The Truth About Protein Shakes

By Kyle Arsenault CSCS

Won’t protein shakes get me jacked?!!”

“I need to take protein shakes to gain muscle, speed, strength and athleticism right?”

“How many protein shakes should I take a day?”

These are some questions I here on a near weekly basis from my athletes…at least the newer guys. But still, some of the athletes who have been with me for a while still can’t quite figure out the protein shake puzzle.

The simple answer to all of the questions above…it depends! I know, you hate it when your questions are answered this way, but you’re going to have to deal with it as most of life’s questions come down to this simple answer.

For protein shakes, it depends because there are many factors that determine whether or not you need protein shakes, if they will actually help enhance performance and how many you should be consuming. And here they are:

1)      Are you training? If you are not training, and training at a high intensity, it is likely your body does not enter a state of high catabolism (breakdown) as long as you are eating throughout your day. If you are training, the demands from training create a metabolic response within the body that when left unaddressed will result in muscle breakdown…not good! You need to take in protein, carbohydrates and fat to ensure recovery and muscle growth! A shake is a convenient method.

2)      Are you eating a whole food meal within the hour before and after training? If you are eating a complete meal that contains adequate amounts of protein, carbohydrates and healthy fats within an hour (at most 90 minutes) before and after training, protein shakes are not necessary.

3)      Would you skip a meal if it wasn’t a shake? All too often I am told by one of my athletes that they skipped breakfast or their pre-training meal because they didn’t have time or the food. It takes about 2 minutes to prep a protein shake that you can take with you on your way to work or school, eat on a break at work or school or consume before training. Shakes are an easy, convenient and nutritious method to ensure that you are eating regularly…not a replacement, but a substitute when the schedule does not allow for a chicken breast, broccoli and sweet potato!

You can’t run on empty…a protein shake is a convenient source of fuel!

There it is, protein shakes will help you get jacked and more athletic but only if you are training, as you need a training stimulus on the body and the nutrients to recover and grow. You should be aiming for as many grams of protein per day as you want to weigh; want to weigh 185lbs…try to make sure you consume 185 grams of protein daily.

You can consume 0,1,2 or more shakes daily depending on your schedule and convenience, but try to consume whole foods first and foremost.  But the most important point is to eat!…and this is where protein shakes are convenient. Even if you are not training, protein shakes make for an easy and healthy snack (and it’s low calorie). Whey protein itself has many additional health benefits besides providing key nutrients for recovery and growth….but that’s a whole other post.

Lastly, you can either make a blended shake with ice, liquid (milk, water, tea, coffee), fruit, nuts and/or seeds, spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, etc) and protein powder for a meal substitute or you can simply put a scoop or two of protein in a shaker bottle and add liquid later for an easy snack.

To wrap things up, protein shakes are a convenient addition to your whole food diet. They will provide you with some key nutrients to stimulate growth and recovery and they are an awesome option when you are sprinting out the door or on a quick break. But don’t be fooled into thinking they are necessary for performance enhancement and without them your muscles will whittle away to nothing…what is necessary is some old fashioned smart, hard training and all around quality nutrition!

**For a decent economy class whey protein check out Dymatize Nutrition Whey Protein Isolate (All Natural) and if you have the funds, the best whey protein to investigate is Jay Robb’s.

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