The lure of protein shakes can be strong, even if you’re far from a bodybuilder. Shakes are convenient, portable, nutritious and relatively affordable -- but they also have their downsides. Athletes need more protein than people who aren’t active, so if you aren’t putting in your time at the gym, drinking shakes every day may give you a spare tire and other health issues.
Lack of Muscle
For bodybuilders and athletes, protein shakes are designed to help build muscle. According to the National Strength and Conditioning Association, they are able to do that by encouraging faster muscle recovery and successful muscle protein synthesis, the process by which damaged muscle fibers repair, rebuild and grow. If you don’t work out, however, your muscles aren’t likely to be challenged enough to need that extra protein, which means it won’t help you gain any lean muscle mass. In fact, Rice University researchers recommend that people who don’t exercise eat significantly less protein than athletes -- only about half as much.
A typical whey protein shake contains about 110 calories if you mix it with 1 cup of water. If you mix it with milk or throw in a banana, that number jumps to about 300 calories. Over time, those calories can add up to weight gain, and it’s likely to be in the form of fat rather than muscle if you’re not regularly exercising. Consuming 3,500 calories on top of what you burn results in gaining 1 pound, so drinking a shake every day in addition to your normal diet could mean you put on an extra 1 to 3 pounds every month.
Protein shakes are dietary supplements and typically are produced with isolated nutrients rather than whole foods. If you’re supplementing a healthy, well-rounded diet and fitness plan, that may not matter, but if you’re replacing regular meals with protein shakes, you may be missing out on valuable nutrients. According to the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, dietary supplements like protein shakes are unable to successfully reproduce the phytonutrients, antioxidants, fiber and other protective substances that whole foods naturally contain. For that reason, it’s a healthier choice to eat natural, high-protein foods instead of drinking shakes.
Your kidneys are tasked with the process of metabolizing excess protein -- and if you consistently consume more than you need, that strain can result in serious health problems. According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, most Americans get double the amount of protein their bodies require, even without supplements like shakes. If you keep your protein intake higher than necessary for an extended period of time, you may increase your risk of kidney stones, osteoporosis, kidney disease or even cancer. Before you add shakes to your diet or make any major changes to your eating plan, see your doctor.
- National Strength and Conditioning Association: Whey Protein vs Casein Protein and Optimal Recovery
- Rice University: Protein Requirements for Athletes
- LIVESTRONG.com MyPlate: Body Fortress Whey Protein Powder Nutrition Facts
- M.D. Anderson Cancer Center: Whole Foods or Supplements?
- Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine: The Protein Myth