Truth About Protein and Meal-Replacement Supplements

It seems that these days, people are starting to think, “If I buy a protein supplement and use it after my workout, I will grow a lot more!”  This type of thinking basically comes from a lack of understanding what a protein shake is actually supposed to do.  I get asked, “Do you drink a protein shake after you lift?”  Since I do, I tell them so, but if I do not explain my reasoning then they will probably go to the nearest GNC and pick up some super expensive protein shake that is the most pure there is or the most natural and then will be disappointed when they fail to see results.  Today I am going to explain why I take protein, what it does, and if you should buy it.  After reading this article you should have a very clear picture about how to take, or if you need to take, protein supplements or meal replacements.

To start off, I am going to say that I do buy a protein supplement and am thinking about buying a meal-replacement supplement.  What’s the difference between the two?  A protein shake is purely protein, nothing else (hopefully).  A meal-replacement supplement, or MR, is designed to have a lot of protein, a lot of carbs, and some fat.  It does what it says:  It replaces a meal.  These are also often known as bulking supplements.  As of now, I do not take any MR, but I do take protein.  To be specific, I take Elite Whey Protein Isolate by Dymatize Nutrition as I have found this to be very high quality at a very good price.  Now before you go rushing over to buy this, let’s first see if you really need it.

We will first discuss protein supplements.  The basic rule of thumb is that if you are trying to build muscle, you should intake at least your bodyweight in grams of protein per day.  So if you weigh 180 lbs, you should have 180 g of protein per day.  You can get this protein from virtually anywhere: Red meat, chicken, turkey, eggs, dairy, protein supplements, MR, soy, etc.  It does not really matter how you get the protein.  Besides that basic requirement, you should have at least 30 grams of protein after you lift.  This is where protein supplements come in.  I usually drink a protein shake after I lift because it digests very quickly.  Liquid protein is good to have after you lift because, since its liquid, it digests faster than solid types of protein, thus reaching your muscles faster when they are in a peak absorbing state.  As a side note, I also have a lot of fast digesting carbs like dextrose, glucose, or maltodextrin because these types of carbs raise insulin and help shuttle the protein into the muscles.  If, however, you do not have a protein shake, having a bunch of milk or cottage cheese would work fairly well too.  Otherwise, you can just eat some meat to get the protein, and you won’t really notice much of a difference.  One of the big reasons that I use a protein shake is just because it’s easy.  I just add water and drink, instead of having to make something.  Also, if I am not hungry after I lift, drinking a shake is a lot easier.  I also choose to have a shake before I work out.  For more information about why I do this, visit The Surprising Truth about Pre- and Post-Workout Meals.  However, you could easily just get this protein from almost any source you can as long as you don’t have a lot of fat with it.

As for the rest of the day, I’ll have a shake if I need to meet my requirements, but otherwise I’ll try to eat normal food.  Also, if you are trying to diet down, you want to have as little of protein from a protein shake as possible as the shake will digest quickly and not fill you up like normal food will.  This will lead to you feeling more hungry and wanting to eat more.  Please note though, that a protein shake is really nothing that special.  It’s just an isolated form of protein.  Whey protein, for example, is found in dairy, and it is 20% of the protein that is in milk (the other 80% is casein which is also great).  Don’t be fooled into thinking that you are not growing because you are not taking a shake!  If it does have to do with protein, it is much more likely that you are just not getting enough protein in general, but you could get more from pretty much any source.  Sure, some are of higher quality than others, but in the end it doesn’t really make too much of a difference.

Now on to MRs.  Many people are under the misconception that if they take a MR or Bulking supplement, they will gain weight and muscle faster.  I’ll get asked if taking a bulking supplement will work.  Well, this depends on what you mean by work… If you think that taking these will magically make you grow more, then no, they will not work.  If you think that they are just a quick and convenient way of getting a lot of calories and protein whenever you want, then they do work!  You see, a MR is nothing too special.  It is basically just a meal in powder form that usually has around 700 calories and contains about 50g of protein per serving.  If you remember from above, I said that protein in powder form should not be used often while dieting as it does not fill you up very much.  The same is true for MRs and that is one of the best reasons to use them.  If you are trying to gain weight and think that you are eating a ton while the scale just refuses to move, there is only one reason.  No, it’s not because you just can’t gain weight or have a super duper high metabolism… It is simply because YOU ARE STILL NOT EATING ENOUGH. You think you are eating a ton because you are full but if the scale isn’t going up, then you are just not eating enough, plain and simple.  Getting a MR is an excellent way to solve this problem though!  Since it is a powder, you won’t feel as full as if you ate ~700 calories normally; this will allow you too keep eating more throughout the day!

On the other hand, if you are just lifting and are not trying to eat more already, then adding a MR will probably have little effect.  This is because you will most likely just eat less throughout the day if you have a MR which will end up will not too many more calories.  You first need to get your basic nutrition down first, then worry about the MRs later.  If you are very busy throughout the day or have a job that makes it difficult to eat, then adding a MR would probably be a good idea just for the convenience factor.  Also, MRs actually tend to be pretty cheap.  You can find many with a meal costing between $2-$3!  That’s a pretty good deal for all those calories and protein.  I just want you to remember, MRs are not something that is going to change your body.  You can (and many people have) get the same effect by just eating more real food, and that might be more nutritious too depending on what kind of diet you have.  Just make sure that if you do but a MR, don’t substitute it for all of your meals.  You need to get your vitamins and minerals from real food too!

Well there you have it.  A summary of both protein supplements and MRs.  Hopefully now you know whether or not you should buy one or both of these supplements.  Just remember, in order to grow you NEED to eat over your maintenance level (the total calories that your body burns daily through exercise and metabolism) every day, something that far too many people fail to do and then wonder why they are not seeing results!