Protein Shakes for Weight Loss?

Health and Fitness Contributor, Melanie Douglass, helps us decode protein shakes… and if they can really help you drop extra pounds and tone up.

Protein shakes used to be used for gaining muscle mass… and “diet” shakes used to be used as low-calorie, liquid meal alternatives. These days, the two are starting to merge into one concept. Don’t get me wrong; there are still plenty of protein powders and drinks made strictly for athletes, men and serious weight lifters – designed to protect and promote the growth of lean muscle mass – but there are also “moderate” protein shakes that work great as a supplement to a healthy weight-loss program. Moderate protein powders and shakes contain 15 – 30 grams of protein per serving (about the amount in a chicken breast), a bit of fiber for fullness, delicious flavors for palatability and about 25% of a multivitamin. These types of protein shakes are what I use, and refer to as, “Meal Replacement Shakes”. The high protein content helps you feel fuller longer, helps you to build lean muscle (after a good workout) and gives you – this is key – a calorie-controlled, super easy “just add water”, on-the-go meal to help you avoid the common alternative: a 1000 – 1500 meal from a restaurant.

Here are good uses for a protein shake:

1) When you have no time to fix/grab healthy, real food. Late for work? Fine. On crazy days where the alternative is starving-then-binging-later… or a drive-thru, then grab a protein shake instead.

2) When you get mid-afternoon munchies. If you crave food mid-afternoon or mid-morning, a protein shake can calm your cravings and make snacking stop at a clean and sensible 200 calories.

3) When you feel like you have no control, or willpower to make healthy choices. If you wake up every day and say “I’m going to eat healthier”… and then don’t… it might be good to remove the “choice” factor for a week or two. Pick your problem meal: is it breakfast, lunch, or dinner? Choose the meal where you do the most damage and replace that meal with a protein shake – for a week or two. Just to get you back in control of your food choices. The protein/fiber blends will help you feel full and satisfied. And 9 times out of 10, when people make one healthy choice, they make more healthy choices afterward to stay on track.

Here’s what to look for in a moderate protein/meal replacement shake:

· 200 – 300 calories per serving

· < 5 grams of sugar

· < 5 grams of fat (should be plant-based sunflower, canola or omega-3s; we already get plenty of fat in our diets, so nobody needs more! Just enough to help you feel satisfied and full.)

· > 5 grams of fiber for fullness and satiety

· 50% or less of added vitamins and minerals (you don’t want too much when it comes to vitamins and minerals… we already get plenty from our food, plus daily multi’s)

Here’s an overview of a few moderate protein shakes that can be used as meal replacements to help control calorie intake and build lean muscle (combined with solid workouts).

There are 4 main sources of protein in these types of products:

Whey: a by-product of cheese manufacturing. It’s easily digestible and contains Branched-chain amino acids for muscle synthesis. Whey is currently under research to see if it helps reduce the risk of heart disease, cancer and diabetes and if it offers anti-inflammatory benefits. Human milk is 60% whey and 40% casein. Cow’s milk is 20% whey and 80% casein.

Casein: this is the protein found in milk. It takes longer to digest and provides a sustained slow release of amino acids for anabolic processes.

Soy: a 100% plant protein, complete with all amino acids needed for human nutrition. 25 grams per day has been shown to lower the risk of heart disease, but there is controversy about the soy isoflavones and if they interact with hormones.

Hemp: this is a 100% plant protein and is the only product containing, natural, intact fibers. Most other protein products have fiber additives (powders) that need more research to determine if they carry all the amazing benefits of naturally occurring, intact fibers.

So if you want to try a protein shake, which one should you try? That all depends on your goals…

If you are worried about additives (artificial sweeteners/colors), try HEMP PRO 50. (Whole Foods or Amazon)

If you just want to lose weight and need something that makes you feel full and tastes good, try GNC LEAN Shake. (GNC stores

If you want pure protein, just to help you build more lean muscle after strength training, try GNC Pro Performance 100% Whey. (GNC stores

If you are worried about heart disease, try GeniSoy Soy Protein. (Walgreens, Amazon)

And if you have more questions, email me!

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