The Pros & Cons of Protein Shakes

Protein Powder - Meal Replacement Drink
Protein powder in spoon (Image: Brian Balster/iStock/Getty Images)

Protein shakes appeal to athletes and dieters as an easy way to build muscle or lose weight. Available as pre-mixed, ready-to-drink products and as protein powders to be mixed with water, milk or other fluids, shakes can provide a quick, convenient meal substitute or a supplement to the diet. Before deciding to use protein shakes, individuals should consider the pros and cons of these products.

Excess Calories

Most American adults get more than enough protein through dietary sources, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For healthy adults, that means about 46 grams per day for women and about 56 grams per day for men. Eating just 3 ounces of meat with 21 grams of protein; 1 cup of milk with 8 grams; 1 cup of dry beans with 16 grams ; and 1 cup of yogurt with 11 grams of protein provides 56 grams of protein, enough for a healthy man for a day. Therefore, unless the individual needs additional protein because of disease, advanced age, weight loss surgery or athletic training, adding protein shakes to a well-balanced diet also increases calorie intake that may lead to weight gain. Some shakes also contain unacceptable amounts of sugar for certain indivdiuals. On the other hand, a healthy individual may use a protein shake as a meal substitute without adding additional calories.

Excess Protein Intake

An individual should discuss his protein needs with a nutritionist or health care provider before determining the need for protein shakes or other protein supplements. If the individual already consumes enough protein through food, adding one or more protein shakes per day for a long period of time may have harmful effects on the body. When proteins break down in the body, the liver and kidneys must work harder to excrete waste products, potentially causing or worsening disease in those organs. If the individual also restricts carbohydrates, the resulting fiber and nutritional deficiencies may cause constipation and diverticulitis, and may increase the risk of certain types of cancer. On the other hand, a person with increased protein needs may use protein shakes as convenient ways to meet his requirements.

Cost

Retail prices vary widely among protein powders and pre-mixed protein shakes, so individuals should consider the cost per serving before selecting a particular product. In general, powders cost less per serving than ready-to-drink shakes but the total expense of additives -- milk or milk substitutes, fruit and flavoring, if any -- must be included in the calculation. Individuals should also consider the quality of the protein source, as incomplete proteins may cost less than complete proteins but do not provide all of the essential amino acids needed by the body. Eating low-fat, high-protein foods such as lean meat and chicken may cost less than purchasing protein shake products.

Taste

Although protein powders and ready-to-drink shakes come in a variety of flavors as well as in unflavored forms, individuals often find it challenging to find a product that tastes appealing. The taste of a chicken breast is relatively predictable, depending on the preparation, but chocolate protein shakes made by different manufacturers may range from the pleasant to the unpalatable, depending on individual tastes. Fortunately, adding fruits and flavorings can improve the taste of many protein shakes.

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