daily amount will provide the muscles with enough protein to build and repair.

Take home point - have a protein shake if you struggle to hit protein goals. You don’t need one if you can get it all through your diet.

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