Protein shakes have become big business and are used by people who want to lose weight, people who want to gain muscle mass, and people who simply want a quick meal.
But should you use protein shakes as a weight loss supplement?
Want to understand more about protein and weight loss? Visit our complete guide to high protein diets.
Do you need protein shakes?
Strictly speaking, you probably don't need to eat protein shakes. Very few people need to supplement their diet with protein as the vast majority of us get the protein we need through our regular diet.
However, it's not always easy to find the time to make a proper breakfast or lunch, and on those days a protein shake can be a useful substitute.
What are protein shakes?
Protein powders or shakes are usually made with whey or casein, which are by-products of cheese production. Vegan alternatives are commonly made of soy, pea or rice protein, or a combination of these.
Most commercial protein shakes contain all the essential amino acids and this is something you should look out for when purchasing. This is not crucial if the protein powder is used as part of a balanced diet but it certainly doesn't hurt to make sure.
Depending on brand (and price!) a protein shake may also contain other vitamins and minerals that your body needs.
- Whey: Dairy-based, contains all essential amino acids
- Casein: Dairy-based, contains all essential amino acids
- Soy: Plant-based, contains all essential amino acids
- Hemp: Plant-based, high in omega-3 and 6 fats but low in amino acid lysine
- Rice: Plant-based, low in amino acid lysine
- Pea: Plant-based, low in amino acids cystine and methionine
While some of these plant-based proteins are low in certain amino acids, the final products that you buy are usually a combination of two or more protein types which together contain all the essential amino acids.
What are protein shakes good for?
A protein shake is a low kilojoule meal or snack option and practically only contains protein. It will fill you up and keep you full for a while.
If you find it difficult to eat breakfast or eat enough protein at breakfast, a protein shake can be better than skipping the morning meal altogether. Or, if you like having a smoothie for breakfast, a scoop or two of protein powder can help you bulk up the meal quite substantially.
What's the downside?
Nobody should rely on protein shakes as a regular meal as they cannot replace the full nutritional profile of a proper whole food meal. Our Breakfast frittata with mushrooms, spinach and cottage cheese, for example, contains as much protein as a protein shake but it also contains plenty of other nutrients that your body needs.
Food is also not just about the fuel you put in your body. Eating together with family and friends is a social ritual that strengthens our bonds to each other, and children particularly learn from the eating habits of their parents.
Protein powders also tend to be quite expensive. Adding to that, you may want to choose an Australian or NZ-made product to ensure quality control, which may drive the price up further.
Finally, a protein shake isn't generally that tasty a meal and you won't get the satisfaction that you would get from eating a full meal. Since you cannot rely on protein shakes in the long run, you're also not teaching yourself healthy eating habits.
Can I use protein shakes with the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet?
While the CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet is a diet based on whole foods, we also strive to make it a diet that works for a normal lifestyle. A normal lifestyle is busy and some days there just isn't enough time to make a proper meal.
The final answer to this blog post's question - are protein shakes good for losing weight? - is that a protein shake can have a place in an otherwise balanced diet but you shouldn't rely on protein shakes long-term.