The misconception: protein shakes will help you lose weight.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that protein shakes are what you should consume if you’re trying to lose weight. Often times when I talk to people about Shakeology, a complete nutrition shake created by Beachbody, they’ll say to me “I already drink a protein shake.”

My thoughts:

  1. Why do you drink a protein shake? Are you protein deficient?
  2. Shakeology is not a protein shake.

As a Nurse Practitioner, and prior to becoming a health & fitness coach, when I thought of protein shakes, I thought of 2 specific groups of people: athletes/bodybuilders and chronically ill patients.

Who are Protein Shakes Good for?

  • Those trying to build muscle quickly (athletes, bodybuilders)
  • People with a protein deficiency (which tend to be those that are chronically ill)

Throughout college, we were provided with protein shakes after our workouts. Protein shakes certainly can play an important role when it comes to muscle building. After graduating college I continued to drink a protein shake most days. It was easy, convenient, and knew I was getting one extra serving of protein each day. I was training for marathons including the Boston Marathon and needed what a protein shake could provide—amino acids that would help me build lean muscle mass in a short period of time. The goal was not weight loss.  

You might be asking, “amino what?!” Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. Protein plays a critical role in our bodies. In fact, it’s an important component of every cell in our body.

Protein helps build & repair tissues. Our bodies need protein in order to build enzymes, hormones, cartilage, blood, skin, etc. You can find protein every day in whole food sources such as meats (ideally lean meats), legumes, dairy (think cottage cheese, greek yogurt), eggs, etc.

Most of us get all the protein we need through these sources—most of us are NOT protein deficient. Many of us are actually nutrient deficient. But I’ll touch more on that in another blog.

How Much Protein Should Your Diet Contain?

According to WebMD, adult women need approximately 46 grams of protein daily, while adult men need 56 grams per day.

What is more shocking is that the recommended intake of protein for a pregnant or breastfeeding woman is 71 grams per day. I’m currently breastfeeding and upon writing this article realize I need to up my protein intake! But I’ll be getting it from whole food sources and my Shakeology—not protein shakes. I have come to find that protein shakes rarely are beneficial and quite frankly, often contain ingredients I don’t want in my body, and more importantly, in my breast milk my son is consuming.

RECOMMENDED PROTEIN CONSUMPTION BY AGE:

Babies: 10g

School-Age Kids: 19-34g

Teenage Boys: 52g

Teenage Girls: 46g

Men: 56g

Women: 46g

Pregnant or Breastfeeding: 71g

Babies need about 10 grams of protein daily, school-age kids need approximately 19-34 grams daily, teenage boys need up to 52 grams a day, and teenage girls need approximately 46 grams per day. Maybe that’s why they say teenage boys will eat you out of your home. HA! I better watch out, I’ll blink & Jameson will be a teen.

What happens if your diet is too protein rich?

The National Academy of Science warns that, at least 10%, but no more than 35%, of your daily calories should come from protein.

That’s right, there is risk in consuming too much protein. Unlike carbs and fats, the body does not have a way to store protein. Therefore, if you eat too much protein it can be converted to either glucose (sugars) or adipose tissue (fat).

So if too much protein can turn into sugar and fat, doesn't it seem ironic that many people drink protein shakes to help lose weight?!

Furthermore, when protein converts to glucose it goes through a process that inherently produces ammonia in your body. This can be excreted through your urine as urea, however, in excessive cases over long-periods of time, it can be toxic to your body. This could cause organ damage (kidneys, specifically) and/or metabolic acidosis (also harmful to your body).

So, Who Might Need the Extra Protein?

The chronically ill.

As a nurse practitioner, I often see chronically ill patients who are protein deficient and drink a protein shake daily to attempt to meet their daily protein needs. Chronic illness can result in either elevated or decreased levels of plasma protein in the body, which indicates the amount of protein in your blood, namely albumin and globulin. Albumin plays an important role in providing amino acids for your body’s tissues. Globulin, which helps to support the immune system, plays a role in blood clotting and other vital systems.

Albumin and globulin are just two components of a blood test I routinely order on my patients called a comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP). While the CMP also measures other aspects including blood sugar, liver function tests, etc., it is helpful in determining if someone has abnormal plasma protein levels. In many chronically ill patients, these are abnormal.  Examples of such chronic illnesses may include kidney disease, liver disease, autoimmune disorders, or the malnourished to name a few.

So, a protein shake may be beneficial to this population. If you are concerned about your health and plasma protein levels and/or you have a chronic illness, please follow up with a medical professional.

What about people wanting to build muscle quickly?

Protein shakes may be beneficial. But read labels carefully.

Avoid artificial sweeteners and preservatives, and find a product that is “clean.” Many of the top selling protein powders on Amazon contain harmful ingredients including carrageenan which some studies have linked to intestinal cancer in lab animals.

Bottom line, if your goal is to lose weight, tone up, and get fit, a protein shake is not going to help. What is the solution then? A well-balanced diet that contains lean proteins, simple carbs, good fats, and exercise. And that’s exactly why I am here: to help you do it the right way.

If you're looking for a shake that can help aid in weight loss, avoid protein shakes and click here to learn about Shakeology.

Remember, Protein Shakes do NOT = Meal Replacements

What was the biggest mistakes I made when I was drinking protein shakes? I equated a protein shake to a meal replacement shake. They are absolutely not the same thing!

So, what should you be drinking if you should be drinking protein shakes? Click here to find out!