When you’ve put in maximum effort in at the gym, finishing your workout with your muscles quivering and lungs burning, it’s only natural to try to make sure you get the biggest bang for your buck.
For many people, that means cramming in as much protein as possible straight afterwards. It’s not an unreasonable tactic – protein is needed to help repair and grow muscles after an intense workout. What isn’t advisable, though, is treating protein shakes like a healthy drink that will automatically improve your diet – and thereby your fitness. In fact, you may not need them at all.
Once the preserve of professional athletes and bodybuilders, protein shakes are now omnipresent, with people glugging them down after every workout – and even at other times – in an attempt to maximise their results. According to Dr Mayur Ranchordas, a sport nutrition consultant at Sheffield Hallam University, this approach is pointless for the majority of people.
“Protein shakes are the equivalent of Apple watches – we want them but we don’t need them,” says Dr Ranchordas.
“For anyone doing less than five hours’ exercise a week, there is no point having extra protein.”
Depending on which protein shake you go for, they can also be quite calorific, and you can easily get the same benefits from real food.
“If you’re not exercising enough to need protein supplements, they are just additional calories,” says Dr Ranchordas.
“Most people would be much better off, after an hour’s run, going home and whizzing up some milk with bananas, berries and yogurt to make a home-made smoothie – it would have the same effect, but isn’t as processed.”
Unlike other nutrients, people in the UK have no difficulty eating enough protein from their diet, mostly because it’s mostly found in delicious foods like meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
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If you are a sedentary person it’s recommended that you eat 0.8g of protein for every kg of bodyweight, which for a a 70g adult works out as 56g. If you are working out regularly the recommended protein intake is 1.2-1.7g per kg of bodyweight daily. That’s 84-119g a day if, and it’s a crucial if, you’re actually putting in the work to merit upping your intake.
On the plus side, unless you have existing kidney problems or you opt for shakes full of calories, using protein supplements regularly is unlikely to do you any harm. Just don’t expect it to make up for lacklustre performances in the gym.