Protein shakes have long been associated with bodybuilders and athletes. However, they have become more and more the focus of health-conscious people and amateur athletes.
And rightly so. A good quality protein shake can support a balanced nutrition profile as a good and quickly available protein source.
But are protein shakes healthy indeed? What types of protein shakes are available? Protein supplements are now available everywhere: In drugstores and supermarkets, and even at larger gas stations. Not all protein shakes are the same. The various products also differ in quality.
What does a protein shake consist of?
The basis of every protein shake is a protein powder. This consists of concentrated proteins that are either of animal or plant origin. Typical animal sources are whey, casein, or collagen. As a vegetable protein powder, soy, rice, pea, hemp, and various seeds and oilseeds such as sunflower seeds and chia seeds are often used.
What is protein shakes good for?
Protein shakes are optimal for increasing your diet’s protein content, which makes sense, especially for active and athletic people. But also in our daily nutrition, there can be too little protein in our diet. Also here protein shakes can help to provide sufficient protein support.
Advantages of protein shakes
Proteins are the building blocks of all life and play a vital role in nutrition. Regular exercise increases the need for protein up to 1.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. Proteins consist of their smallest unit of amino acids. Some of these amino acids can be produced by your body itself, while others must be obtained from your diet. The diet or sports nutrition must additionally cover the daily additional protein requirement.
Protein shakes are the easiest and most convenient way to cover your daily protein needs in addition to “normal” food. With one shake a day, you can already provide your body with 20 grams of additional protein to build up and regeneration processes within the muscles.
Additives in protein shakes
Ingredient lists that identify countless additives in addition to the actual protein are now more the rule than the exception. Especially flavors and sweeteners, colorants, and preservatives can be quickly unmasked on the products’ back descriptions.
The motto is: It must be as natural as possible. Only then can the protein shake be good for you.
Proteins for weight loss
For weight loss, protein shakes are often used to supplement a light meal or lower-calorie alternatives for a sweet snack.
The proteins in protein shakes have the advantage that they saturate longer and are lower in calories than carbohydrates or fats.
Studies had shown that the feeling of hunger in the morning is lower when proteins, instead of a carbohydrate-rich dinner, were consumed. On top of that, the additional protein counteracts the threat of muscle loss during weight loss and promotes body fat burning.
Many weight loss programs and nutrition coaches recommend taking protein shakes because they are supposed to help lose weight and keep a slim, fit figure. This can be explained by two properties proteins bring: Their satiating effect and their thermic effect.
To digest food, the body needs to expend energy. However, how many calories are burned for this varies from food to food. This is called the thermal effect of food.
Protein has a particularly high thermal effect of 15-30% compared to carbohydrates (5-10%) and fats (0-3%) (This means that 15-30% of the calories from proteins are directly burned again for digestion).
The reason is that the body has to expend significantly more energy until the proteins are broken down and converted to serve as energy suppliers.
In concrete terms, this means that when you eat protein, a high proportion (compared to fats and carbohydrates) is already burned during digestion. In the end, the body receives significantly less energy than you have actually consumed.
This means that consuming a lot of protein can boost metabolism and increase the number of calories burned.
Proteins for muscle building and maintenance
As described above, our bodies are made up of a certain amount of protein, much of which is muscle. To achieve the goal of muscle building, you go to the gym or do home workouts. The stimuli you put on the muscles during the workout cause micro-injuries.
Usually, you should rest long enough after the workout, so the body regenerates. Meanwhile, it must have enough protein available, so the micro-injuries will be repaired, which will strengthen the muscle and ultimately make it grow.
Proteins for skin, hair, and nails.
Another area where proteins play an essential role is connective tissue. Connective tissue is responsible for the shape and strength of the entire body. It has a supporting function and holds the organs together. It is an essential component of the skin (subcutis) and bones and gives them a certain elasticity to not become brittle. It also plays a role in the functioning of joints and cartilage.
The most important protein in connective tissue is collagen. It makes up the most significant percentage. As we age, collagen synthesis decreases. To support the connective tissue, supplementation with collagen can make sense.
Hair and nails can also be supported by collagen supplementation, although they do not consist of collagen but primarily of keratin. However, the body can use the amino acids from collagen as building blocks for keratin.
Proteins for general health
Amino acids are necessary for numerous structures and processes in the body. Proteins are of elementary importance not only for muscles but also for all other tissues. Since the body constantly eliminates old cells and produces new ones, it always needs enough building blocks to carry out all its functions.
Proteins are building blocks for essential molecules in the body like enzymes, hormones, and immune system cells. However, always consult your doctor before changing your diet and add more proteins. People with existing kidney disease might need to avoid too much protein and keep an eye on the amount. Also, allergies have to be excluded.
Recipe for homemade protein shakes
If you don’t want to miss out on your extra portion of protein, you do not have to buy expensive protein powders. You can easily prepare protein shakes yourself.
You need about 150 grams of natural yoghurt, cottage cheese, or curd as a base for our suggested recipe. Cut fruits and vegetables of your choice into small pieces and add them. Now you can mix in healthy extras like oatmeal, nuts, seeds, and spices for flavour. Add enough milk or water to the mixture so that the shake has the consistency you want. Purée everything with a blender, and your protein shake is ready.