They’re growing in popularity. Is the use of protein drinks really healthy?
Bodybuilders love them and the public is jumping on board the trend, fueling the desire for protein drinks. In a day and age when few people have little time to prepare a healthy meal, they’re eating on the go and protein drinks provide a convenient way to have a quick and filling lunch. Unfortunately, for most people, supplemental protein in the form of protein drinks isn’t necessary. It’s been shown that most people get more than enough protein in their daily diet without adding protein powders or liquids to their diet. If this is the case, do protein drinks have any benefits?
If your purpose for sipping a protein drink is to add additional protein to your diet, the use of protein drinks is probably unjustified. Unless you’re eating your lunch in a cabbage patch, you’re likely getting enough protein to maintain a healthy body. The recommended amount of protein varies, but most experts say you only need 0.4 to 0.6 grams of protein per pound of body weight each day. Most people easily get that through a normal diet. If you’re extremely active, you may need a little more than this since you’re burning off more calories which can cause muscle breakdown if you’re not well nourished.
There’s a growing body of evidence that too much protein could have negative health consequences in some people. A high protein diet increases levels of a growth factor called IGF-1 which has been associated in animal studies with an increased risk of certain types of cancer such as breast and prostate. Many high protein foods, particularly red meats, are acidic which can increase the risk of bone breakdown or osteoporosis. There’s also the question as to whether protein puts additional stress on the kidneys.
So when might use of protein drinks be beneficial? If you’re unable to sit down to a healthy, balanced meal, drinking a protein drink is preferable to a stop at the local fast food franchise for a calorie rich bacon burger and an order of fries. A protein drink can provide a quick form of nourishment that’ll help you avoid more unhealthy alternatives. Just be sure to compensate by going light on the protein later in the day.
Another special situation in which use of protein drinks might be helpful is if you’re trying to lose weight. Protein drinks give a sense of fullness which reduces the number of calories you take in during the day. If drinking a protein drink can help you avoid the doughnut box at work, it’s a good thing. Ideally, use of protein drinks should be limited even if you are trying to lose weight. A better option is to use healthy protein sources such as eggs, fish, and tofu to satisfy your nutritional requirements as well as your hunger.
So, the next time you’re tempted to reach for that protein drink, think of the tastier alternatives you could have instead. Surely, real food beats the taste of protein drinks.