There seems to be some controversy regarding the role of protein shakes in a healthy diet, especially when it comes to fat loss. Most accept that protein isn’t just for skinny football players trying to bulk up. However, does consuming extra protein via a shake really help for fat loss? What type is best? Can’t we just get protein from whole foods? How much of should our protein shakes comprise of? These are the issues I’ll address with today’s blog.
Do Protein Shakes Help For Fat Loss?
Most studies agree that high protein diets do increase fat loss, maintain muscle mass, and prevent regaining weight long term after initial weight loss. In studies comparing high protein versus low protein diets with caloric restriction, subjects often lose similar amounts of weight, but the high protein groups lose more fat and retain more muscle. Some theorize that higher protein diets are more effective because they increase satiety, thus controlling hunger. A recent study (see below) found that subjects supplementing with whey protein had increased levels of the hormone ghrelin, which is known to suppress appetite. Others suggest high protein diets prevent muscle loss with is common with caloric restriction.
So What Type of Protein Shake is Best?
Sources of protein can be animal or plant based. When it comes to shakes, the most common sources of animal protein are milk proteins, either whey or casein. Whey is the most economical and widely available. As far as plant proteins, the most common source is soy. So let’s look at soy versus whey protein shakes for fat loss.
Baer, DJ. The Journal Of Nutrition, June 2011
Researchers studied 3 groups of subjects. One group ingested a whey protein shake, the other a soy protein shake, and the other a carbohydrate shake. All shakes added a total of 104 grams to their normal diet. They all consumed the exact same calories (2200). Compliance with ingesting the shake was determined through a tracer that was contained in the shakes.
After 23 weeks, the carbohydrate shake group gained 2 pounds of fat, while the soy shake group did not lose any weight. The whey protein shake group lost 2 pounds of fat, increased ghrelin hormone levels, and decreased waist circumference. So whey was superior for fat loss.
It should be noted that this amount of weight loss was very small, but it wasn’t surprising, because they were not put on lower calorie diets, nor exercising. However, it does tell us that there seems to be a small but significant benefit to higher protein diets for fat loss, and that whey is a superior option to soy. Although the reasons aren’t clear, it is likely that the fact that animal proteins are complete proteins, where as plant proteins are incomplete, might be the key difference. A complete protein has all the essential amino acids, or building blocks of protein, where are as plant proteins are deficient in some essential amino acids.
Shakes Vs Whole Foods For Fat Loss
Based on the recent research and many studies in the past, it seems that protein shakes really do help for fat loss. However, I’m not convinced that they are superior to whole foods or even necessary.
In fact, I think whole food protein sources are better. Here’s why:
1. Chewing food makes you feel more satiated
2. Whole foods take longer to digest, releasing nutrients slower and increasing the calories spent digesting food. This can facilitate better nutrient absorption, more satiation, and more calories burned.
3. It fosters better habits. We know that sustained fat loss and improved health is about behavior change. Learning how to prepare and cook food, and taking time to eat it is better than relying on a quick shake.
But…there is a flip side to this, with big implications:
Practicality and convenience sometimes trumps optimal. And shakes are very convenient and practical. It is hard to package chicken breasts and carry them around with you all the time for a lean healthy protein snack. If you have an incredibley hectic schedule with family, work, travel, etc, shakes can be a godsend.
They key is to use them as a supplement. I think occasionally using 30-60g of some type of milk protein is a great idea for those who need to increase their protein intake to help with fat loss. Of course, increasing protein intake is only one factor in facilitating fat loss, and not all people need to increase protein intake. But most do, and they find that having a shake option gives them one extra convenient source to supplement a healthy diet.
So What Protein Shakes Do I Recommend?
There are thousands out there and most have some drawbacks, especially in regards to protein type and artificial flavoring. I advise people use a whey or casein protein. There are dozens of subtypes, but I think it is best to see what texture you prefer and what doesn’t cause any GI distress. I have found that whey concentrate can cause GI distress in some. Whey isolate seems to be well tolerated by most and is not too expensive. Casein is also well tolerated, but is more expensive.
As far as flavoring, go with one that has no sugar or artificial flavoring. Stevia is a fine flavoring option, as it is natural and well tolerated by most.
Unfortunately, few meet the above criteria. The two that I recommend and use based on quality, flavoring issues, and cost are True Protein and Prograde.
Prograde has a great product that tastes excellent and mixes well. Ordering is simple. You can check out their site and pricing here.
True Protein is a whole sale company selling mostly to fitness professionals. They have every type of protein imaginable. You can flavor it any way you want and order any quantity. The freedom and flexibility to design your own shake can be good for those who know exactly what they want, but confusing and overwhelming for others. We can help you if you’d like, just send us an email. Check out their site here.