Protein shakes: pretty pointless or scientifically sound?

Protein shakes seem to be the latest trend to sweep this health-crazed nation, and are targeted at both the ‘bulking’ gym lovers, and those desperate to lose that extra freshers’ weight.  However, what do users really know about the powder they religiously slurp?

Protein shakes are milkshakes with added protein powder, they can also be made with water, but using milk increases the protein content. If used correctly, they are taken as a supplement to a healthy diet and are an easy way to increase your protein intake without having to splash out on excess chicken. The shakes aim to supply amino acids (the building blocks of protein), nine of which are essential to repair the miniscule tears made in muscles during work outs, building bigger and stronger muscle in their place.

The most common protein in the shakes is whey protein, which can be divided into three subcategories: concentrate (mixed with fats); isolate (best for the lactose intolerant, it has the least number of allergens) and hydrolysate (the most expensive powder, as it is so readily absorbed). In a normal diet, 0.8g of protein per kg of bodyweight is the daily recommended amount – those taking protein supplements often ‘up’ this to around 2.25g. However, an ugly monster can rear it’s head if you overdo your intake.

The most serious disadvantage of protein shakes is that if used in conjunction with a high protein diet, the excess protein can cause some serious health concerns.  The most common being an increase in stress on the kidneys and it is widely accepted that excess protein can cause kidney stones.  These so called healthy shakes may in fact help to accelerate a pre-existing kidney disease.

Some users may mistakenly take the supplements to replace important meals, making it harder to achieve a balanced diet. Carbs are vital to fuel the muscles and replacing them with proteins will mean workouts are less efficient. Protein shakes increase muscle size through the repair process, meaning an intense carb-fuelled workout is vital.

Protein shake supplements need to be used as the name describes them – as a supplement. With a high protein diet, there is no reason to take the shakes. However as students, you can’t be expected to afford quite such a protein rich diet, and therefore shakes may be the only practical way of getting that toned body you strive for.

Hilary Robinson

Image: Mutant Nutrition

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