On your fitness journey, you’re bound to eventually run into some form of fitness or protein shakes.
Whether you’re trying to lose fat or gain muscle, there is some company out there selling a shake or product for it.
Sometimes we also see fitness enthusiasts make a lot of fuss about protein shakes and the like.
But do we really need protein shakes to build muscles? The short answer is NO. It is not absolutely necessary to consume protein powders and shakes to build muscle.
Let us try to understand the whole fiasco a bit better, from a more educated lens.
Our body extracts five nutrients from the food we consume. These are proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Of these five, the first three are known as ‘macronutrients’ while the last two are known as ‘micronutrients’.
The names are indicative of the number of nutrients we need for healthy function – the macronutrients are needed in a relatively larger quantity than micronutrients.
Let us look at each macronutrient one by one:
- Proteins: These help build muscles in the body. They are also needed for repair of tissues and cells upon damage. When we exercise, our muscles undergo damage at microscopic levels. A rich supply of protein helps muscles build up faster. More on proteins in a bit.
- Fats: We get fats from oily and greasy foods. Think butter, cheese, and the like. Fats are the least required of macronutrients. They are rich sources of energy but tend to accumulate in the body. It is relatively harder for the body to burn fats and get energy out of them. Which is why fat rich foods are recommended in small quantities. Excess bodily fat is the leading cause of many diseases.
- Carbohydrates: Carbohydrates are the most consumed macronutrients. They are the main source of energy for the body. Foods such as grains, breads, and cereals are rich in carbohydrates. There are primarily two types of carbs, starch and sugar. A greater quantity of starch is recommended over sugar.
What Exactly Are Proteins?
Consider proteins the main building blocks of the muscles and muscular tissue. In comparison to carbohydrates, proteins provide pretty much the same amount of energy, but the body uses proteins mainly not for energy needs, but for tissue building and repair processes.
At a chemical level, proteins are made of chains of organic compounds known as amino acids.
The protein we eat goes through multiple stages during the digestion process and is ultimately broken down into amino acids.
The body can then rearrange amino acids to create proteins as and when needed. This process is known as protein synthesis. About twenty amino acids exist, of which humans are supposed to acquire nine essential types through food.
Without these, the body will cease to have a proper function and will eventually result in death. Proteins, therefore, play important roles in the body. In the next section, we take a deeper look at the same.
What Do Proteins Do?
Proteins perform multiple important functions in the human body, some of which are:
- Growth of tissue and their maintenance tops the list. This is what proteins are most popularly known for. As builders of muscles.
- Proteins are also helpful in carrying out different reactions in the body. Without proteins, many important reactions such as digestion and blood clotting would fail to happen.
- Hormones are substances in the body that act as messengers. When released, they interact with receptors and unleash reactions within the body. Some proteins function as hormones as well.
- As we have discussed before, proteins are at par when it comes to energy density. So they can also provide energy. In fact, it is difficult for the body to store proteins. So the proteins we take in get used up for muscle repair and build up, and most of the remaining protein gets used up for energy. A good indicator that taking in excessive proteins do not help in muscle buildup, it just gets used up for energy.
How Much Protein Do We Need?
A sedentary adult needs about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight (0.36 grams per pound). On average that comes to about 56 grams per day for men and 46 grams per day for women.
When building muscle, that number must be pumped up to 1-1.2 g per kilogram of body weight of protein per day.
Remember, simply having a higher protein count does not mean you gain more muscle, after a point, the body just uses proteins for energy and none of it goes towards building muscle.
This should serve as a good pointer – we do not need to consume extra protein.
Protein Shakes As Supplements
So far we’ve established that proteins are one of the more important nutrients needed by the body.
They play many functions in the body, the most important and prominent of them being muscle synthesis. The body only needs a limited amount of protein per day, excess of which gets used up for energy.
Keeping the above points in mind, it makes sense to NOT have an excess supply of proteins. In other words, a proper diet takes care of our protein requirements. Unless you are going to be competing in heavyweight championships, you don’t need any extra protein supplements.
Protein shakes have become quite popular among fitness enthusiasts. They certainly help in your daily protein intake, but are not mandatory at all. Proper diet and regular exercise does the magic.
Protein Shakes Give The Same Protein Other Foods Give, There’s Nothing Else Special About Them
A lot of new lifters think that protein shakes have something special in them to boost your muscle growth.
The truth is, there is NOTHING special in protein shakes at all. They have the same protein you’ll find in tuna, chicken, steak- whatever. It’s no different.
Protein Shakes Are Also Kind Of Expensive
Let’s be real, bodybuilding can get really expensive when you consider all the food you have to buy, the gym memberships you have to pay (find out how to save big on your gym membership through your insurance company), the time you spend at the gym compared to work, et cetera.
Unfortunately, most protein shakes are kind of expensive as well. And also, unfortunately, if you find a cheap protein powder, it will likely taste really bad.
There’s no reason to burn all of your hard-earned cash on protein powder unless you just like the convenience of it. Having a protein shake can definitely be convenient after a work out, especially if you’re in college or go to work after.
But other than that- it’s just a money grab.
Now, don’t get me wrong- protein powder has its’ place. If you’re busy or enjoy it, that’s awesome. But don’t think you NEED to have protein powder, if you can’t afford it and/or don’t like it- don’t use it!
Proteins are super important for the proper functioning of the body. They are quintessential for muscle buildup.
A good diet provides enough proteins to develop muscles naturally and without any supplementary inclusions such as protein shakes.
At the end of the day, results come because of hard work, dedication, and discipline, not because of a protein powder. Shakes are not a necessity to make muscle gains, people have built excellent bodies, without any sort of supplements, be it protein or otherwise. However, protein shakes are a good option if you need something quick or you’re really busy throughout the day.
- Read: Instead of protein powder, try these 20 High Protein Snacks!