Primarily the domain of sportspeople and bodybuilders, protein shakes are now becoming very popular among the 'average' consumers too. With a rising consciousness about general health, weight-loss and the like, an increasing number of people have started to add protein shakes to their cart at the superstores. But do we really need to?
Protein shakes, simply put, are beverages that are high in protein content, which are usually made with protein powder. It is used as a protein supplement to diet.
First of all, the word of caution is to consult your physician, dietician or nutritionist before you decide to consume protein shakes, no matter what your purpose. And if you have any health issues such as kidney, liver or cardiac problems, etc., protein shakes are probably not for you, unless prescribed by a doctor for any particular reason.
Why do you need to have protein shakes in the first place? “If you lead a healthy lifestyle and maintain a proper balanced diet, your daily requirement of protein (and other nutrients) should be met anyway,” says Tamanna Chowdhury, principal dietician, department of dietetics, Apollo Hospitals Dhaka.
What if you want to lose some weight? Will gulping in this special beverage help you in weight loss? “Weight loss programmes will have your carb intake under tight control. Proper amount of protein intake is very crucial then. However, even then you can seek out natural sources of protein. But if you want to use protein shakes, which may be done for the short term, see whether your nutritionist or dietician allows you to,” Chowdhury informed. “Protein also gives you a feeling of fullness, reducing your appetite,” she added.
Protein shakes are mostly for those who undertake strenuous exercises -- in sports or in body building sessions. So if you are a 'regular' guy hitting the gym to do some basic exercises just to stay fit and healthy, you might easily choose to do so without the beverage, given that you consume enough protein (and of course other nutrients as well) from your diet.
However, if you want nothing short of bulging muscles, or if you play a sport which requires very heavy, strenuous physical activities, protein shakes might come in handy. Studies have shown that this drink may have positive effects on body building. After all, one of the many functions of protein is to repair and build muscles.
“After a workout, drinking a serving of protein shake helps in quick muscle repair and glycogen replenishment. Even then, it should be treated with caution,” Chowdhury said.
There are other uses of protein shakes. For example, vegetarians (or even those who consume meat) may at times suffer from protein deficiency; protein shakes then might come to the rescue.
There are plant sources and animal sources of protein. Among the animal sources, whey (derived from milk), is the most popular. Being very soluble, this category comes out of a very thorough filtration process and contains all the nine essential amino acids. Among the plant sources, protein from soy is popular.
However, some studies have shown that long-term intake, especially if taken in excess, of soy protein might have severe side effects for women. Over all, long term use of protein shakes -- and especially if the amount of consumption is not appropriately restricted -- can have adverse effects on kidneys, liver, etc. It has also been argued that a few brands contain arsenic and mercury that might be harmful for your body -- depending on the quantity and frequency of the consumption.
Protein shakes surely have their use, and you might be tempted to buy them if you are an athlete or bodybuilder. However, it's best not to treat this drink like any other 'consumer drink'. Visit a dietician or a nutritionist, who can then take into account your unique medical status and your needs and wants. Based on that, let your dietician decide which protein shake to have, how much to consume and -- very relevantly -- whether you actually even need a protein shake at all.
Special thanks to Tamanna Chowdhury, principal dietician, department of dietetics, Apollo Hospitals Dhaka.