Healthy adults should get about 45 to 56 grams of protein a day. If you exercise regularly, you may need a little more protein, from any source, than people who aren’t as active.
Protein shakes are used mainly by athletes who need nourishment right after their workouts, says Jose Antonio, chief executive officer and co-founder of the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN).
Protein shakes can range from 100% protein to mostly carbohydrates with a little added protein and fat. They come a variety flavors in powder form or in ready-to-drink packages, such as cans or foil packs.
Proteins are the main building blocks of the human body. They’re used to make various important things, both large and small. This includes tendons, organs and skin… as well as hormones, enzymes, neurotransmitters and all sorts of tiny molecules.
Proteins are also the building blocks of the contractile elements in muscle. Proteins are assembled from amino acids, smaller molecules that are linked together like beads on a string. Some amino acids are produced by the body’s cells, while others must be gotten from foods. The ones that we must get from foods are termed “essential” amino acids.
Proteins that supply all the essential amino acids are the best… and whey protein is loaded with them. It is particularly high in important Branched Chain Amino Acids (BCAAs) like Leucine, and also contains a large amount of Cysteine.
Studies show that Leucine is the most anabolic (growth promoting) amino acid, and Cysteine can help boost levels of the cellular antioxidant Glutathione. Whey protein appears to be particularly effective at stimulating growth in humans. Human breast milk is actually 60% whey, compared to 20% in cow’s milk.
Choosing a Protein Shake
Protein shakes vary in protein content. “If you’re a bodybuilder, you’re going to shift to the drinks that have a bit more protein,” Antonio says. If you’re an endurance athlete, like a marathoner, you may favor drinks with more carbs, Antonio says. But the most important thing is simply to drink something after your workout.
If your goal is to lose body fat, change to a protein shake that’s mainly protein, has fewer carbohydrates, and only a little bit of fat. “Make sure the product is more than 50% protein if your goal is body fat loss,” Antonio says.
Different Types of Protein in Protein Shakes
Protein shakes use different types of protein in varying amounts. They may include:
The source of the protein and how it’s purified during manufacturing may affect how well your body can use it. Although it’s best to get protein through your diet, supplementing it with a combination of whey and casein is a good choice, as long as you tolerate dairy well, since both come from milk.
Soy protein is another option. It’s a plant-based protein. It’s as effective as most animal sources of protein, Antonio says. Soy is also rich in nutrients.
Whey protein is a mixture of proteins isolated from whey. Whey is the liquid part of milk that separates during cheese production. Milk actually contains two main types of protein… casein (80%) and whey (20%). Whey is found in the watery portion of milk. When cheese is produced, the fatty parts of the milk coagulate and the whey is separated from it as a by-product.
If you’ve ever opened a yogurt container to see liquid floating on top, this is whey. Cheese makers used to discard it before they discovered its commercial value. After being separated during cheese production, whey goes through a series of processing steps to become what people generally recognize as whey protein… a powder that is added to shakes, meal replacements and protein bars.
Health benefits of Whey Protein Shakes
Lose Fat And Preserve Muscle
Researchers in Minnesota conducted a 12-week study where subject’s daily caloric intake was reduced by 500 calories. They then gave some participants whey and the rest were given an isocaloric mix beverage. Those consuming whey lost a significantly greater amount of body fat (6.1% total) and better preserved their muscles. If you have an urge to snack on something, try a whey protein bar.
Increase Size and Strength
Researchers at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, took 19 men performing resistance training over a 10-week period and gave some of them 14 grams of whey and casein protein along with 6 grams of free amino acids, while giving the rest a 20-gram placebo. Those who consumed the whey had greater increases in fat-free mass and muscle strength. The key is to follow the example of the study and consume whey one hour before and after the exercises.
Whey could help you reduce hunger and avoid developing a King of Queens character Doug Heffernan-like physique. Australian researchers had 28 obese men consume four different drinks. Those who consumed the beverage containing 50 grams of whey had significantly reduced levels of ghrelin (a hormone that tells your brain you’re hungry) up to four hours later. So instead of munching on unhealthy party snacks, drink a protein shake beforehand. With a little luck and a slimmer waistline, you might find a Carrie Heffernan who’s actually nice.
Various studies have also concluded that Whey Protein may help in the fight against some common forms of cancer including prostate and colon. If you’re at risk, remember to get screened, listen to the advice of your medical professionals, and consider including whey protein in your diet.
Coping with Stress
Studies conducted in the Netherlands appear to have found a far better alternative for those vulnerable to stress. Researchers put 58 subjects through experimental stress and found that those who consumed Whey Protein experienced fewer symptoms of depression and seemed in a better mood than those who did not. They concluded that there were likely changes in the brain serotonin. Instead of drowning your sorrows in booze, opt for a refreshing whey protein shake.
Improved Immune System
University of Alberta researchers found that male subjects involved in strenuous aerobic activity suffered from significantly reduced glutathione levels that could impact on such things as the nervous, gastrointestinal, and immune systems. However, they also discovered that by supplementing with whey protein, the subjects experienced a significantly lesser reduction in glutathione levels. If you like extended cardio sessions, but don’t want to risk a reduction of glutathione levels, combat those effects with whey.
The best known (and best studied) use of whey protein supplements, is for the purpose of increasing muscle mass and strength. Whey protein is popular among athletes, bodybuilders, fitness models, as well as people looking to improve their performance in the gym.