Gotcha! They’re not! Protein shakes are a staple of a high-protein diet. While I like to make recipes with my protein powder (both to avoid protein farts and to keep from getting sick of shakes) it’s still my go-to when I need more protein in my day but I don’t have much time. However, as with any supplement, you have to keep a few things in mind:
1. Protein shakes are not food. When you base your diet around supplements, instead of a healthy balance of meat-/fish-/vegetable-protein, vegetables, fruits, nuts, and grains, you’re missing out on key micronutrients, specifically vitamins and minerals. A good way to mitigate this is to cook recipes (I’ve published a few of my favourites here) to let you get extra protein without sacrificing nutrition. The protein powder tastes better than if you were just juicing vegetables.
2. Protein shakes make you fart. I wrote a separate article on this, but the long story short is that drinking liquid on an empty stomach dumps it into your intestines, which makes you fart. It’s a good reason to think about making Almond Butter Protein Cookies or Peanut Butter Protein Pancakes instead of just chugging milky jugs.
3. You may have the temptation to combine pre-packaged or fast food with protein shakes, justifying it with “it fits my macros.” While this is true, you’ll also be eating more sugar, trans-fat, salt, and less fiber than if you were just eating healthy, simple foods along with your protein supplements. A young person may be able to feel great on french fries, hot dogs, cigarettes, and Quest Bars, but once you hit 30, you’ll be hurting, my friend.
4. If you rely on protein shakes for a large proportion of your daily caloric needs, you’ll likely be wasting your money, to some extent. Without an adequate supply of carbohydrates (or, in the ketogenic diet, fat) your body will break down excess protein through gluconeogenesis, converting it to glucose, and depriving your muscles of the protein you’re faithfully glugging down every two hours.
5. If you’re vegan or vegetarian, you very likely want to take in more protein than you get from the whole foods you eat. Check out my article on egg protein if that works for you, and if not, then read my article on which pea protein tastes the best. You’ll still need vitamin supplements, but you can at least take care of your macronutrient needs.
So, in summary: Protein is great. Protein helps to prevent muscle loss when trying to reduce body fat and helps to build muscle when you’re trying to make gains in your lifting. I’m not telling you to put down the Isopure and live a life of crackers and lettuce. But learn how to supplement correctly, safely, and in moderation.