Protein is one of the essential building blocks of our diets. It supports our immune system, transports oxygen to red blood cells, and repairs and builds muscle tissues. But before you go running for the whey protein powder drinks, there are a few important things to consider about protein.
Consuming protein alone will not work to build muscle. Protein itself doesn’t add muscle mass to your body. Instead, it supports muscle growth and repair. Alissa Rumsey, registered dietitian and certified strength and conditioning coach who serves as spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says, “even if you are eating a ton of protein, if you aren’t breaking down your muscles with weight lifting, you won’t build new muscle. Protein helps to re-build muscle fibers after they have been broken down.” So unless you’ve already established a rigorous workout routine, abstain from adding extra protein boosts to your diet.
If you are a regular at the gym, keep in mind that adding protein to your diet shouldn’t mean adding more fat. “The best way to use a protein smoothie with the intention of dropping fat and building muscle is to avoid ... sugars or sugar substitutes. A banana or some berries should be the extent of your sugar intake in a smoothie, simply for the reason that when your body is looking for what to burn first, it burns sugar before fat. Load up with sugar, and you will not burn a thing,” recommends Stephanie Lauren, head of PLYOGA Fitness. In fact, many health experts are advocates of “real food” protein boosts over powders and pre-made shakes for this reason. Cutting out added sugars and opting for natural proteins and good fats found in things such as nut butters, seeds, and all-natural powders like pea powder are some of the recommended sources. Still other experts suggest cutting out the middleman and simply adding amino acids to smoothies for muscle repair.
It is ultimately up to you to decide what kind of protein boost works best for you. Protein-heavy smoothies can make great meal replacements and help build muscle, but are best employed around your workout. Rumsey reminds us that “timing is key. If your goal is to build muscle mass, pay special attention to what you eat before and after your weight training session. Ideally consume about 10-20 grams of protein before and after your workout.” Armed with this information, go forth and bulk!
Peanut Butter, Banana, and Oat Smoothie
This recipe serves as a great pre-workout morning meal. Peanut butter is packed with proteins and chia seeds are considered a complete protein, as they contain all of the essential amino acids that cannot be made in the body. Say hello to the day with this healthy drink that tastes like a milkshake!
Espresso Protein Shake
This shake is a real eye-opener! Lisa Wells at CookEatPaleo recommends a pure egg-white protein powder as a smoothie additive. “This way, I know I’m avoiding refined sugars and other additives. And I can control everything that goes into my smoothie,” she says.