Protein is protein no matter how you get it, right? Well, yes and no. Protein is an essential nutrient that builds and repairs muscle fibers. You can get the protein you need from whole foods, from supplements or from both, but there are a few important distinctions between the sources to consider as you’re planning your diet.
Protein From Whole Foods
The best known sources of protein, including meat and dairy, are complete proteins. That means they provide every amino acid the body needs to synthesize muscle and stimulate tissue growth and repair. They also come with vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber and disease-preventing antioxidants. In addition to health benefits like reducing your risk for cancer and heart problems, these substances promote digestive health and satiety. Whole foods also lack the list of potential negative side effects that can come from protein shakes, including gastrointestinal distress, nausea, bloating, headaches, nutrient deficiencies or negative interactions with certain medications.
Protein From Shakes
Most packaged shakes are also made from complete proteins, such as whey or casein, and they are fortified with many of the vitamins and minerals you’d find in regular food. A typical shake provides an entire meal’s worth of protein, 20 to 30 grams, in a single serving. However, shakes can’t provide the fiber or antioxidants that many protein-rich whole foods, such as lentils or quinoa, can. So although shakes are an easy source of high-quality protein, it’s preferable to get most or all of your protein from whole foods instead.
One advantage that certain protein shakes might provide over whole foods is the potential to improve body composition, even without making any other dietary or exercise changes. A comprehensive research review published in 2018 in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition found that overweight study participants who supplemented their diets with whey protein lost more weight and fat mass over various trial periods of time than a control group of subjects who did not supplement. For this type of physical result, the protein source might matter; in another study published in 2017 in a different journal, subjects who supplemented with casein protein did not experience any positive effects on body composition.
The Convenience Factor
Just because people understand the importance of eating a healthy, balanced diet doesn’t mean they always have the time or energy to do it. Real life is busy, and saving you time is another area in which protein shakes excel. If you’re starving and you have a choice between mixing up a shake and grabbing a bag of chips from the vending machine, that shake is an easy – and much healthier – way to tide you over until your next full meal. Just make sure to consider the whole picture by carefully reading nutrition labels and trying not to rely on shakes as a crutch. Rather than a dietary staple, they’re best as an occasional supplement to a balanced diet that focuses on real food.
Credits: Eating Protein Vs. Drinking a Protein Shake
Written by Carly Schuna; Updated May 18, 2018