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The protein shake phenomena

By Darren O'Toole | In Fitness, Gym, Health, Nutrition | on October 19, 2017

We’ve all seen someone in a work office, sitting down with their tub of powder and water, shaking away before guzzling down a concoction which if left unattended for just a few minutes will start to elicit the smell of a corpse. This isn’t to judge, because for a long-time, I was that guy. It served a purpose for me but marketers in the health food industry will have you believe that it would serve a purpose for you to, but will it?

Protein is essential for the growth, maintenance and repair of body tissue. Nearly every one of the 100 trillion cells in the body is composed of a variety of protein. It makes up tissues, like skin, muscle, tendons, ligaments, hair and the core of bones and teeth. Proteins are composed of amino acids with 20 being used by the body. Some of these amino acids are produced naturally but ‘essential’ ones need to be consumed through the diet. For those that are desperate to know, these are: histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.
The guidance varies on how much protein we should consume, however a general guide of 1g per kg of body weight per day should suffice most people ie, if you weigh 80kgs then you should look to consume 80g of protein per day.

Importance of protein

Whilst we don’t ideally want to use protein as an energy source, in times of very low calorie intake, it can be used for this purpose. In this scenario, every 1g we consume would equate to 4Kcals of energy. In addition to its structural role, proteins perform an enormous variety of physiological functions inside the body:

  1. All enzymes are proteins. Enzymes control both the rate and the pattern of all chemical reactions that take place in the body, including the digestion of food and the extraction of energy from it – no protein = no chemical reactions!
  2. Some hormones are made up of protein. These are chemical messengers that regulate activity of cells within the body and cover a wide range of functions. Messing with our hormones is something that we are constantly doing without realising it. Stress, sleep, exercise and diet all have major impact on our hormonal regulation. We need a solid basis of protein consumption to help regulate this as effectively as possible.
  3. Production of antibodies (proteins) by white blood cells to fight infection.
  4. The major one for most – we cannot build muscles without it! It just will be a waste of time as we’ll be breaking down muscles during training and would not have the building blocks (amino acids) to build it back up bigger and stronger. Essentially, we’d eventually waste away!

Food sources that have high levels of protein often come from animal sources such as: meats, fish, poultry, dairy (cheeses, milk, whey, yoghurts). For the vegetarians and vegans amongst you, good sources of protein can come from tofu, pulses, soya, nuts and beans. Vegetarian sources of protein do tend to be missing multiple amino acids as there are no single vegetarian protein source which contains them all. As such, higher consumption of protein may be advantageous for those not consuming animal products.

Protein shakes

Now let’s return to our protein shakes. The ones which will be marketed by using a ripped, topless guy or a scantily-clad girl declaring that were it not for this shake, their shape would not be possible (ignoring the 10 hours of weekly training, calorie restricted diets, mahogany coloured skin to bring out the muscles more and the clever use of photoshop). Weirdly, the product that they are trying to shift, whey protein, used to be a waste product to be disposed of. It’s essentially the watery material that remains after milk coagulates during cheese manufacturing. It has a great protein content – and in this commercial world, waste is not good, and as such a powder was formed which arrives at an insanely marked up price.

So if protein is so important, we should definitely all be joining in with this protein drink revolution, right? Not quite. Those who are exercising will need to adjust their protein needs. Heavy strength training with a muscle growth aim may require 1.8-2g per kg of body weight. For the same 80kg person mentioned earlier, this now means 160g of protein to be consumed. This may prove tricky to achieve. As such, a supplement in the form of a shake may prove advantageous. Similarly, for those short on time and on the go, the choice between no food at all or a protein shake, it may be better for the later, thus keeping up metabolism and keeping the body anabolic (as opposed to catabolic whereby muscle wastage would be occurring).

Yet, for most of the population who are consuming some element of meat and dairy each day – I’d suggest that you save your pennies and stick to consuming useful protein sources in the form of food. After all, eating is one of the most enjoyable and sociable past times. Why waste it by putting some powder in a bottle!

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