As a coach, I often get asked if consuming protein powder is necessary and whether I would recommend using it to supplement a diet. Without a doubt, consuming all of your protein, – in addition to – carbs, fats, vitamins, and minerals is ideal from real meal/food, rather than in a supplement form. Unfortunately, most people today do not eat complete meals or do not have time to prepare proper meals, which is why protein powders/shakes/smoothies have become a popular option. Side note: It is not negative to consume a supplement and there are supplements that are by-products of foods, some pre-digested or in natural/less processed forms, and can serve great purposes to certain people with medical conditions.
If you happen to be someone who suffers to find enough time to prepare proper meals, especially post work out, protein shakes can be a beneficial supplement to your diet. To understand why you would benefit from having a meal/protein shake after a work out, you need to understand the basis of what happens to your body during and after your work out.
To put it simply, when you exercise, your body begins to use its glycogen reserves for energy AKA carbs. After a duration of time (depending on how intense or long your exercise routine is) your body starts to take energy from your fat stores, and lastly, your protein reserves. Your body’s least preferred energy source is your protein reserves. The reason your body prefers to burn carbs and fat and not protein is because your protein reserves is where your muscle and lean body tissue is stored, which is very important for metabolic purposes.
After understanding the sequence in which your body uses energy, it is important to understand that when you work out, your muscle fibers tear. Therefore, it is important to repair them as quickly as possible (with fuel AKA protein powder or a meal) to prevent your body from breaking down its own protein reserves to repair your muscle fibers. Whether or not your body will start stealing from your protein reserves is relative to your metabolism, and your overall nutrition. The intensity or rate at which your body will start eating up at different reserves is also relative to your body type. Although, from understanding the sequence in which your body uses stored energy for exercise, it is also important to refuel after your work outs with carbs and fat in addition to protein. The reason why many people refuel with a protein shake after a work out is because they do not mind if there body uses their glycogen and fat as energy, therefore by replenishing with protein, you can feel more confident that your protein reserves will stay full. However, it is also beneficial to consume carbohydrates after a work out if you are insulin sensitive. This is due to the glucose from the carbohydrates will be stored into your muscles cells for future energy expenditure.
If you decide to take protein shakes after a work out, there are many positive outcomes from doing so.
Positive outcomes from protein:
To keep it simple, if you do not eat proper meals and you are looking to lose weight and/or work out regularly, you most probably could benefit from supplementing with a protein powder.
At the end of the day, your the boss. Experiment and see what suits you best!