Protein shakes have become a staple in many gyms and the basic recommendations of most commercial diet programs. However, these pre-packaged “power” shakes are often the subject of debate among fitness professionals and dietitians. Recommendations range from avoiding protein shakes all together to making them a daily part of the diet. To increase the confusion surrounding these products, there are a large amount of choices and manufacturers on the market pushing their brands at the health-seeking consumer.
While the diet and weight loss industry has become one of the largest revenue-earning industries in the world, the value of premade supplements and processed meal-replacements may have been exaggerated. However, through clinical trials and years of longitudinal research, it has been found that the right protein shakes, taken daily, can indeed assist in weight loss. The key to this research, of course, is identifying which of the thousands of protein shakes will assist the consumer in weight loss and management.
Certainly the most important part of choosing a protein shake is to read the label. The International Society of Sports Nutrition recommends a shake that is at least 50 percent protein if the goal is fat loss. Check the total grams of the product and compare with the total grams of protein listed on the nutrition label to determine the amount of protein. Many protein shakes are full of too many carbohydrates or fat that may be helpful for certain populations, but not for those trying to lose weight. Calorie content must be considered as well. A high-calorie shake, typically over 200 calories for a supplement or 300 calories if used as a meal replacement, will derail any efforts at weight loss.
Another thing to remember is that while protein content is important, the type of protein in the shake makes a difference as well. There are a wide range of proteins that can be found in shakes, not all of them recommended by the healthcare community. The most common proteins used in shakes include soy, whey, casein, and egg. Determining the protein used in a shake may be the most important part of reading the label for those with food allergies and digestive problems. Whey and casein proteins may not be the best choices for those who do not tolerate dairy and egg proteins have been linked to severe reactions.
Soy proteins have been shown to aggravate existing health problems and are not recommended in high doses for many women. Aside from containing a plant-made estrogen that may cause hormonal imbalances, soy protein may trigger allergic reactions when taken daily. A recent study published in Nutrition Research also found that soy protein does not assist in weight loss or management for the younger female adult population. The recommended protein options for those intolerant to dairy are pea proteins, rice proteins, chia, flax, hemp, or quinoa. The best shakes labeled vegan will contain one or a combination of these ingredients.
The International Society of Sports Nutrition and the Center for Disease Control both agree that if it is tolerable, whey protein is the best option for protein supplementation. Aside from promoting a feeling of fullness, boosting immunity, and helping cell growth and repair, whey protein has been found to be the leader in weight management when used in a protein shake when used as a meal replacement.
So the conclusion? Protein shakes indeed help with weight loss efforts and the right shake will also improve energy, immunity, health, recovery form exercise, and general well-being. In the enormous market of diet and weight loss, protein shakes should be chosen wisely by those serious about their health. While the best shakes are certainly not the cheapest, the value is in the results.