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Protein Shakes: Are They Really That Good for You?

Nutritional science these days is all about protein, protein, and more protein! But are people really lacking in protein these days? Is the protein obsession overblown? Or can there really be some benefits to getting more protein in your diet via a protein shake? Well, we're going to take a look at the benefits of protein shakes in this article. Hopefully you can learn something useful!

Some People Believe Protein Shakes Help People Lose Weight and Shrink Belly Fat

Protein Shakes

Protein by itself is not going to increase your metabolism or help you burn more calories - it'll just help you consume fewer. Protein has a direct metabolic effect on your hunger and satiety hormones which tricks your body into feeling fuller for longer. You may end up eating anywhere from 135 to 447 fewer calories in a given day thanks to the extra protein you get from adding a protein shake to your diet. And as long as that protein shake is replacing other calories instead of adding to your caloric intake, it can still be a moderate net calorie loss at the end of the day.

However, if you are actively doing some sort of exercise which encourages your body to build more muscle, then increasing your protein intake is a smart move. It can help you build more muscle faster, and it's the building of this extra muscle which burns more calories and creates dramatic weight loss results. A pound of muscle burns substantially more calories than most other tissues in the body. As a matter of fact, a pound of muscle burns around 6.5 Calories per hour where is a pound of fatty tissue burns a little over 1 calorie per hour. So if you're drinking protein shakes in order to build more muscle so that you can lose more weight, you're on the right track.

But if you're drinking protein shakes and not trying to build muscle at the same time, you're not doing yourself as much good as you think you are. Some people will argue that because your body needs to burn more calories to digest protein (i.e. the thermic effect of food), getting more protein will help you burn more calories and lose weight regardless of exercise. Unfortunately for the #TeamProtein people, simple math essentially nullifies this assumption.

The standard American diet usually includes about 75 g of protein, 70 g of fat, and 250 g of carbohydrate for every 2,000 calories of daily food intake. But let's say you decide to replace 50 grams of carbohydrates (about 2 bananas) with 50 grams of protein (9 eggs). Those extra 50 g of protein would only burn 46 more calories than the 50 g of carbs. At that rate, it would take you 11 days just to lose a single pound of fat.

When Should You Drink Your Protein Shake?

If you ask a company who produces and sells protein shakes, they'll probably tell you something like "always! Every minute of every day! Why would you ever stop drinking your protein shake?" But, obviously, that advice is a little bit biased. It really depends on what your goals are. Once you are aware of your protein needs, it's easy to figure out when you should be drinking your protein shake:

  • Drinking a protein shake for breakfast - there are many health benefits to this. If you have trouble keeping your blood sugar steady and/or if you want to control your hunger cravings throughout the day, drinking a high protein shake in the morning has many benefits to it. Eating mostly protein in the morning helps avoid the insulin spike and a resulting sugar crash that you would otherwise feel during the day. It also has a direct effect on your hunger hormones, as discussed above.
  • Drinking protein shakes before and after your workouts - if you're a bodybuilder or if you often perform intense exercise for an hour at a time or longer, you could benefit from drinking protein shakes before and after your workout. Drinking before the workout will give your body fuel to burn. Drinking it after will give your body amino acids to build back the muscle you just worked out.
  • Drinking a protein shake before bed - this advice is a little bit controversial. Sleep experts believe that eating a heavy meal - such as something as high in protein as a protein shake - could disrupt your sleep cycle and actually cause you to gain more weight than you lose. Others argue that the type of protein matters, and most slow digesting proteins contain amino acids which increase sleep and relaxation hormone levels at bedtime. It could also help encourage better muscle regeneration if you had a hard workout earlier in the day.

Why Exactly Do People Drink Protein Shakes? What Are the Benefits?

Obviously, athletes will get the most benefit from protein shakes. Highly active individuals who engage in regular weight training and cardio have higher protein needs in the first place and would do themselves a disservice by following a standard American diet. The extra protein will help them build more muscle more quickly. Ingesting too little protein can leave an athlete's exhausted muscles starved for amino acids, slowing down the restoration process. Protein shakes are a great way to supplement that protein deficit. The extra protein also replaces the calories they lose through exercise, so there isn't as big of a calorie-counting concern as there would be for someone trying to lose weight.

That's not to say that protein shakes can't help people who are trying to lose weight, either. We don't think we can emphasize enough how extra dietary protein helps regulate your metabolic hormones so that you are hungry less often and feel fuller from smaller meals. Eating less will obviously lead to a calorie deficit, which leads to weight loss over time.

Lastly, protein can help you look younger and healthier for longer. Some of the more obvious signs of aging - dull, brittle hair, thin nails, and wrinkled skin - happen in part because you don't have enough of the amino acids available to construct new cells. But if you have ample amounts of protein in your system, it becomes much easier for your body to rejuvenate hair, skin, and nails. This keeps them strong and more resilient to damage.

As you can see, there are a lot of upsides to drinking a protein shake. Whether you need a quick meal replacement for breakfast, whether you're trying to avoid signs of aging, or whether you just like the taste, everyone can find some sort of benefit from drinking a protein shake.

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