By simply typing the word “Protein” into Google, I have 414,000,000 hits and am bombarded with countless ads promoting the latest and greatest powders that money can buy. It probably does not come as a surprise that the Supplement Industry is booming which is evidenced by the fact that protein products are being pushed at us from all directions – from the gym to the supermarket. It is true that protein plays a crucial role within the body but do we really need additional protein products such as protein shakes?
Understanding Protein – Structure and Function
Before I answer that question it is important to grasp the role that protein plays within the body. Proteins are large molecules which are made up of smaller units known as amino acids of which there are 20 in total. Protein is often referred to as the “building block” of the body as it plays an important role in the maintenance and repair of body tissues and structures. Additionally protein can be used as source of energy for the body and is required for the production of some hormones such as Insulin and Human Growth Hormone (HGH).
It’s clear to see that it is important that we consume protein on a daily basis. If an individual fails to consume enough over a chronic period of time, it may have health consequences such as, muscle wastage and weakness, anaemia, increased chance of illness and injury and subsequent prolonged recovery time.
There is a real emphasis in the fitness industry to ensure that protein is taken immediately after a workout is completed. You may hear some refer to the “anabolic window” which refers to be an period of time (typically 30 minutes) in which the body is in an optimal state to absorb nutrients and therefore enhance recovery and improve strength improvements. Recent studies have indicated that this “anabolic window” appears to be a myth.
With this in mind, is it really that important to consume protein after a workout?
Yes – very. However, focusing on getting an adequate amount of protein per day is of much more value than the timing of the protein itself. Ample protein must be consumed so that the body can begin to recover from the stress of a workout. When the body is exposed to a training stimulus, micro-tears (very small tears) appear within the muscle fibres. These tears need to be repaired over the next 48 hours and this is where protein is needed. Having an inadequate amount of protein after a workout can potentially cause a slower recovery from the stress of training which can have a knock-on impact on movement, muscular pain and future training sessions.
So now that we have an understanding of why protein is required, specifically after a workout, we can move onto protein shakes and products themselves.
Do you need to take these products?
Absolutely not. It is possible to acquire the adequate amount of protein through diet alone. We need to remember that these products are known as supplements and therefore should be SUPPLEMENTARY to your overall diet and they definitely should not be over-relied on. People can over rely on protein shakes or shakes in general with the obvious example being liquid diets which have the potential to cause a host of health problems.
With that being said, protein shakes are quick, easy and convenient and therefore in terms of practicality they are useful. They do provide you with an protein boost during the day. Whether or not you want to take protein shakes is really a personal preference. I would certainly recommend them to specific individuals however. For example, those who are looking at building muscle require protein to a greater extent and therefore taking protein shakes is an effective way of boosting calorie intake (require for muscle growth) whilst ensuring they are getting the correct amount of protein in order to achieve their goals.
And lastly, no, they are not harmful to the body. No matter how many horror stories or old wives tales you have heard regarding protein powders and products they have no side effects.
What would I advise in summation? Calculate how much protein you require per day based on your individual goals and have a look a your diet.
Click here to calculate your daily protein requirements!
If you feel that you get an adequate amount of protein through your diet then there is no need to start taking protein supplements. If however you find that you are struggling to hit your daily protein target then I would advise to look a getting a good quality protein powder or product to supplement your diet.