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Protein shake vs. protein food: Necessity or trend?

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Whether it’s on the tv, in social media or at the gym, protein shakes are increasingly becoming the athlete’s accessory of choice. This leaves us with the question…should we be relying on them as our main source of protein? In this article we will discuss the various benefits of protein shakes and protein rich foods so you can make the best choice for you.

First things first: understanding the importance of protein

Every athlete requires an adequate amount of good quality protein. It’s not only good to increase lean muscle mass and reduce body fat while maintaining muscle tissue, it will also optimize anabolic hormone levels, increase metabolism relative to other nutrients and improve cardiovascular risk profiles.

So what are protein supplements?

Protein powders come in various forms. The most popular ones are whey, soy and casein protein. The most commonly used is whey, because it’s a water-soluble milk protein and contains a very high range of protein and less fat. Furthermore it’s a complete protein, which means it contains all nine of the amino acids necessary for human dietary needs. People who are vegan may prefer soy or plant based protein.

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The next question is: Do we really need protein shakes?

At Freeletics we say, not necessarily. If you have access to a normal, healthy diet including lean proteins, then this should do the trick. But in specific circumstances, protein shakes are a good alternative. Here’s what to consider:

Convenience

Are you someone with a hectic schedule? Then a protein shake might be your best bet. They’re an easy and convenient alternative and a good source of complete, high-quality protein. So if you need a quick supply of protein or are unable to prepare a whole meal, a protein shake is of course a better option than going without.

Speed

One benefit of protein shakes is that it only takes around 30 minutes to reach the muscle after drinking. This means it’s absorbed a lot quicker when consumed immediately after a workout. Solid food on the other hand takes more time to digest and the body requires longer to break down the protein and send it to the muscles. As you can see protein powder has an advantages when you take it directly after your workout, but during the day protein food is sufficient.

Fat content

Another big difference besides the digestion is the fat content. Most protein powders and supplements have little to no fat content. So you lose those synergistic effects you get from eating grass fed meats and fish.

Protein quantity and quality

One 30g scoop of whey powder contains about 21g to 27g of protein. That’s the same amount of protein as in a 4-ounce chicken breast, 250g of nonfat Greek yogurt or 1 ½ cups of black beans. Although the powder has a higher concentration of protein it has a lack of other nutrients that naturally accompany proteins found in meat, fish, dairy products or whole grains. Protein food offer vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and healthy fats unavailable in protein powder.

Taste and satisfaction

Chocolate, coconut, cookies and cream: it’s no surprise that protein powder usually gets its taste from added artificial sweeteners. The use of artificial sweeteners in commercial processed food products, even in health supplements is widespread. The advantages are reduced costs and low to zero calorie content. The disadvantage, is that this artificial taste doesn’t come close to the natural goodness of fresh food. Plus, sipping on a protein shake is nowhere near as satisfying as a real meal.

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How much protein do I need?

If you’re highly active, a good general guideline for your daily amount of protein is 1.5 grams of protein per kilogram of total body weight. But take care, you can also consume too much protein. A surplus of any nutrient can be stored as fat and lead to undesired weight gain. It is of course harder to overeat unprocessed proteins like meat or eggs than processed carbs and fat.

Whether you are trying to lose weight, build muscles or just stay healthy and satisfied all day, using both protein from foods and powders has benefits. Limit your use of protein powders to when you feel that your body really needs a quick and fast supply of protein like post workout and stick to foods high in protein throughout the day. Remember, a healthy and balanced diet is always the best choice for athletes.