Protein is a macronutrient. It is one of the 3 sources of energy (calories). So, is it possible to find diet protein shakes?
Traditional “diet” foods found at the store cut macros and use artificial low-calorie fillers. While these may help with weight loss, it is far from the healthiest way to produce a diet food. A good protein shake is naturally a diet food, not because it is low in calories, but because it can help burn fat in a much healthier approach.
Protein shakes are a staple in any gym. They’re used to help build muscle, burn fat, and increase strength and endurance. However, it can be confusing when looking for a good protein powder to add to your workout shake. There are so many brands, flavours, types of proteins, and they all have their own lists of benefits. That being said, not all protein is the same and whey protein is one of the best types you can find.
Whey is a protein found in the liquid portion of dairy that is separated during cheese production. You can see this liquid floating at the top of yogurt or cottage cheese that has been sitting for a while, as the dairy naturally settles and splits.
Milk contains two proteins, casein, and whey. Both have their benefits, but they’re metabolized very differently. While whey is absorbed and used quickly (making it popular for a workout shake), casein is broken down slowly and can help you feel full longer, which is why it is often found in meal substitute drinks.
Whey makes up roughly 20% of the protein in dairy and has many practical benefits for daily life. Human breast milk has triple the amount of whey, which is a good indicator of its importance for growth and development.
Whey Protein Nutrition
“Whey protein” is more complex than it sounds. While classified as a singular protein, there are actually three different forms you can buy. Each has its own benefits and properties, and it’s important to know what you’re getting before you go to the store and spend big bucks. Here’s a quick look at the nutritional breakdown of each variety:
Traditional whey protein is roughly 70-80% protein. The remainder of the powder is made up of lactose and fats. It’s considered the most flavourful (because it has higher amounts of fat), and the healthiest because of the wider profile of nutrients. This is going to have the highest levels of lactose in the powder though, so it is the worst choice for someone with an intolerance to dairy.
Isolate has a much higher concentration of protein at about 90%. This means it has less lactose and fat. This could be good for people looking for minimizing their lactose intake, but it is missing some of the nutrients you get from a standard whey powder.
The last type of whey protein is hydrolysate (or hydrolyzed protein). This is a faster-acting whey protein but also spikes insulin levels. Some people like this to feed muscle recovery at max speed post-workout, but there are some serious health risks involved in anything that causes insulin spikes. This makes your pancreas pour out insulin, which isn’t the response you want to protein intake.
Benefits of Diet Protein Shakes
Diet protein shakes, like whey protein, are good for burning fat and muscle growth.
A good whey protein is the most thermogenic food, meaning it burns the most calories after ingesting. It metabolizes at a much higher rate, which is a key trait in classifying something as a diet food.
Whey protein also makes for great diet protein shakes because it turns on the protein synthesis process. This means it helps new muscle growth. This is an important aspect of diet foods because so many “diet” and weight loss strategies solely focus on burning fat, but they are typically hard on muscle growth. The combination of whey protein and exercise greatly increased muscle mass, while decreasing muscle atrophy.
Individuals who focus on eating “diet” labeled foods quite often see muscle loss because they are too busy focused on cutting the wrong things from their diet, and aren’t working on feeding their body what it needs.
Whey protein also has a higher satiety rate than carbohydrates. This means it helps keep you feeling full/satisfied for longer. This can help fight cravings, and help control portion sizes. If we are getting the right foods in our system, we need a lot less of it than what you commonly see in a western diet. When you’re not starving all the time it’s a lot easier to make smart choices about the types of foods we ingest.
There are so many types of proteins you can find in shake form, but whey protein is by far the best for overall health. It is quickly absorbed into the body, and is a complete source of all essential amino acids. Whey protein is taken from dairy, so it is not vegan or lactose intolerant friendly (though the lactose levels are less than in traditional dairy and may be safe for milder cases of lactose intolerance).
What To Look For When Shopping For Diet Protein Shakes
Most whey powders fit into the category of diet protein shakes.
Pure whey protein, no added sugars, flavours, etc.
If you don’t like the taste of whey protein, you’re better off adding flavour from a good whole food, rather than manufactured, processed flavour found in powders.
It’s very important to look at the additives in the protein. So many products on the market are filled with artificial colouring or flavour. Also keep your eye out for added sugar. These additives can be bad for your health and definitely won’t help with weight loss.
If you are already eating plenty of meat, fish, and eggs, which are filled with good protein, you may already have high levels of protein in your body. A protein rich diet can result in less dramatic benefits when using whey. This is okay, and it just means protein shakes may not be a necessary part of your diet. If you aren’t getting the protein you need, whey is definitely something to consider adding to your diet.