Protein Shakes Explained

The following views are not necessarily those of the staff and managment at B-Active Fitness Centres.

It is always advisable to do your own research and consult an expert.


The following article is taken from

By Rory Manning and Sam Rider

21 Dec 2016

They used to be the preserve of bodybuilders, and were often considered to be in the a category adjacent to steroids. Now protein shakes are a common sight at the gym, but how many people you see clutching their shakers actually know what’s in their shakes, when they should be taking them, how much they should have and the difference between all the varieties available?

This comprehensive guide answers all those questions and more, leaving you fully informed and sure of exactly what you need to take and when to achieve your goals. There’s only one thing we haven't covered in detail and that’s, er, wind creation. Yes, protein shakes are notorious for turning people into proper parpers. The only solution we know is to test different brands until you find one that doesn't turn you into a trouser trumper.


What is protein?

All types of proteins contain amino acids. There are lots of types of amino acids, but just 20 or so that the body uses to make the proteins it requires. Proteins can be split into two groups: animal sources (known as complete proteins), which contain a lot of amino acids, and plant sources (known as incomplete proteins), which contain few amino acids.


The amino acids you gain from your diet, alongside those your body makes for itself, are also used to build many other different proteins. All these proteins fulfil a whole host of bodily functions, ranging from hormone production and helping transport substances in the blood, to aiding the growth and repair of your muscles. This is the bit we are interested in because minuscule muscle fibres are torn every time you exercise, and in order to repair – and become bigger and stronger – these fibres require a steady stream of amino acids to fuel the process. That’s how muscles get bigger – they don’t just swell and inflate from extended use, they tear, patch over the gaps, and end up bigger as a result.

How much do I need?

There’s no point even thinking about shakes until you’ve worked out how much protein you should have each day. Also, you need to know how much you're getting from your diet, because it’s possible you won't need protein shakes to top up. The government’s recommended minimum daily allowance for an adult is 0.8g of protein per kilogram of bodyweight – although that’s for people just getting on with their life, proud of themselves when they walk up an escalator. If you’re regularly exercising and are trying to gain muscle mass, you should increase that amount to around 2-2.5g of protein per kg of bodyweight. For example, if you weigh 90kg you should aim to consume between 180-225g of protein each day.

Why protein shakes?

If you aren’t getting enough protein through your diet you’ll find it hard to make significant gains in the gym in terms of strength and muscle mass, no matter how hard you work. That’s because your body doesn’t have enough protein to effectively rebuild, repair, and grow your muscles. Where possible you should try to get more through natural high-protein foods such as milk, eggs, meat and fish because they’re unprocessed and have a higher nutritional value as a result. But protein shakes are a good way to conveniently get a large, quick protein hit straight after a training session. To ensure you are getting the best-quality protein products, look out for ones that provide all 20 amino acids.

Having said that, if you want to wolf down a can of tuna, some smoked mackerel, or some chicken straight after your session, that’s probably a better option in terms of your health. Protein shakes are convenient, but like most convenience foods they are also processed, and the less processed food you have in your diet, the better. It’s as simple as that. So, while protein shakes will definitely help you get bigger and stronger, they should not become regular replacement for real food. If you have one after each workout, for example, it's not the best idea to have one for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Oh, and there's the farting issue.

Rory Manning

Are protein shakes bad for you?

In short, no. The most common protein powders you’ll encounter in your shake are either whey or casein and they’re not manufactured by evil scientists in secret volcano laboratories. In fact they usually originate from farms. Fast-digested whey is a liquid left over from milk once it’s been curdled and strained, and is a by-product of the cheese-making process. It’s one of the most popular sports nutrition products around because of its availability, cost and effectiveness for rebuilding muscle after exercise. Slow-absorbed casein is the main type of protein found in dairy, making up around 80% of the protein content of cow’s milk.

Both contain amino acids that are chains of organic compounds primarily made from the elements carbon, nitrogen, hydrogen and oxygen. More than 500 amino acids are currently known and classified, but only 23 are involved in the process of building proteins. Of these, only nine are known as essential because unlike the other 14, your body cannot create them from other compounds, meaning you need to consume them through your diet – which is where protein shakes help fill in any gaps your diet misses.

Protein shakes could only start to cause minor problems if you become over reliant on them. It’s always important to remember the clue is in the name supplement – they are designed to fill the nutritional gaps of a complete and varied diet. Getting most of your daily dietary protein from red and white meat, fish, dairy, eggs, legumes, beans and nuts is the best way, because you’ll also consume more of the essential vitamins, minerals and nutrients vital to health and performance.

Sam Rider, Fitness Editor, Men’s Fitness