Are you interested in adding protein shakes to your diet? We’ll dive into protein shakes and give you all the details about what to look for and what to avoid when adding protein shakes to your diet. By the end, you’ll be cranking out protein shakes before and after workouts.
What are protein shakes?
You may have heard about how protein shakes improve strength and build lean muscle mass. They can be a game-changer!
First things first: What is Protein?
Protein is an essential nutrient your body needs to repair and build muscle tissue. While foods like meat, eggs, and dairy provide protein, protein shakes, have become a popular way to get a quick and high-quality nutrient dose.
Protein supplements like protein bars and protein shakes provide the amino acids your muscles need to repair and rebuild themselves, leading to muscle growth and strength gains.
There are many protein options, but it mostly boils down to two main categories: animal and plant-based.
- Animal-based protein powders like whey and casein are found in many protein powders. You can also try egg white protein if you have a milk allergy.
- Plant-based protein powders like soy, pea, hemp, and rice are also available, making it easier for vegans and vegetarians to get their protein fix.
While it’s always best to get your nutrients from whole foods, protein shakes are a convenient and effective supplement to your diet, especially if you’re struggling to meet your daily protein needs.
Importance of Protein Shakes in Fitness
If you are serious about getting the most out of your training sessions, consider adding protein shakes to your routine.
Not only do they taste delicious, but they play a critical role in repairing and rebuilding your muscles after an intense workout.
When you lift weights or engage in other forms of exercise, your muscles undergo a lot of strain and stress. This process leads to microscopic tears in the muscle fibers, which causes soreness and discomfort. It’s a natural part of the muscle-building process.
Here’s where protein shakes help. They contain the essential amino acids your body needs to repair and rebuild the damaged muscle tissue.
Consuming protein immediately after a workout helps to stimulate “muscle protein synthesis,” which is when the body creates new muscle tissue to replace damaged fibers.
Ingredients to look for in protein shakes
Protein powders like whey provide high amino acid concentrations. Studies show that proteins with all nine essential amino acids, especially the three branched-chain amino acids, maximize muscle protein synthesis best.
Whey protein is a great option, but plant-based proteins are a fantastic alternative for those who can’t digest the milk proteins found in whey.
Casein protein, another milk protein, is a slow-release protein that provides sustained amino acids to rebuild muscles over time.
Some plant-based proteins may lack vital amino acids, making them “incomplete.”
However, blended plant-based proteins draw from different sources to create a complete protein, maximizing muscle protein synthesis better than single-source options.
Hemp protein is a superfood for building muscle due to its essential fatty acids. It’s also vegan and hypoallergenic, making it easier to digest.
Omega-3 supplements, like fish oil, help reduce inflammation and minimize post-exercise soreness.
Creatine is another ingredient to look out for, as it helps speed recovery and replenish lost creatine stores while hydrating muscle cells. Plus, there’s evidence that suggests it’s beneficial for neurological health.
Ingredients to avoid in protein shakes
Let’s discuss what to avoid in protein shakes to ensure you get the best product for your health goals.
If you’re among the many people who experience gluten-related health issues, knowing that your protein powder could contribute to the problem is essential.
Gluten causes inflammation and various health issues, from headaches to mood changes, exhaustion, and skin conditions for people with sensitivities. Choosing a gluten-free protein powder is crucial if you’re sensitive to gluten.
Some protein powders add artificial sweeteners like sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin to make them taste better.
It is vital to note that sugar substitutes may cause adverse reactions in specific individuals. Some potential side effects include migraines, stomach pain, anxiety, and weight gain. If you’re sensitive to artificial sweeteners, look for a protein powder that uses natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit.
Unfortunately, several products of poorer quality cut corners by utilizing milk solids and cheap skim milk powders as bulking agents. While this may seem cost-effective, it compromises the protein powder’s quality and effectiveness.
Some soy proteins come from genetically-modified sources with high pesticide use. They contain chemical compounds that cause hormonal disturbances in some people. Look for a protein powder that uses non-GMO soy protein.
Thickeners and gums like xanthan gum cause bloating, constipation, and gas. Protein powders use these additives to create a more creamy texture, but they are like glue in your digestive system. Choose a protein powder that doesn’t contain these additives.
Protein powders sometimes add fillers to bulk the protein and save money for the manufacturer. Look for a protein powder with high-quality, pure ingredients without fillers.
Finally, some protein powders contain hydrogenated fats that contain trans fats, which are more harmful than saturated fats. These fats raise levels of bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol levels. Always check the label for added fats and choose a protein powder that uses healthy fats like coconut or avocado.
Side effects of protein shakes
While protein shakes are a great addition to your diet, it’s essential to be aware of possible downsides. Here are a few things to keep in mind.
Let’s talk about gas, bloating, diarrhea, and stomach cramps.
Stomach cramps, bloating, gas, and diarrhea are common side effects of whey protein powder, especially if you have lactose intolerance. Switching to a non-dairy protein powder helps avoid these unpleasant symptoms.
Do you have allergies?
If you’re allergic to cow’s milk, beware of hives, rash, swelling, and a runny/stuffy nose. While rare, a severe reaction can occur. Opt for a non-dairy protein powder to be on the safe side.
They’re not whole foods.
Protein shakes are not whole foods, but that’s not the only thing to consider. If you rely too heavily on protein shakes, you miss critical nutrients in whole foods. For example, suppose you substitute your morning scrambled eggs with a protein shake. In that case, you might miss out on eggs’ additional health benefits, like good cholesterol called HDL (high-density lipoprotein).
Hold the sugar.
It’s also important to be mindful of added sugar and calories. Always check the product label to know what you’re consuming.
Save heavy metal for music.
As a dietary supplement, manufacturers regulate their products themselves. Some research showed protein powders with heavy metals, herbicides, and other pollutants. Use protein powders only from reputable companies you trust.
Choosing the right protein shake for your goals
Are you hunting for the perfect protein shake to help you achieve your fitness and health goals? With so many options available, it can be overwhelming to choose the right one.
Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
Following these simple steps, select a protein shake that tastes great and delivers the nutrients your body needs.
First, consider your goals.
Are you hoping to lose weight, build muscle, or maintain a healthy lifestyle? Knowing what you want to achieve helps you narrow down your options.
Next, read the label.
Look for a protein shake that contains quality protein sources like whey, casein, soy, pea, or rice. Avoid shakes loaded with added sugars, artificial sweeteners, and preservatives.
- Consider additional ingredients like carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. Depending on your goals, you may need a protein shake that contains these nutrients.
- Check the label for potential allergens if you have food allergies or sensitivities.
Choose a reputable brand.
All reputable brands test for quality and purity to ensure the protein powder is legit. Look for brands certified by third-party organizations like NSF International or Informed Choice.
Ask the experts
Lastly, if you need help deciding which protein shake to choose, consult a registered dietitian or a certified personal trainer for guidance.
Anna is a 33-year-old registered dietitian based in Orlando. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Nutrition from the University of Pennsylvania. In her free time, Anna enjoys staying active through Crossfit and indulging her sweet tooth by baking. She is dedicated to helping her clients achieve their health and wellness goals through evidence-based nutrition advice and has spent the past 4 years writing for online publications on nutrition and fitness.