4 Benefits of a Protein Shake That Will Improve Your Workout

Protein shakes are more popular than ever. Dieters and gym goers worldwide use them to replace one or more meals, supplement their diets or recover faster from training. Some see them as a valuable weight loss aid. Science confirms the benefits of protein shakes on overall health, exercise performance and weight management. These beverages offer both flavor and nutrition, making clean eating a lot easier.

Many claims about protein shakes are backed by scientific research, but they should be part of a balanced diet. (Image: gpointstudio/iStock/GettyImages)

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Stronger bones, muscle repair and fat loss are just a few of the benefits of protein shakes when they're consumed as part of a balanced diet.

The Role of Protein Shakes

In a perfect world, you'd have time to cook healthy meals, track your daily nutrients and fuel your body for optimum performance. Unfortunately, today's hectic lifestyle makes it difficult to eat a balanced diet. Many people rely on ready-made meals and packaged snacks, skip breakfast and eat late at night. Over time, these habits can lead to weight gain, fatigue, high blood sugar and chronic illnesses.

Considering these facts, it's no wonder that protein shakes are gaining popularity worldwide. This market is expected to reach $21.5 billion by 2025. From athletes and gym goers to low-carb dieters, everyone is praising the benefits of protein shakes. Some say that these beverages keep them full longer and curb sugar cravings. Others use them to fill nutritional gaps, perform better at their sport of choice or speed up post-workout recovery.

Many of these claims are backed up by compelling evidence. According to a 2014 review published in the journal Sports Medicine, protein supplements may reduce muscle damage and soreness when consumed after exercise. Their benefits are even greater for those who are in a calorie deficit. Another study, which appeared in the journal Nutrients in 2018, indicates that whey protein may help reduce fat mass and improves physical performance.

Protein Powder Benefits

Protein shakes are prized for their convenience and versatility. Some are available in powder form and can be mixed in a shaker. Others are sold as "shots" or in bottles, so you can enjoy them on the go. Depending on your needs and health goals, you can drink a protein shake before bed, in the morning, before and after exercise, or anytime throughout the day.

Faster weight loss, greater physical endurance, reduced hunger and improved glycemic control are some of the most commonly reported protein powder benefits. This powder helps preserve lean mass and increases satiety during dietary energy restriction, according to a 2014 review featured in Sport Nutrition and Exercise Metabolism. A high protein intake allows athletes to reach their target weight and prevent muscle loss while on a diet.

If you have diabetes or prediabetes, whey protein may help improve your blood sugar levels. As the World Journal of Diabetes points out, this supplement lowers postprandial blood sugar and decreases appetite. In clinical trials, it has been shown to suppress the hunger hormone ghrelin levels and reduce food intake. Compared to soy and casein, whey protein has a greater satiating effect and elicits a higher thermic response, meaning that it curbs hunger and boosts your metabolism.

Protein Shakes and Physical Performance

Athletes and regular gym goers have greater protein requirements compared to the average person. Protein shakes and high-protein foods are rich in leucine and other amino acids that help maintain muscle. According to a 2016 meta-analysis published in Sports Medicine, whey protein may increase overall strength and maximize anabolism, aka muscle growth.

The benefits of protein shakes on body composition are well-documented. Whey protein, in particular, may improve your muscle-to-fat ratio when used as part of a weight-loss or weight-maintenance diet and strength-training program. This supplement on its own is unlikely to produce noticeable changes. You still need to eat a healthy diet and stay physically active to reap its benefits.

Protein shakes can also help you last longer in the gym without feeling tired or fatigued. A 2014 double-blind study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that both milk protein and casein can reduce muscle fatigue after strength training. These supplements are rich in amino acids that increase muscle protein synthesis, leading to faster recovery and enhanced muscular endurance.

Curb Late-Night Snacking

Nighttime eating is one of the most controversial topics in the medical community. Some experts claim that eating late at night promotes weight gain and affects overall health. Others say that it's unlikely to have any adverse effects, especially in physically active individuals. However, it's one thing to eat a light meal or snack before bedtime and another thing to binge on cookies and chips.

Consider drinking a protein shake at night to curb hunger and get leaner. As the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition states, protein supplements influence satiety and food intake, suppressing appetite to a greater extent than carbs and fat. Their metabolism-boosting effects shouldn't be overlooked, either.

A 2014 study featured in the British Journal of Nutrition assessed the effects of whey, casein and carbs on appetite and resting metabolic rate. Subjects who consumed 30 grams of protein or 30 grams of carbs before bedtime had a higher resting energy expenditure the next morning. These findings show that consuming a protein shake before bed may actually help you lose weight — not gain it.

Keep Your Bones Healthy

Osteoporosis affects more than 10 million Americans. One in two women will break a bone because of it. In fact, the number of osteoporotic fractures among women is higher than that of breast, ovarian and uterine cancers combined. A diet rich in protein and calcium can make all the difference.

Improved bone health is one of the biggest benefits of protein shakes for women. According to a 2014 review published in Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, dietary protein may help prevent fractures and increase bone strength due to its ability to stimulate the production of insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) and build lean mass. Furthermore, it enhances calcium absorption and strengthens your muscles. Researchers point out that protein should be consumed along with adequate amounts of calcium.

A more recent study, which was published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition in 2017, found that protein intake above the current recommended dietary allowance may lower the risk of hip fractures by as much as 16 percent and increase bone mineral density. Surprisingly, animal- and plant-based proteins are equally beneficial. Even though more research is needed, researchers agree that high-protein diets support bone health.

Are Protein Shakes Really Necessary?

The benefits of protein shakes are reason enough to include them in your diet. Even though they are not essential, they may improve your health and well-being. When consumed as part of a balanced diet, these products may make it easier to lose weight and keep it off, boost your performance in the gym and help you recover faster from exercise.

Consider your lifestyle and eating habits. Protein shakes are particularly beneficial for those who engage in regular exercise or have an active lifestyle. These supplements can maximize your workouts and help you get better results in less time. However, they're not magic pills that result in overnight weight loss or shredded muscles.

If you decide to use protein shakes, tweak your diet and exercise habits. Stay active throughout the day, commit to a regular workout routine and cut back on processed foods. In the long run, these changes will bring you closer to your health and fitness goals.

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