Breaking Down Protein Shakes: Are They Necessary & Worth It?
If you’re into fitness, you’ve probably heard that protein shakes are great for all sorts of things, from gaining muscle and workout recovery to weight loss.
And while it’s true that many foods provide protein, protein shakes have become incredibly popular because they provide high-quality protein in a convenient form that’s easy to take on the go.
But if you’re wondering whether protein shakes are necessary, or even worth the trouble, you’re not alone. There are so many to choose from, how do you know which one will give you the results you’re looking for?
In this article, we’re going to break down the benefits of protein shakes and how they can support muscle gain, recovery, and weight loss.
What are Protein Shakes?
The FDA classifies any product that contains vitamins, minerals, herbs, or amino acids as a dietary supplement. Protein shakes provide amino acids, so they are technically classified as dietary supplements.
You will get the most benefit from protein shakes if you use them as a supplement to a healthy diet. Protein shakes can be purchased ready-to-drink or in powder form that you mix into juice, milk, or water. Protein shakes are available from animal or plant-based sources.
The most popular animal-based protein powders are made from whey, which comes from cow’s milk. Protein drinks made from soy are a great option for those who are allergic to dairy or want a clean, complete protein source on a plant-based diet.
Are Protein Shakes Worth it for Muscle Gain?
There’s a reason protein shakes are so popular among athletes, fitness enthusiasts, and bodybuilders. Combining protein shakes with strength training provides the body with the raw materials it needs for muscle growth and repair, as well as overall physical performance.
Your workout results are enhanced because increasing your intake of high-quality protein and combining it with strength training stimulates protein synthesis in the muscles. The amino acids are more readily absorbed into the bloodstream, which further encourages muscle protein synthesis.
Studies also show that incorporating protein shakes into your routine can help you build muscle, even when you’re eating to lose weight. For example, the participants in this study lost more fat and gained more muscle with protein supplements than those who didn’t supplement their protein intake, even when combined with regular exercise.
It’s clear that protein shakes are worth it if you’re serious about gaining muscle, preventing muscle loss, improving your performance, and recovering more quickly after workouts.
How do Protein Shakes Support Weight Loss?
It turns out that protein shakes can also support weight loss. They do this by activating certain pathways and processes in the body that promote weight loss. Here’s how it works.
- Improved Satiety
Hormones play a major role in so many body processes, and that includes appetite control and stimulation. In particular, peptide tyrosine-tyrosine (PYY), ghrelin, and glucagon-like peptide (GLP-1) are three hunger hormones that are influenced by protein intake.
GLP-1 and PYY are hormones that reduce hunger. The level of these hormones in the body is increased after protein intake. This supports weight loss by reducing your appetite. GLP-1 also slows digestion, which makes these two hormones vital for improving satiety and reducing overeating.
Eating protein also slows the production and release of ghrelin in the body, which extends satiety and reduces overeating. Ghrelin is known as the “hunger hormone” because it stimulates the appetite and promotes fat storage.
These combined effects are amazing for supporting weight loss by controlling hunger and regulating the appetite.
- Increased Metabolism
Drinking a protein shake can increase metabolism by increasing calorie burn in two different ways. First, metabolizing protein uses more energy, aka calories, than metabolizing carbs or fat. Triggering this metabolic response in your diet with increased protein intake is called diet-induced thermogenesis (DIT).
Second, high-protein intake stimulates a process called gluconeogenesis, which happens when the body uses proteins or fat to produce glucose, instead of carbs. This process is believed to burn more calories, even at rest.
This study shows that those who follow a high protein diet burn more calories due to gluconeogenesis, especially when carbohydrate intake is reduced. Incorporating protein shakes into your routine provides a metabolic advantage that supports weight loss.
- Reduced Belly Fat
Increasing your protein intake with protein shakes may also help you lose belly, or visceral, fat. It can also promote fat loss and fat oxidation in other areas of the body.
Losing belly fat is extremely important because it can lead to chronic inflammation, which contributes to insulin resistance and chronic issues like heart disease and diabetes.
Consuming just one protein shake a day with an extra forty grams of protein can reduce abdominal fat. In fact, according to the Journal of Nutrition, consuming extra protein can result in lower body fat and lower body weight overall, when combined with a healthy diet and exercise.
The Bottom Line
Incorporating protein shakes into your daily wellness routine is a convenient and delicious way to incorporate more high-quality protein into your diet without adding a lot of calories or carbohydrates.
High protein diets have been shown to promote muscle growth, recovery, and overall physical performance. Since they can also help you control your hunger, increase your metabolism, and reduce belly fat, they’re an effective tool for weight loss, too.
While you could technically get enough protein from your diet, protein shakes are definitely worth it if you’re looking for the benefits of a high-protein diet without the weight gain that comes from consuming additional calories.
Nicole is an experienced content writer with a passion for all aspects of wellness. She worked a side gig at a yoga studio for years before becoming a mom, and absolutely fell in love with holistic and alternative therapies during her first pregnancy. She’s been proclaimed the “health nut” amongst family and friends, and when she’s not writing, Nicole can be found studying to become a health coach and reading up on all aspects of healthy living