Are protein shakes essential for training?

If your training focus is to build or maintain muscle, then it’s good practice to support your training with increased macronutrient intake – especially protein. You can get protein from poultry, meat, seafood, eggs and a couple of other vegetarian sources, and it’s always best to aim to get the majority of your nutrition from whole foods. But if you struggle to take in enough protein through food alone, then you could benefit from getting an extra boost, and this is where protein shakes come in.

Protein shakes are not meal replacements, but can be used as supplements around your workout to support your training and muscle growth.

But are protein shakes really necessary? 

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Well, while they are not essential, they can definitely be helpful; so the answer is yes and no.

Different kinds of protein powder

Whey Protein

Superior amino acid profile, high leucine content (an amino acid known to trigger muscle growth), fast digestion. Best to be used post-workout and is probably the most commonly used by people in training 

Whey Hydrolysate

A pre-digested form of whey protein, may deliver amino acids to the muscles slightly faster than regular whey protein.

Casein Protein

Slowly digested, made up of milk protein with a superior amino acid profile. Mainly used to aid recovery, and commonly used at night.

Soy Protein

Complete amino acid profile, but a sub-optimal protein source due to also including protease (enzymes that digest protein) inhibitors and estrogen mimicking compounds.


Mixed spectrum of protein compounds by a combination of, for instance, hemp, egg, whey and soy. This provides time-release effect of protein delivery. These can be filling and take a while to digest, so best not to use around workouts.

The pros of protein shakes

Protein shakes help with recovery and adaptations to training. Ingesting protein also promotes muscle protein synthesis and anabolism, ultimately helping growth, recovery and performance.  

Protein has also been found to be the macronutrient most likely to aid weight loss and muscle gain.

Whey protein could also be associated with a reduction in blood pressure, inflammation and oxidative stress, aiding general health and recovery from training.

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The cons of Protein Shakes

Most of the ill effects of protein shakes are have been attributed to the non-amino acid elements, shake have occasionally been associated with acne and skin irritation.

Milk-based protein shakes are definitely not recommended for people with lactose intolerance or casein sensitivity, and as many include other additives they could aggravate pre-existing food intolerances.  

Protein shakes can be of use, but it’s important to take care selecting a high quality product. As the industry is largely unregulated and they are considered ‘dietary supplements’, many of the products sold are poor quality or have artificial flavouring, added sugars and other hidden compounds that may not be helping you towards your health and fitness goals.

So what should you do?

Well, it’s important to make any decision based on solid information, the best information of all is to listen to what your body is telling you.

If you’re taking a shake and are feeling nauseous or uncomfortable, then it’s probably not going to be doing you much good, either drop it or try an alternative. You can always consult a nutritionist who would be able to recommend an effective protein source based on your dietary history.

It’s always best to get the majority of your nutrition from while food sources, but sometimes it’s impractical or expensive to increase protein intake with food alone. In those instances, including a protein shake can help give your body what it needs to recover without interrupting your busy schedule.

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