High protein diets are always popular amongst the dieting community, and are the focus of many famous diets, such as the Atkins diet, and the south beach diet. One way of consuming large amounts of protein is the use of protein shakes.
So, would the use of added protein, consumed in the form of a shake, aid weight loss? Below we take a look at the two different types of shakes; protein shakes and meal replacement shakes, and explain how each can be used to aid weight loss.
Who Uses Protein Shakes?
In general, protein shakes are promoted for two different reasons. Regular gym-goers who are looking to increase their muscle mass often consume regular protein shakes to boost their protein intake. This is because the body requires protein to help to build new muscles.
Protein in food is broken down in digestion to consist of amino acids, which are then used by the body to help to build new muscles. There are also meal replacement shakes, which are often high in protein.
How Protein Shakes May Not Aid Weight Loss
Protein shakes are primarily used for bulking up and promoting of muscle growth in regular exercisers. In this format, protein shakes are taken between or alongside meals, as an additional source of high quality protein that is easily digestible. This is to help maximise the building of new muscles in the body, as amino acids that are released from the digestion of protein act as the building blocks of the new muscle.
Because of this, as well as the increased number of calories that are required to put on muscle weight, protein shakes in this category can be high in calories, and are typically mixed up from powder form with milk. If used without careful planning, these protein shakes will slow weight loss because of the additional calorific intake per day, or could even lead to weight gain.
People who wish to bulk up fast often consume numerous protein shakes per day as well as meals. This is because it is relatively easy to consume liquid calories, especially when they do not need much preparing, unlike meals. They are also fairly convenient to use.
How Protein Shakes can Help Promote Weight Loss
The most important factor to consider when using protein shakes as a part of a weight loss program is to regulate calorific intake. When the body consistently uses more calories per day than are consumed, weight loss will occur. It is easy to forget to count calories from drinks, including protein shakes, when tracking calorific intake, and this can mean the difference between weight loss and gain.
The use of protein shakes should leave the dieter fuller for longer, as protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates. US research published in 2007 found that a protein-rich diet can also help lower the levels of the hunger-stimulating hormone ghrelin, effectively suppressing the appetite. Again, suppressing the appetite, even slightly, may help to contribute to weight loss efforts over time.
Because the body is being provided with plenty of materials to maintain muscle mass whilst on a high protein regime, any weight loss to occur is more likely to be water loss, or ideally, fat loss. This means that the use of protein shakes by dieters should minimise muscle mass loss whilst they are losing weight.
Increasingly ‘specialist’ weight loss protein powders are being manufactured. These contain fewer calories than their bulking equivalents, and often add in various ingredients that are associated with boosting the metabolism, such as green tea and l-carnitine. These ingredients, especially green tea extract, do have some support from clinical trials to suggest that they may further aid weight loss efforts in a small way.
Meal Replacement Products and Weight Loss
Meal replacement shakes are designed to help promote weight loss. Not all meal replacement shakes are protein shakes, as many contain carbohydrates, especially sugar, as well as protein. However, there are some that are high in protein.
In order to act as meal replacement shakes and cause weight loss, a protein shake will typically have fewer calories than a typical meal. This leads to a negative calorie balance, i.e. more calories burnt per day than consumed, which will lead to weight loss over time.
Negatives of Meal Replacement Diets
There are some problems with following meal replacement plans. Chewing food helps with satiety perception and therefore the use of meal replacement shakes can lead to the dieter feeling dissatisfied, as shakes feel much more like drinks than meals.
This can lead to them deviating from their diet as they desire solid food. Because products like these are often only available in a limited range of flavours, boredom with the diet can set in quickly, meaning that people are more likely to give up or cheat on their diet.
Meal replacement diets are not sustainable in the long term, as they are often mentally challenging to follow. Weight regain often occurs after following a meal replacement diet as their use does not teach or encourage new and healthy diet routines and so people fall back into old unhealthy habits after the diet ceases.
Certain vitamins and minerals, such as many B vitamins, can not be stored in the body, and so need to be consumed daily. As not all meal replacement foods contain vitamins and minerals, following a strict meal replacement program is not a good idea in the long term, as it could lead to nutritional deficiencies.
Best way to use Protein Shakes to Lose Weight
Choosing which protein shake is right for you and your weight loss plan is important. Check out the protein, fat and carbohydrate contents per serving, as well as how many calories a typical serving contains. Products that you have to make up from a powder are typically cheaper than ready to drink products. There are often different flavours available as well, such as chocolate or vanilla or can be flavourless. When looking at cost, try working out how much each serving would cost, rather than choosing based solely upon the cost of the pack.
It is best to avoid meal replacement shakes, even if they claim to be high protein. Because of all the negatives associated with their use, it is better to choose a more viable long term option to aid weight loss. If you still want to use a protein shake as a meal replacement, then you can adjust the ingredients slightly, and add in others such as peanut butter, flaxseed oil or blended fruit to change the texture and taste. This will also allow you to alter the calorie content, and improve the nutritional value of the shake. By blending fruit into the mixture, the shake will have more fibre content, and will move through the digestive system slowly, without causing constipation. Don’t use fruit juices as an ingredient, as these have more calories, but lack fibre.
Try consuming a protein shake in place of a snack each day. Make sure that the calories it contains are factored into your daily diet plan. Change the type of milk you mix it with to adjust the calorie content of the drink. This is ideal if your diet plan excludes many sources of protein such as fatty red meats.
Engage in regular exercise. This boosts the amount of weight loss that can be achieved, and helps to maintain muscle mass whilst weight is being lost. This as well as boosting fitness, creating a toned physique, boosting the metabolism, improving cardiac health, and improving general health. Protein shakes are designed to be used by regular exercisers, and combining regular protein shakes and regular exercise will both help weight loss, but will also help to maintain (or even increase) muscle mass, resulting in an improved physique.
Negatives of High Protein Diets
High protein diets encourage a ketosis state, and so the side effects can include bad breath and lethargy, as well raised cholesterol levels and, in women, menstrual irregularities including amenorrhoea. High protein diets can also be low in fibre and can cause constipation. This can be remedied by including fruit and vegetables in the diet, as they contain plenty of fibre, are filling and are often low in calories.
High protein diets can’t be followed in the long term if they are very restrictive. More moderate high protein diets that do not exclude fruit and vegetables are more suitable for long term use. Following restrictive diets can lead to nutritional deficits over time, which can impact negatively upon health.
Our Verdict on Protein Shakes for Weight Loss
Overall, protein shakes could be used to promote weight loss. However it is important to use them correctly, otherwise they may actually cause weight gain.
Remember to include the calorific value of any protein shakes consumed in your daily calorie count, and adjust consumption of other snacks accordingly. Protein shakes should help to maintain muscle mass, moderately suppress the appetite and make the user feel fuller for longer than lower protein alternatives.
If an unhealthy diet is supplemented with protein shakes, they will not promote significant weight loss. However, protein shakes can be a useful element of a healthy and balanced diet that causes a calorific deficit to lead to weight loss.