The truth about protein and how to use it

Protein Powders/ Protein Shakes


Protein powder shakes contain little or no carbohydrates, fat and other essential nutrients. Protein powder shakes are very low calorie and are not designed to replace a meal. Instead they function as a supplement to provide your body with a generous amount of quality protein for those who wish to increase their protein intake. Essentially, protein powder shakes provide a quick fix/ snack of high quality protein without the fat and carbohydrates.


Athletes, exercise enthusiasts and those who want to gain muscle mass like to use protein shakes to help build and repair muscle. However, there is little agreement within scientific circles as to the necessity or advantage of protein and amino acid supplements in exercise training. Still, there is evidence that those on calorie-restricted diets and those who engage in intense physical activity seeking to build muscle may benefit from protein powders. Endurance and strength training athletes particularly, may have increased daily protein intake requirements.


  • Protein powders help an endurance athletes recovery by restoring muscle glycogen, which gets used up during exercise.
  • In terms of strength training, protein shakes help repair the damage to muscles that may occur following intense bodybuilding.
  • Fitness enthusiasts who regularly exercise intensely may also benefit from protein powders. Protein shakes have shown to reduce infections, muscle soreness and heat exhaustion. They may also help with weight management.

The International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN) states that “Appropriately timed protein intake is an important component of an overall exercise training program, essential for proper recovery, immune function, and the growth and maintenance of lean body mass.”

ISSN asserts that 1.4 to 2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily for physically active healthy individuals“is not only safe, but may improve the training adaptations to exercise training”. Protein requirements depend on the type and intensity of your workouts, the quality of the protein you eat, carbohydrate intake and daily energy expenditure.

  • Endurance athletes: 1 to 1.6 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily.
  • Strength or power athletes: 1.6 to 2 g of protein per kilogram of body weight daily.

Most people can – and will – meet their daily protein needs through regular food. Remember that you are able to increase your protein intake “naturally” by eating more protein-rich foods such as egg-whites milk, yogurt, eggs, poultry, fish and lean red meat. Man-made foods are never as good as “real” or whole foods.


The most effective time to consume a protein shake is as follows:

1. Breakfast. You have not eaten for approximately 8 hours and a protein shake is ideal.

2. Immediately post-workout. This is the most critical time, as after exercising your muscles need to rebuild and repair themselves. In other words, protein shakes at this time will aid recovery, preserve muscle mass and/or achieve muscle growth – particularly in combination with some carbohydrate. Protein shakes are especially advantageous here because solid protein/ food takes longer to digest.

3. Before your workout. The protein shake will help preserve muscle tissue by minimizing exercise induced catabolism (muscle breakdown). It will also provide a small amount of energy.

4. Before bed. Consuming a protein shake at this time will attenuate the breakdown of protein that naturally takes place during sleep. This is a normal physiological process. However, if you are a hardgainer/ ectomorph and you are fighting to build muscle mass then then you may want to try to minimize any losses.


  • Protein powders are an easy way to consume protein. If your aim is muscle gain, protein shakes can help you meet your target, especially if you are eating 5 – 6 meals a day, don’t have the time to prepare fresh lean protein for every meal or you are a hardgainer struggling to gain weight/ lean mass.
  • Some protein powders/ shakes are formulated to be fast- or slow-acting. Whey protein is absorbed fastest and ideal post-workout, while a casein protein is absorbed more slowly and better taken before bed.
  • Protein powders are high in branched-chain amino acids (these amino acids make up approx. 1/3 of skeletal muscle in the body), will have anabolic/anti-catabolic properties. Supplying the body with these amino acids post-workout may help spare muscles and other tissues from breakdown, increase protein synthesis, regulate blood sugar levels, reduce fatigue during exercise and aid in fat loss. Supplementation may also help improve exercise performance, particularly in high-intensity, endurance exercise.
  • Protein shakes/ protein powders are convenient. Most people are unable to make a meal immediately after exercising. Therefore, ready-to-drink shakes are an alternative.
  • Dependent on the product, may be cost-efficient.



Common sources of protein in protein shakes/ protein powders are milk, whey, casein, egg, and soy-based. However, whey and casein are the most commonly used in protein shakes.

  • Whey protein is fast-absorbing and high in all the essential amino acids and branched-chain amino acids. Whey protein is derived in the process of cheese-making from milk. There are two sub-types of whey protein: whey concentrate (29–89% protein by weight) and whey isolate (90%+ protein by weight). Great after intense workouts.
  • Casein protein is slow-absorbing and the main protein found in milk. Casein provides a sustained slow release of amino acids into the blood stream over several hours, improving its use by the body. Ideal to take before bed.
  • Soy protein is a plant-based source of protein making it suitable for vegans. Soy protein is a “complete protein” as it provides all amino acids essential for human nutrition. However, soy is also the most allergenic food to humans after peanuts. Soy protein tends to be more popular with women. Preliminary findings of a study published in medical journal Fertility and Sterility (December 2007) suggest that a daily serving of soy may prevent postmenopausal women from gaining fat around their abdomen (stomach area). In this study 18 postmenopausal women were given a shake every day for three months. However, half were randomly assigned to drink a soy-based shake each day, while the other half was given a shake containing milk protein (casein). The women, who drank the soy-based shake, were found to have lower levels of abdominal fat. These findings are thought to be the first to demonstrate that soy protein can affect abdominal fat distribution.

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