This is the most prostituted supplement ever. Who hasn’t seen someone taking out one of the popular “shakers” as soon as they finish training, filling it with water and making the “sh – sh – sh” sound as they mix their protein supplement and proceed to gulp it down as fast as possible. This leaves you with the question: should I use a protein shake? Protein supplementation is a really good way to ensure an ideal daily protein consumption, while keeping the fat intake to the minimum, but it is not as crucial as most supplement companies make it look like. On this article, I will explain the types of protein, what is a protein shake, and when to drink a protein shake.
What is a protein supplement?
Protein supplements are really common nowadays and they have reached almost every supplement shelf around the world. A protein supplement is a dehydrated source of protein, made generally from milk. Having said that, there are other types of protein supplements. This supplement provides a clean source of this macronutrient, making it easier to obtain since we would normally need to but a steak, cook it, eat it, let the body metabolize it and then have an available source of protein; with a supplement, we just need to add water to it and as soon as it reaches the intestine, it is an available source of this macronutrient. There are many sources of protein available and, with the rise in awareness about animal vs. vegetable protein, we are seeing more and more vegetable protein supplements every day, personally, I choose these over animal protein ones.
Types of protein:
- Animal protein: This is based on animal sources of protein, where they process the protein found in milk, meat & eggs to make a white powder, mainly consisting of high biological grade protein, and infuse it with artificial/natural flavors, enzymes and fillers. These are whey, isolate, casein & albumin.
- Vegetable protein: Nowadays, technology has made it possible to obtain vegetable sources of protein which provide the same results as animal ones, with the added value of not being an inflammation causing substance and being made from a sustainable source. Usually not as tasty and not as refined as their animal counterpart, they usually provide more carbohydrates and fat sources, all of them not harmful for the body of a sports active person. These are soy, hemp, rice & pea protein.
Why should it be consumed?
There are two main reason why we should consume a protein supplement. First one is that, when we train, our caloric needs increase, meaning that we need to consume more of every available nutrient. Increasing the amount of dietary protein can be tricky because naturally available sources of protein are often accompanied by saturated fat and need to be digested by the body. This means that we would wind up consuming way more fat than we actually need and we would need to have complicated meals thought the day since protein sources usually require more elaborate preparation than carbohydrate or fat sources.
So, the first reason is that we need to increase our protein consumption while maintaining a low fat caloric intake and we need it to be practical. The second reason is that protein requires more energy to be digested, which means that out body invests more energy to metabolize it, increasing our basal metabolism (the amount of calories we burn every day for the simple fact of existing). Increasing the proportion of protein consumed during the day increases our basal metabolism and it is a good way to make food work for us, burning excess energy during the whole day and not only while training.
When should it be consumed?
There is the popular believe that we should consume protein immediately after a workout. True, but only partially. Although this helps to avoid muscle catabolism and to replenish the used calories/amino acids, this is not the optimal way to use a protein supplement. After training out bodies need carbohydrates to replenish the used blood glucose and muscle glycogen, since they are the first line of defense against caloric expenditure while training and NOT protein.
Consumption of a protein supplement should be only after 15 – 20 minutes of having ingested a fair amount of complex + simple carbohydrates, such as fruits or granola bars, which SHOULD be consumed immediately after each workout. Protein should be consumed throughout the whole day, in steady doses, so a protein supplement is really useful when we need to have a high protein snack, such as a middle morning or middle afternoon snack where it is usually hard to prepare a meal high in protein. Also, to avoid a catabolic response during sleep for people who are trying to gain weight/burn fat and undergoing an intense training regime at the same time, having a protein supplement just before sleep is recommended.
Now that you know what is a protein supplement and the types there are, why you should consume it and when, you can make a conscious decision, science based. Remember, I strongly recommend that you consult your doctor/certified nutritionist before taking this or any other types of supplements for athletes.