Everyone is talking about “shakes”. Many supplement and diet companies advertise shakes as a miracle weight loss tool, while others take protein shakes to fuel muscle building, or as a convenient, quick, meal. Shakes of all kinds: protein, veggie or fruit smoothies, senior nutrition shakes, are available at the corner market. But many people use these shakes inappropriately, either because of lack of knowledge or merely due to good marketing by the supplement industry. So what exactly can “shakes” do for us?
First of all, shakes are calories in. Nothing more. Drinking a shake of any kind does not by itself cause weight/fat loss. Even those shakes which are filled with herbal supplements or other vitamins and minerals don’t create fat loss. So the notion that just drinking a specific shake without exercise or other nutritional improvements is baloney or, as I like to call it, good marketing. Whenever using shakes as either a meal or a post exercise “replenisher”, it’s important to know what the shake will do for you and why you need it.
Shakes can be used as a meal replacement, and it can be an excellent choice. Ingredients such as greens, yogurt or milk, omega 3/6 oils, coconut water, fruit and a protein source make a perfect shake. This is a well-balanced meal! However, many people make a big error of creating shakes with all fruit. Fruit is 100% sugar. Sure, fruit has many wonderful vitamins, minerals and of course, fiber, but a shake with all fruit is not a well-balanced meal or snack. And, if used in error post exercise, this sugar concoction is just refueling the sugar (which eventually becomes fat if not used up with exercise) which you used during your exercise session. As a meal replacement, a shake may be 300-400 calories, a perfect amount of healthy energy for breakfast or lunch. And, shakes are quick and easy to make, so there should be no excuse for preparing this healthy meal. But, again, shakes are not a miracle drink and won’t result in weight loss unless it replaces an unhealthy higher calorie meal.
In regards to exercise, you do not need a post exercise protein shake unless you are doing hard weight training. Only hard weight training to near muscle exhaustion necessitates protein refueling. Light weights, cardio, and muscle endurance work are all activities that do not need a post exercise shake. Don’t let your gym sell you that 600 calorie fruit shake in these cases! You are undoing all your hard work.
Protein shakes are a great tool for those looking to add muscle with strength training. In fact, I believe taking in some kind of protein post strength work is essential. Protein shakes give the muscle the needed nutrients to supply the muscle with protein to repair and grow. Of course, without exercise, there is no stimulus to take the protein to the muscle cells. Exercise is required to make bigger muscles, not the shake alone. The amount of protein (and carbs in some cases) in your shakes depends on your sex, weight, muscle growth potential, fitness goals and more. Make sure your protein powder does not contain any stimulants or other chemicals and supplements. Protein powders marketed to high level body builders should be avoided. I prefer plain protein powder with few other additives. Whey protein, protein from dairy, is one choice, as is soy and pea protein. I don’t recommend premade “shakes” in cans or bottles, as these rarely include as much healthy food as you could put in yourself, and are usually very high in sugar.