Protein shakes were once the domain of bodybuilders. But with a growing army of celebrity fans, they are now the convenience food of dieters too. Here Nikki talks through the growing trend and the health benefits of a supplement boost.
Protein is an essential nutrient needed on a daily basis by the human body.
And in recent years high-protein, low-carbohydrate diets have become the hottest thing since sliced sirloin steak.
Every food marketer in the world appears to want a piece of the protein pie.
And more and more supplements – in the form of shakes and bars – are being purchased by the health conscious who want a quick fix.
From bodybuilder to body conscious
Protein is an important component of every cell in the body – from your hair and nails through to your bones and blood.
The reason athletes and bodybuilders benefit so much from the intake of protein supplements is that intensive physical activity requires higher than usual levels of protein.
By increasing your protein intake you are also giving your muscles more time to recover but they also grow faster as a result.
If consumed after a workout protein can help to heal the “micro tears” (very small tears in the muscle tissue, caused by intense contraction of the muscle during workout) in the muscle.
Because solid food takes more time to digest and to break down the protein and send it to the muscles, bodybuilders use protein shakes for convenience.
So why are these shakes now being used by dieters who – rather than wanting to gain mass, want to lose weight?
Well, unless you have been living on another planet you will be aware of the growing popularity of high-protein, low-carb diets as an effective approach to losing.
These diets generally recommend dieters receive 30% to 50% of their total calories from protein.
They work well because, by drastically restricting carbohydrates to a mere fraction of that found in the typical diet, the body goes into a different metabolic state called ketosis where it burns its own fat for fuel.
The trouble is that chewing through mince and chicken fillets can get a bit boring.
And most of us crave something sweet every once in while.
When cake and chocolate is banned, protein shakes offer a ‘nice but not naughty way’ to satisfy a craving and top up protein.
Swap a steak for a shake
It’s easy to understand the excitement of a short, sharp shot of protein in a sweet-tasting milkshake.
They are the perfect for women who are aware of the importance of healthy eating but don’t always have the time to prepare healthy meals and eat well.
These women are looking for a convenient and nutritious way to increase their protein intake, and this is a quick and easy solution.
Protein shakes have even won celebrity fans including Gwyneth Paltrow.
Some nutritionists suggest drinking two high protein, low carb shakes a day with fibre and omega-3s added, in place of two of your usual meals.
Whey hey hey!
Protein shakes consist of powdered forms of protein such as soy or whey, which is a by-product of the cheese-making process.
Flavouring is added to the powder so that when it’s blended with milk or water, it resembles a milkshake-style drink.
Studies suggest whey protein may have the best weight loss results.
Whey provides good satiety and digests easily.
Whey isolates are fat-free, very low carb and lactose free, but slightly more expensive than whey concentrates which have and extra 1-2g of carbs. Whey is also one of the best muscle-building proteins.
Milk or protein blends
The protein in milk (casein) is slow digesting and can help you feel full longer. Many protein blends combine whey and milk proteins so you get the benefits of both. A straight casein protein is popular when taken at night due to its longer satiating effect.
Egg, soy or plant proteins
These sources are good for those who like to avoid dairy or have specific milk allergies.
Add fiber to your shake to keep hunger away and to control blood sugar spikes. These fibres absorb water and expand in your stomach to create a sense of fullness. Fibre also slows the normal increase in blood sugar in response to a meal, even when drinking just protein.
Psyllium husk fibre is primarily a soluble fiber that absorbs about 50 times its weight in water. This helps create a bulkier, softer stool and minimizes constipation that is common during carbohydrate restriction.
Add good omega-3 fats
Fats help slow down the digestive process, making you feel full longer. Since protein powders are low in fat, you’ll want to add some healthy omega-3 fats like flax oil, fish oil or chia seeds. This will give your shake more “staying power”. These good fats have been shown to reduce insulin resistance, which improves fat burning in muscles and inhibits fat storage.
Balance your lifestyle
Of course there is no point adding protein shakes to your diet unless you are going to make additional changes to your lifestyle.
Protein shakes make it easier to ensure consumption of a well-balanced meal.
But you should also avoid eating high calorie fattening foods, sweets, desserts and fizzy drinks, drink 8-10 glasses of water every day and do 30 minutes of exercise daily.
With changes like these you can expect to reduce your weight by 4-6 pounds a month.