A protein shake: necessary for athletes?
Are you often in the gym? Then you will undoubtedly regularly see fellow athletes with large tanks of protein shake walking around. Many strength athletes try to give their muscle growth an extra helping hand with these extra proteins. But does that also mean that you need a protein shake to get toned? What are the benefits and drawbacks of protein shakes? And can you also make your own protein shake? We list all the information, so that you can make the optimal choice!
Why do you need proteins?
First the basics: why is such a fuss about these proteins often made? Simply put, because proteins are especially indispensable for strength athletes. If you don’t eat enough protein, you can forget about muscle growth.
That’s because proteins are the source of amino acids, the ‘building blocks’ of your body. You need amino acids to build body tissue. And that includes muscle tissue! If you don’t have enough amino acids available, your body simply doesn’t have the material to increase your muscles.
Even more annoying: if you keep training hard with too little protein, your body can no longer repair the damage to your muscles. That means you can even get over trained or injured. Obviously, that does not do your growth any good.
As an athlete it is therefore important that you prevent a protein deficiency. Only then can you achieve results and stay healthy.
Is Too Much Protein Unhealthy?
Now that does not mean that you have to consume unlimited proteins. Because unfortunately: if it does not help, it does harm in this case.
There are several studies that show that a protein surplus can have negative consequences. This overview study puts a number of them together. A chronically high dose of proteins can lead to the following problems, among others:
- Liver and kidney damage
- A higher risk of cardiovascular disease
- A higher chance of certain cancers.
Of course, that does not mean that you immediately ruined your liver if you ever drink an unnecessary protein shake. But do you already have a substantial protein-rich diet? Then it is wise to check whether protein shakes on top of that are really a sensible plan.
How Much Protein Do I Need?
So what exactly is a sensible amount? That depends a bit on how much you exercise. For strength athletes, it is usually recommended to eat 1.6 to 2 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.
More than 2 grams is not wise. This brings you close to a surplus, including all the harmful consequences that go with it. Moreover, it is of no use to you. Your body can only produce a limited amount of muscle tissue per day, so extra protein will certainly not accelerate your muscle growth.
Benefits of protein shakes
Okay, then on to the main question of this blog. Do you need a protein shake as an athlete? There are indeed a few advantages to these shakes. These are mainly the following three:
- Fast proteins. Shakes with whey protein are absorbed by your body relatively quickly. This is especially useful after an intensive workout, when your muscles need as much protein as possible. A whey shake immediately provides a large portion of nutrients.
- Simply more protein. Are you struggling to get your daily portion of protein? Then a protein shake gives you a big boost.
- Easy to take with you. Sure, a steak or a block of tofu also contains a lot of proteins. However, it is more difficult to put it in your bag to take as a snack …
Disadvantages of protein shakes
However, these three advantages also have a number of disadvantages. They do not make it so obvious that you as an athlete necessarily need a protein shake.
- Risk of too many proteins. In the Netherlands, many people already eat a lot of protein from meat, dairy and grains. That means that you often already meet your protein requirements well. If you eat more, you run the risk of eating too much – and as described above, that is certainly not healthy!
- No other nutrients. When you eat natural food, it always contains many different nutrients. Protein shakes may replace the proteins from meat, dairy, soy, nuts and legumes, but not all of the other ingredients in them! Think of vitamins and minerals, but also phytonutrients and other trace elements. You simply cannot absorb the versatile benefits of natural food, even with the few vitamins that are sometimes added to shakes.
- Added clutter. Many protein shakes contain extra ingredients to make the product ‘more attractive’. Sometimes these are relatively harmless colors and flavors, but some protein shakes also contain sugars. Protein shakes also sometimes contain sweeteners that can affect your hormone balance. The cheap protein shakes in particular are rarely very healthy.
- Protein shakes are expensive . Which brings us to the last point: you pay quite a lot for protein shakes. Especially if you don’t need them at all, that’s a bit of a shame.
Do I need a protein shake?
Due to the above drawbacks, we do not recommend protein shakes for most athletes. It is healthier and cheaper to simply get your proteins from natural food.
And no, that’s really not as difficult as you think! It certainly does not mean that you only want to eat steaks. When you take different protein-rich products with every meal, and also choose some protein-rich snacks, you are in the right amount before you know it.
In exceptional cases, protein shakes can have added value. For example, do you have a very low appetite and do you notice that you have a protein deficiency as a result? Or have you been ill and lost a lot of muscle tissue? Then it is wise to use protein shakes at least temporarily.
But even then: make sure that the shake does not replace natural food, but only a handy addition. Always try to have your ‘regular’ nutritional schedule in order as well as possible, and only use the protein shake if that doesn’t get you there.
Make your own protein shake
Then the only question remains: what do you eat after your workout? Because it is true that proteins after exercise are important for good muscle recovery.
But don’t worry, you can actually choose any protein-rich snack that you like! Ideal are meals that also provide some carbohydrates, so that you also immediately replenish your glycogen. This is the only time of the day where sugar isn’t a big deal!
A few suggestions:
- Cottage cheese or Skyr with fruit
- Homemade dairy based smoothie
- Sandwich with protein-rich toppings, such as chicken fillet
- A good glass of chocolate milk
- Apple wedges with lots of peanut butter
How much you want to eat at the moment depends on the intensity of your training. And some people are a lot more hungry after exercise than others. So try out some different options and see what you like best!