Are Protein Shakes and Supplements Necessary for Muscle Gain and Fat loss vs. whole foods?

The answer is: NO, they are not necessary, (1) but YES, in my opinion they can be more effective and extremely useful (with clear scientific evidence to support it!).

Here are the reasons why you may want to chose a protein shake over whole foods especially when exercising (this is why I do them and suggest them for my students as well):

1. It allows food to still be a pleasure.

Who wants to chew food all day long? When you want to get lean and gain lean muscle to look a certain way, feeding your body can be like a job. And when you constantly eat food you begin to get bored and at times can get tired of eating. The use of protein shakes allows you to still find much pleasure in food as well as the shakes themselves. Plus, many times your body doesn’t feel like eating food right after you workout, yet if you want to have the best results there is a window of time (30 min -1 hour) to get the right nutrients in your body in order to gain lean body mass and burn fat easier and faster.

2. They are convenient and easy.

You can bring it with you in your backpack ready to go or make it really fast at home. On many occasions you may not have time to get food right away and for the most part we never really feel like chewing on food right after a workout.

3. They are precise.

You have the ability to measure the exact amount your body needs without over-consuming. (Usually 15-20 grams pre workout and 20-30 grams post) The amino acid content is readily available to feed your muscles rapidly for recovery and repair.

4. They taste good.

If you choose the right protein powder, you can find a better test and it can satisfy your sweet craving without the negative effect of sweets (less fat burning, the over consumption of empty calories which when overly consumed can lead to insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes).

5. They allow you to be satisfied and have you avoid overeating throughout the day.

This rings more true about Whey protein in particular (2) vs. other protein supplements such as rice, pea, or a combination. What studies and research have concluded as a good reason is “whey’s high glycomacropeptide and alpha-lactalbumin content, as well as perhaps its high solubility compared to other proteins, and perhaps its high percentage of branch chain amino acids” as it has been proven in 2 studies. (2). I’ve tested it for myself and when I drink whey protein 15-30 min before and then about 20-30 min after, although I am hungry in about 1 hour I tend to eat smaller portions as well as don’t crave any sugary processed foods. With other protein powders like pea, rice or a combo I still feel very hungry unless I add some fat to the shake such as almond butter. This may be something for each individual to test themselves.

6. Whey protein burns more fat and increases insulin sensitivity more effectively in comparison to red meat.

Why is being insulin sensitive a good thing? “Insulin sensitivity is how effective the body is as using insulin to reduce elevated blood glucose levels, with a greater efficacy being more ‘sensitivity’ and poorer efficacy being more ‘resistant’. When the body becomes too poor at using insulin to reduce blood glucose levels, type II diabetes ensues. (3) One study compared whey to beef. (2) Rats were fed a high fat diet for nine weeks, then switched to a diet with either whey or beef for an additional six weeks. Generally, High protein diets in comparison to higher carb low protein and high fat low protein have been found to reduce the amount of calories consumed daily as well as reducing body fat and visceral fat). The rats that consumed the whey protein had a 40% reduction in plasma insulin concentrations and increased insulin sensitivity compared to the red meat. The whey protein group also was more effective at reducing body weight gain.

7. Drinking a Pre- Workout Whey Protein Shake is proven to burn more fat and increase in lean body mass. (2)

What you take in before a workout will be crucial to getting certain results because it affects the kind of energy (carbs, fats, proteins) being utilized for exercise which effect the long term changes in the body. In this study there were a group of rats who exercises two hours a day for over 5 weeks. One group fasted (ate no food). The second group ate a glucose enriched meal one hour before exercise. The third group had whole milk. And the fourth group had whey protein. The glucose group burned glucose and decreased fat oxidation. The fasted group also burned sugar over fat for energy source. The whole milk and whey group maintained lipid (fat) burning and increased protein oxidation- meaning they also used the protein they ingested as fuel for their workout.

However the Whey group increased their protein oxidation due to it’s fast protein absorption. (which means it went into fat burning mode faster)

Conclusion: By the end of the five weeks body weight was greater in the glucose group, whole milk and whey versus the fasted ones (not surprising).

However, both the glucose and whole milk groups increased weight by means of body fat, while the whey group increased Lean Muscle Mass and decrease in body fat!!! (2)

This concludes 7 great reasons why you may want to supplement your diet with Whey Protein Shakes.

On another note, not all whey protein is created equal. For now keep in mind these key points of protein quality when choosing one:

  1. Come from organic grass fed cows.
  2. Is concentrate NOT Isolate considering key point number one and 3 below.
  3. Is cold processed. Not heated.
  4. GMO free.
  5. Acid free processing
  6. Sweetened naturally, no artificial stuff – usually you will see sucralose or aspartame as an artificial sweetener and stevia or luo han for naturally sweetened.
  7. No preservatives
  8. Has either Non GMO soy lecithin or Sunflower Lecithin as an emulsifier in the ingredients.

My #1 choice is One World Whey (the best period!) however it is on back order until they make new batches in about 4 weeks.

My #2 choice is Warrior Whey.



(2) Brink Will. 50 shades of Whey. Brink Consulting Group. 2012.