Don't think that protein shakes are the exclusive domain of athletes. A shake makes a quick and convenient meal for many people on the go -- even those not dashing from the gym. Before you develop a serious protein shake habit, however, consider whether it's the best choice for your weight and nutrient needs.
Most people need just 0.36 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. For a 150-pound person, that comes out to 54 grams daily. If you eat two eggs at breakfast, 3 ounces of chicken at lunch and a cup of Greek yogurt for a snack, you've already met this requirement for the day. Endurance and strength athletes need more protein daily to support muscle recovery and growth -- up to 0.91 gram per pound of body weight per day. Protein shakes help these avid exercise enthusiasts reach their increased requirements in a convenient way. But for the average person who consumes a balanced diet, a protein shake isn't really necessary because you can get all the protein you need easily from whole foods.
If you're prone to missing meals, a protein shake may help you fit in some extra calories and nutrients. Control the ingredients and nutritional quality of your shake by whipping one up at home. For example, a protein shake made with protein powder, fresh fruit, spinach leaves and flax seeds provides healthy fats, fiber and micronutrients along with the protein. Be wary of consuming protein shakes in addition to meals. They pad your diet with extra calories, which can cause weight gain -- especially if you aren't burning any off with exercise.
Premade protein shakes often contain additives, including artificial colors, preservatives and sugar. These premade drinks may also contain extra supplements, such as high doses of amino acids and creatine -- compounds that offer benefit when you're working out to build muscle. If you're not working out, these supplements only increase the cost of the drink without offering any benefit.
Who Really Benefits
For most people who don't exercise regularly, protein shakes really aren't necessary. But protein shakes can be of value to underweight people trying to increase calorie intake to reach a healthy weight. Elderly or ill people who have lighter appetites may find a protein shake helps them get the nutrients they need. Picky kids who refuse most foods may also benefit from the supplemental nutrition protein shakes provide.
- Washingtonian: 4 Myths About Protein and Working Out
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Do I Need Protein Drinks If I Am Working Out?
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise