Protein Drinks: Pros and Cons for Your Health

Ready-made protein drinks are a popular food item for exercisers, those looking to boost protein intake and/or replace meals, as well as those desiring a convenient source of nutrition. Depending on the brand, processing and included ingredients, ready-to-drink protein shakes and drinks vary widely in their potential benefits and disadvantages.

Use the information below to guide you towards healthier protein shakes for your next shopping trip or online order.

Pros

Protein boost

Meeting protein needs is difficult for some, especially those who require high protein intake. According to the International Protein Board, athletes, those who resistance/weight train and are looking to gain muscle, as well as individuals recovering from surgery or illness, losing weight and/or those desiring to prevent muscle loss during aging may benefit from 1.4 or higher g/kg ideal body weight. Protein is the most satiating macronutrient, so those increasing protein in their diet may feel more satiated and have less of an appetite to meet protein needs. Ready-made protein shakes provide a quick protein boost that is quickly and easily absorbed.

Low sugar options

Many brands and options are now available that contain very little sugar, using low calorie, low glycemic index and alternative sweeteners such as stevia, monk fruit extract, coconut sugar, and allulose to provide sweetness. These additions make the drinks palatable and are well-tolerated by many and don’t carry the concerns of artificial sweeteners, table sugar, or fructose. That said, long-term research is limited and it is likely still prudent to keep intake of these sugars to 1-2 servings a day.

Convenient source of nutrition

A fast-paced lifestyle often calls for convenient and easy meals and snacks, but don’t think you have to sacrifice health for convenience. Ready-made protein shakes travel well, can be stored unrefrigerated and quickly chilled by pouring over ice, and are small enough to fit in backpacks, briefcases, and purses for long, busy days.

Those with digestive or health conditions that compromises their digestive function and absorption of nutrients often benefit from faster-absorbing and easier-to-digest liquid nutrition. Those with unintentional weight loss may also find ready-to-drink protein shakes and meal replacements a valuable addition to their diet. Many brands contain added fruit and vegetables, fiber, phytochemicals and vitamins and minerals to assist those who desire optimal liquid nutrition, and not just primarily liquid protein.

Plant-Based & Traditional Dairy Options

Decades ago, you would be hard-pressed to find non-dairy and vegan alternatives to traditional whey protein shakes, but the tides have turned. Take a tour down the health aisle at your local supermarket and you’re sure to find both options – whey protein for those who tolerate dairy and lactose, and a plethora of plant-based options for those who prefer or require otherwise.

Cons

Brands vary widely in their quality and nutrition. If you plan to drink premade protein shakes regularly, it would be worth your time to check ingredient lists.

More expensive

Trade-offs are ubiquitous in life, and protein shakes are no different. While a large canister of protein powder is less convenient and requires you to mix your own shake on the go, it carries a far lower price per serving. The same is true for prewashed and prechopped produce in your grocery store – you pay extra for the convenience of less prep work. Only you can decide if this trade-off is worth it for your budget, lifestyle and health.

Processing

Unfortunately, many convenience foods are chalk full of processed ingredients, added sugars and subpar nutrition. Unhealthy and/or synthetic ingredients are often used such as high fructose corn syrup, acesulfame potassium, maltodextrin, carageenan, datem and binders/thickeners such as guar gum, xanthum gum and polysorbate 80. These ingredients add more detoxification burden to the liver and may promote uncomfortable digestive symptoms in some. Check calories, nutrition facts, and ingredient lists to know what you are consuming and if it is a good choice for you.

No whole foods

No supplement or processed food product can replicate the intricate nutrient matrix found in whole foods. For example, while some pre-made protein shakes may contain vegetable ingredients such as spinach or broccoli, they are typically added as a powder. Powders and other processed forms of produce lack the naturally-occurring enzymes, fiber, minerals, antioxidants and phytochemicals present in the whole spinach leaf. For this reason, it is not recommended to replace all meals and snacks with manufactured liquid nutrition, unless deemed medically necessary. The short-term disadvantage of inferior nutrition may still be worth it for those looking to add a premade shake to their regular diet, replace one or two meals in their day, or lose weight. A randomized, controlled trial published in Obesity Research found that fortified meal replacement liquid shakes are an effective strategy for weight loss and disease risk biomarkers.

Bottom Line

Ready-to-drink pre-made protein shakes come in both plant-based and dairy options and appeal to a wide variety of individuals looking to enhance their intake of protein, calories and nutrition. Do your research and check brand ingredient lists to avoid potential protein shake pitfalls.

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