Protein shakes are an easy and convenient way to help reach your workout goals and ensure you consume enough protein each day. With a recent spike of interest in high protein diets, the question of whether to supplement your diet with protein shakes has become a topic of hot debate.
Protein is an essential macronutrient and is critical for building muscle, repairing tissue and making enzymes and hormones. During processing, minerals and fibres are sometimes removed, and sugar or other artificial ingredients such as fillers and binders may be added.
So this begs the question: are protein shakes healthy? This article will explore this question and review the main types of protein shakes on the market and their pros and cons.
Types of Protein Powder
There are a plethora of options when it comes to choosing the right protein, including plant-based and dairy-based powders. So how do you know which type is best for your personal health goals? Here is a summary of the main points you may want to consider.
Pea protein is rising in popularity, partly owing to an increase of those adopting plant-based diets and it conveniently containing all nine essential amino acids we need to build muscle. It is a high quality protein that provides an excellent source of iron, arginine and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs). An added benefit is that it’s finely milled so has a great taste and texture that blends well even with water.
Rice protein packs a great punch when it comes to protein. It also contains a good amount of healthy fats that reduces (bad) LDL cholesterol. It is relatively low in lysine (an essential amino acid required for muscle synthesis), but is easily compensated for when combined with pea protein, known for its relatively high levels of lysine.
So, what happens when you combine the two? You have an awesome plant-based protein regimen that includes a strong amount of all nine essential amino acids, such as our plant-based PowerPack protein powder.
Whey has traditionally been the most popular protein powder. It is a complete protein source that is quickly absorbed so is a good option post-workout to aid muscle synthesis.
Since whey is a dairy product, it does contain lactose, which some people have a hard time digesting. An important point to note is that you must choose organic or grass-fed whey protein in order to ensure the powder is free from hormones and steroids used in the dairy industry, as well as GMO’s and chemical additives or sweeteners.
Hemp protein is a complete protein, rich in antioxidants and minerals, fibre and heart-healthy fats. It is also easily digested. Bear in mind, however, that hemp protein has a nutty and earthy taste so it’s best consumed blended with other ingredients and has a grittier texture than other plant based proteins.
Sunflower seed protein
There are always new plant-based protein powder options coming onto the market, including sunflower seed protein. Unlike other plant-based powders, sunflower protein rarely comes as an isolate (a process that maximises protein content). As with many other plant-based protein powders, however, it is not a complete protein. So, it is always important to ensure you are choosing a plant-based powder which is fortified or combined with other plant sources to provide a full protein profile.
Benefits of Protein Powder
Protein is important for weight loss because it is a macronutrient that slows down the digestive process, keeping food in the stomach for longer, signalling to the brain that you are full and satisfied.
What’s more, evidence suggests that protein may also reduce levels of ghrelin - often named ‘the hunger hormone’ due to its appetite-stimulating effects. This means that high-protein diets may reduce overall daily calorie intake and lead to gradual and sustainable weight loss over time.
As we know, protein is essential for muscle growth. Protein shakes therefore promote muscle gain, and also improve performance and recovery. They also prevent muscle loss and may help to increase muscle mass during weight loss. A large 2018 review study concluded that protein supplementation is recommended for the purposes of both muscle growth and recovery.
Protein shakes have undoubtedly risen in their popularity due to their high convenience factor. Protein supplementation can also help to compensate for a dietary deficit if you are following a vegan diet and find it more challenging to incorporate complete protein sources.
Additionally, not all meals are easy to incorporate protein into - especially breakfast. One way to up your protein is to add a scoop of protein to porridge or pancakes for a protein hit first thing.
Some may choose to consume protein shakes as a means to prevent overeating and may drink a shake for breakfast instead of a bowl of porridge, for example. In this case, you want to ensure your powder contains other essential nutrients including carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals.
You can then be confident knowing you’re consuming a similar nutritive profile to that of a full meal. This will differ between brands so try to choose a powder which provides (per 30-40g serving) at least 20 grams of protein, and no more than 5 grams of fat and carbs.
Protein is vital for immunity in order to build and repair body tissues and fight bacterial or viral infections. A diet low in protein leaves you open to fatigue, weakness and a low immune response. A protein powder fortified with additional micronutrients can further boost its immune supporting benefits, such as zinc, and vitamins C and D in particular.
Cons of Protein Shakes
Of course, protein shakes are not the only way to achieve a high protein diet. A carefully planned diet can indeed supply all of your protein requirements, regardless of your goals.
Protein shakes also vary in quality and ingredients, and other than protein, some do not provide any additional benefits in terms of nutrition. This means that they may offer a poor nutrient density per calorie.
In fact, some protein powders may be packed with sugar and other additives, to the extent that they may negate any positives of consuming the protein. Because of this, it is always key to check the ingredients on the label; if you ever see ‘proprietary blend’ without the ingredients actually listed - it’s likely to be a cheap blend of proteins, additives and chemicals. Keep it clean and don’t base your decision solely on budget!
NGX’s Protein PowerPack
NGX PowerPack contains a high quality blend of pea and rice protein isolate, slow- release carbohydrates, creatine and green tea to enhance performance, workout recovery and muscle growth. It has been specially designed to get the very most out of your workouts, with 21g of protein per 35g portion.
Our signature product, NGX BodyFuel uses the results from your DNA test to create an optimised blend of 30 essential vitamins and minerals, entirely tailored to your genetics and individual requirements - all on top of the benefits of the PowerPack protein.
All our ingredients are naturally GMO-free, vegan and made from real food - with
nothing artificial added. And unlike many mainstream protein powders, it can deliver all your protein needs while still packing further nutritional goodness beyond protein alone. No brainer? We think so.