By Lubna Hamdan
Are the popular drinks supplement a good substitute for a real meal, or a big waste of time?
“Everyone has seen Rocky [Balboa] when he’s finished training and the first thing he does in the morning or after training will be to throw back a cup full of raw eggs,” recalls UAE personal trainer Darren Keane.
While the iconic Sylvester Stallone character may have turned to eggs for his vital dose of protein back in 1976, in 2015 these have generally been replaced by the commonplace protein shake.
Which begs the question, what exactly is a protein shake, and should you, or should you not, be using them?
According to Medical News Today magazine, there are two types of protein: casein and whey. Whey is the preferred choice, because it contains all 19 amino acids, is lower in lactose, and works faster.
When milk is used to make cheese, whey protein is separated from casein. The whey then goes through several manufactured processes, such as spray-drying, microfiltration, ultrafiltration, and addition of flavours, to become the protein powder you find on supermarket shelves today.
Mix the powder with a liquid such as water or milk, and you’re ready to have your protein shake.
But it’s not that simple.
Everyone from doctors to personal trainers have different takes when it comes to the drinks.
“It’s a bit of a habitual thing within gyms that okay I’ve done my workout now I have to have my protein shake,” says PT Keane. “I think there’s just a psychological overdependence with some people. I will see some people on the gym floor come in and do an average workout and then they will consume a high calorie protein shake after not really burning the equivalent in their workout. That’s a dangerous habit to get into.”
Keane explains that most people who work out in a gym environment don’t have a specific sports goal to achieve, so it’s not really necessary for them to be taking extra protein through shakes.
“Probably one of the biggest issues is that people substitute actual meal time for one of these shakes. So they’ll wake up in the morning, have a shake for breakfast, and then have a shake in the afternoon. It’s all a good high source of energy during the day which is good for burning fat, but what it does do then is replace your natural meal,” he clarifies.
Hala Barghout, a nutritionist and health promoter in the UAE, believes that protein shakes should definitely not replace meals, but if you exercise regularly or are an athlete, then you may need to increase your protein intake.
“You need to eat a meal of protein and carbohydrates half an hour after training. So, if I don’t have time for a meal, I’ll have a whey protein isolate shake after gym, and have a meal an hour later,” recommends Barghout, a protein-shake-user herself.
During a workout, muscles contract constantly and intensely, creating tears in muscle tissue. That’s why health experts recommend having a meal rich in protein 15-30 minutes after a workout, so that the protein can begin healing the “micro tears” in your muscles, stimulating faster muscle recovery and growth.
Barghout provides a rough equation to help readers figure out how much protein they should eat daily.
You multiply 1.5 grams of protein per 1 kg body weight, if you exercise regularly. If you don’t exercise regularly, you multiply 0.8 grams of protein per 1 kg body weight.
“Every 30 grams of meat or chicken is 7 grams protein. So, a 150 gram steak is 35 grams protein. If you exercise regularly, your protein intake per day should be 90-100 grams depending on your body weight,” said Barghout.
Another athlete, 26 year old Amir Darbani, says beginners can make the mistake of using protein shakes.
“For people who want to gain weight, its fine, but for people who want to lose weight, they should be aware of the calories,” he says.
Darbani points out that life in the UAE is fast paced, and a lot of people have busy schedules and no time to have or make a meal, so they use the shakes as alternatives.
“I prefer having natural food, but if you don’t have time for that then you can take a protein shake as a snack replacement,” says Darbani, who exercises 2 hours a day, 6 days a week.
But the issue at hand is not when protein shakes are used as snack replacements or extra protein. The problems start when the public overuses the heavily marketed products and experience side effects that may last a lifetime.
“I think the biggest danger with these protein shakes is that they’re heavily marketed within the fitness industry,” explained PT Keane. “They’re highly processed and people don’t actually know what they are taking into their body most of the time.”
The products, sold mostly as powders, target multiple audiences besides athletes and bodybuilders, such as teenagers and busy moms.
Consumer Reports magazine conducted studies and tests in which most protein shakes contained at least one of the following chemicals: arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury; metals which can have toxic effects on several organs in the body.
Nutritionist Barghout supports the latter, stating that protein shake overuse can cause problems such as kidney failure.
“Too much intake can cause pressure on the kidneys. They won’t be able to work properly and filter out toxins from the body,” she said.
Emirati athlete Maitha Kamali says she doesn’t need them to aid in her routine, which sees her exercise 2 hours a day, 6 times a week.
“I find them useless, you can have a good body without them. I’m sure you can reach a good place with a good mind set. Eat natural sources of protein and sleep better. From my experience, its better in the long run, health wise, not to take protein shakes,” says Kamali, who has been participating in dance shows with the UAE-based dance group Sharmila for 5 years.
Although health experts may differ in terms of protein shakes, they agree on one thing: you can get the protein you need from natural food.
“Most people can get everything the protein powders offer by eating sources of lean protein such as fish, meat, chicken, dairy and legumes,” says Barghout. “Every individual can get his/her daily requirements of protein through food.”
Keane also recommends eggs, beans, salmon fish, and nuts are good alternatives to the shakes.For all the latest health and fitness news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.