Many Americans believe that protein supplements, such as protein shakes, will help them lose weight or build muscle mass. But the typical American diet contains more protein than other cultures, which makes protein shakes relatively unnecessary -- unless you have a special condition that makes protein supplements necessary.
Proteins are organic compounds composed of amino acids. Proteins come in many forms, and different kinds of proteins perform different functions, such as healing muscle and bone tissues, producing enzymes, supporting your immune system and producing energy when glucose is low. A lack of protein in your diet can compromise your ability to heal, according to Ellen Coleman, a registered dietitian and former nutrition consultant for the Los Angeles Lakers
Athletes use protein shakes to recover from strenuous exercise and training, repair damaged tissues and replenish nutrients. Vegetarians can benefit from protein shakes, because the protein usually comes from cow's milk. Protein shakes can be used in place of meats and meat products, such as beef and pork, which usually have lots of calories and unhealthy saturated fats. If you want to lose weight or adopt a lower-fat diet to keep your heart healthy, protein shakes can lower your saturated fat and caloric intake.
Many people believe that eating more protein will help them increase muscle mass. But your body converts excess protein into fat for storage. It can also convert excess protein into glucose for energy, via a process called gluconeogenesis. This occurs when your carbohydrate intake is lower than protein intake. Harvard School of Public Health reports that most Americans take in more protein than necessary in their diet. Intake is roughly 75 grams per day, and the recommended amount is between 46 and 56 grams.
Coleman suggests that you have a protein shake within 30 minutes of your workout. This is when your body needs protein and carbohydrates the most. Combine the shake with fruit or other sources of carbohydrates. If you wait longer than 30 minutes, your body will convert more of your muscle's proteins into glucose for energy. This can lower your metabolism and promote chronic fatigue.
Most athletes require a higher amount of protein than the general population. Natalie Digate Muth, a registered dietitian and contributing writer for the American Council of Exercise, says endurance athletes should take 0.5 to 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight, while strength athletes should take 0.7 to 0.8 grams per pound.
Cancer patients need to increase their calories to heal from surgery. They usually do not have much appetite and cannot consume certain some foods. The nutrients in protein shakes are more readily absorbed and more easily digested than regular foods, and may be especially helpful if you have lost your appetite, according to Baptist Health Services. The shakes should also have added carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals.