Do Protein Shakes Work And Why Take Them?
Do protein shakes really work or is it just good advertising?
This article answers the 3 most commonly asked questions people ask about muscle building shakes:
- Do protein shakes work?
- Should I take protein shakes?
- When should I take a protein shake - before or after a workout?
If you are into any kind of sport that requires serious muscle building, or you just enjoy weight training, then the chances are you are probably thinking hard about your protein intake.
There is a lot of advertising spent on protein shakes, and it is a huge industry across the globe. So on the one hand you would have to think that if it's so big, then they must work; but on the other hand you might question some of the over-the-top advertising that accompanies them in fitness magazines, videos, in the shops that sell them and even written on the tubs themselves.
The simple answer to the question 'do protein shakes work' is that most people who have used them say that they do work. But there is more to it than just drinking as many as you can and seeing your muscles exploding in size. So this article will answer the questions in more depth for you.
A poll about shakes
Have you found that protein shakes helped build muscle?
What evidence is there that protein shakes work?
The first thing to say is that from my own personal experience, drinking a protein shake after a workout does help to build muscle. I have been doing weight training consistently for the last 5 years. For the first 2 years I did not use any kind of protein shakes. Then for the last 3 years, I started to use them regularly before and after workouts. I have also always kept a diary of my training. When I look back over the diary, I can see that the speed of improvement was considerably faster since I started drinking them.
You could argue that it was because I was improving faster after getting over a plateau that I was unaware of. Maybe something else in my diet changed. Maybe my training technique changed. However, the speed of improvement is consistently better during the whole of the last 3 years than it was in the first 2 years. I could also feel myself recovering faster when I first started drinking protein shakes compared to when I wasn't. Keeping an exercise diary can be a really valuable tool when weight training, and it may be that if you do this you can actually decide for yourself after a few weeks whether protein shakes work or not.
There have been many studies investigating the effects of nutrition and exercise, and many looking into the effects that supplements have on muscle growth. Studies have shown that protein shakes do in fact usually work by helping increase muscle mass when taken in conjunction with effective resistance training, in comparison to people who train without using them. A study in 2006 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that post-exercise recovery drinks "may lead to increased skeletal muscle hypertrophy and strength". Hypertrophy is the increase in muscle volume, and therefore perceived size.
Why take protein shakes - the body needs protein
Protein is the key to muscle growth. It is definitely possible to get enough protein by eating normal food as part of a balanced diet, so why take protein shakes?
Well, simply put, If you do weight training and don't consume enough protein in your diet, then your muscles will struggle to grow bigger. The generally accepted rule of thumb is that anyone who is doing serious amounts of weight training or body building will need to consume between 1.4 and 1.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight each day. This is as part of a balanced diet reflecting all the other needs of the weight trainer's body. If you can provide yourself with this much protein purely from prepared meals without drinking protein shakes, then you are doing well.
But not everybody is able or willing to prepare the amount of food necessary to consume this much protein. If you are a big guy or girl, then this equation could mean an enormous amount of protein rich food to be consumed. Even for someone of an average size, it can be a struggle to get this much protein from normal food and drinks. Some people may struggle for other reasons to get the right amount of protein, for example vegetarians may find it harder, as could someone who just doesn't like, or know, how to cook! It can also be quite expensive if you are constantly buying and eating good sources of meat, fish, dairy, nuts etc.
Protein shakes, although seemingly expensive when you first buy a big tub, can actually work out cheaper in the long run as an additional source of protein. If you are going to spend money on them and rely on them in any way, you want to know if they work or not though. On average Whey protein shakes contain around 20 grams of protein, so if they do work, then you are getting a sizable percentage of your daily protein need in each drink. Please note though, that protein shakes should never be used as a complete substitute for normal food.
They should be taken in addition to good, healthy, protein rich food. The question you should be asking is 'do protein shakes work alongside my normal diet' and not 'do protein shakes work as a food substitute'. If you are not eating at least 3 meals a day while taking protein shakes, then you need to start eating at least the 3 normal meals a day. This is very important to remember.
Soya - another type of protein shake
What's in protein shakes?
There are a lot of different kinds of protein shakes, though the most available and the most popular by far is Whey protein. Whey is a by-product of the process of making cheese from milk. Whey protein has the important attribute of containing all of the essential amino acids and branched chain amino acids, which are the building blocks of protein, and are essential for muscle repair and growth.
Two other types of protein shake that are gaining more momentum and popularity are Soya shakes, and Hemp shakes. Soya also contains all the essential amino acids, though when sold as a protein shake it seems to contain slightly less actual protein than most Whey varieties. Hemp has the additional bonus of being high in omega-3, but one problem with the shakes is that they also contain large amounts of fiber. So Whey remains the most popular protein shake.
When to take a protein shake - before or after a workout?
Most people who take protein shakes want to know exactly when to drink their shakes to see the best results. Within reason you can drink protein shakes whenever you want. There is no law to say you must drink them at certain times if you want them to work. Though of course there is little point in drinking them during a meal that already contains protein.
Most people say that the maximum benefit is derived when you take a protein shake within 30 minutes of finishing a work out. The second best time to drink protein shakes seems to be before a workout, ideally 15-30 minutes before and no more than an hour. Personally if I am doing a heavy workout, I will have one both before and after, and try to leave at least 1.5 hours between drinking them as there is a limit to how much protein your body can absorb in an hour. Your body cannot process in one hour the average 40 grams of protein you would get from 2 shakes, so it's important to leave sufficient time between drinking protein shakes. You could also have one during the day when you are not eating anything else. But overall the best time to take a protein shake is after a workout.
You decide if protein shakes work!
The best way really to answer the question 'do protein shakes work' is to try them yourself. There is no scientific evidence that they can do you any harm. So perhaps the best thing is to try one kind of protein shake for a month, which is how long on average a large tub can last you, and see if you feel any difference in terms of recovery, and if you see results both in terms of visible size increase, but also in your own strength. I've listed below 3 protein shakes which have consistently excellent customer reviews on Amazon.com and I recommend trying one of these. They are also cheaper to buy on Amazon than in the shops.
A great video showing you how to make protein shakes taste better
Don't forget to have a good diet and exercise well!
Make sure you remember all the other important things you need to do to ensure you get the best results with muscle building. This includes making sure you have a healthy, balanced diet. Protein shakes do work, but combined with a bad diet, they will not give you very good results. And don't forget the basics of muscle training. I've written an article, how to get a six pack, that includes tips for this. And don't neglect the other important details like ensuring you get sufficient sleep, as this is when the muscles do most of their repairing and growing. If you are someone that has sleeping troubles, read my article 'how to fall asleep instantly' where you can find lots of information about getting a better nights sleep.
Good luck with the training and don't be afraid to experiment with different kinds of protein shake until you find a flavor and type that you like. Do protein shakes work? Feel free to come back and leave a comment when you've decided for yourself!