No matter where you go nowadays, it’s pretty likely that you’ll see someone guzzling down a protein shake – you’ll see it at the gym, on the tube, at the bus stop… it’s even become commonplace in offices. There’s no escaping it – protein pancakes, protein ice cream, protein sandwich spread; shelves upon shelves at supermarkets filled with protein-enhanced products. But when it comes to protein shakes and supplements, do we actually need them? Are they worth it? Or is the rise of protein just another smart marketing ploy designed to get you to part with your cash.
It’s a question I get asked frequently, so I’ve put together my thoughts on the subject – I hope you find it useful!
In a world that doesn’t like to wait and thrives on instant gratification, protein supplements and shakes are certainly convenient. The main, and some would say only, benefit of protein shakes is that they make it easy for you to get a good amount of protein into your diet without having to drastically change what you eat.
Of course, your body needs protein to rebuild, repair and grow muscle – so for someone looking to build muscle then protein shakes can be helpful. But if you’re not an overly active person, then you’re probably already getting enough protein – and by adding in extra, you’re giving your body more than it actually needs. You’re giving your body more to break down and digest, and if you’re doing this regularly, it could ultimately lead to weight gain – not usually the end-goal!
They’re often heavily processed
As I said above, most people will get enough protein in their diet from eating the right foods (think lean meats and fish, nuts, legumes, eggs, and foods like hemp, chia and flaxseed), and more often than not, protein shakes are full of sugar and other additives that our bodies just don’t need.
Protein shakes and supplements have done a pretty good job of diverting attention from the fact that protein is available in many other foods, and it’s often cheaper this way too. That’s not to say though that they don’t have their place – they do – but the bottom line is that protein shakes and supplements won’t give you instant results, and ultimately won’t ‘do’ anything to you that normal food wouldn’t do.
When it comes to me personally, I might have a protein shake from time to time after a workout, purely for the convenience and the fact that I can knock it back quickly before heading back to work – but I will often go months on end without having any protein supplements and suffer no loss of muscle, because I generally seek my protein from whole foods and a well-balanced diet.
It really does all come down to personal choice – the average gym-goer should consume protein in moderation, and if a shake makes it easier for you then that’s okay. If that’s the route that you choose to go down, then you should ensure you’re using a good quality whey isolate that’s low on sugar and preservatives. But remember that drinking protein shakes or consuming protein supplements isn’t like waving a magic wand that will get you instant results – they might make your day a little easier but you don’t always need them.