The Best Protein Shake For You!

Knowing which protein shake to use is often difficult and your specific goal will determine which one is best for you. If you want to maximise your muscle mass and gain weight, then the type of protein shakes you use will be different compared to someone who wants to lose weight.

The importance of protein in your diet cannot be under-estimated. It is required for building cells, repairing tissues and forming antibodies to combat bacteria and viruses. It is also part of the enzyme and hormonal systems, builds genetic codes, carries oxygen and is involved in muscle activity.

Research also indicates that protein may assist fat burning in your body via a number of mechanisms. It increases the thermic effect of food, which means the body has to expend more energy in order to digest and assimilate it. Protein also increases the sensation of fullness (satiety) following a meal. Furthermore, since protein supports the maintenance of our lean tissue sources (organs, muscles, etc.), it helps to keep our metabolism elevated.

Protein Shake

Since protein is so vitally important we must ensure we have an adequate amount of it each day and ideally, in all of our meals and snacks.

There are many different sources of protein and it is best to have a variety in your diet every day. Animal products are one of the best sources of protein because they supply all of the essential amino acids. These are known as 'complete' proteins. Examples of 'complete' protein sources include foods such as red meat, chicken, fish, eggs and dairy products. Combinations of 'incomplete' proteins from plants can provide all the essential amino acids as well.

Since some people may find it difficult to eat small, regular whole-food meals and snacks throughout the day, a protein shake becomes a good option for their mid-morning and mid-afternoon snacks. [Protein shakes aren't recommended for replacing main meals.]

The vast majority of protein shakes on the market contain whey protein, which comes from milk. Whilst whey protein is definitely beneficial due to its high proportion of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), leucine, isoleucine and valine, it may cause some health problems in susceptible people simply because it is derived from dairy.

Here are some of the problems caused by using a whey protein shake:

  • Digestive problems (bloating, cramps, gas, tiredness, weakness, fatigue, headaches, irritability, etc.)

  • Allergic responses

  • Various health problems associated with artificial sweeteners

  • Rapid absorption

  • Major cause of silent inflammation

  • Digestive problems (bloating, cramps, gas, tiredness, weakness, fatigue, headaches, irritability, etc.)

    Many whey protein shakes on the market contain whey protein concentrate (WPC). WPC tends to have various levels of lactose in it (depending on the manufacturing process used) and this may cause digestive problems for people who are lactose intolerant.

    Lactose intolerance is a fairly common condition with most people suffering from it to some extent. It is characterised by an inability of the body to produce sufficient lactase, the enzyme responsible for breaking down lactose into its individual sugars, glucose and galactose.

    The digestive problems associated with lactose intolerance may be overcome simply by using a more refined whey protein source like a whey protein isolate (WPI) or hydrolysed whey protein shake. Alternatively, lactose intolerance may be avoided by using another protein source like a pea protein or a rice protein powder or a combination of the two.

    Another possible cause of digestive problems in some people when they consume protein powders is artificial sweeteners. These include: aspartame, neotame, sucralose, saccharin, and acesulfame potassium. Most of the protein shakes on the market contain one or more artificial sweeteners. By selecting a protein shake that doesn't contain artificial sweeteners this potential cause of digestive problems can be avoided.

    Allergic responses

    A food allergy, also known as food hypersensitivity, is an abnormal response to a food triggered by the immune system. Symptoms can occur within minutes after consuming the problematic food (this is known as an anaphylactic reaction). Symptoms may include: tingling sensation in the mouth, swelling of the tongue and/ or throat, difficulty breathing, hives, vomiting, acne, abdominal cramps, diarrhoea, drop in blood pressure and a loss of consciousness. However, more commonly, an allergic reaction to a food occurs hours or even days after consumption and tends to result in symptoms of 'silent inflammation', which is discussed later in this article.

    Food allergies may result from a 'leaky gut', also known intestinal hyperpermeability. This is where a food intolerance or a parasitic infection results in damage to the intestinal wall, which leads to food particles entering the bloodstream. These food particles are then targeted (as antigens) by the immune system.

    The most common food allergens include: nuts, dairy foods (including whey), wheat, soy products, shellfish, corn, and eggs.

    The easiest way to avoid an allergic response resulting from whey protein powders is to use an alternative protein powder source like, a pea protein, a rice protein or a combination of the two sources of protein.

    Health problems associated with artificial sweeteners

    Even though human studies about the health problems associated with artificial sweeteners are inconclusive at this stage, animal studies and anecdotal evidence suggests that there are numerous problems associated with the consumption of artificial sweeteners.

    Here are some of the potential health problems associated with the consumption of artificial sweeteners:

  • Increased cancer risk

  • Negative effects on the kidneys, liver and other organs

  • Headaches

  • Gastrointestinal problems

  • Developmental problems in children

  • Increased appetite (which may lead to weight gain)

  • Stimulate insulin secretion (which may result in fat storage)
  • Therefore, it makes sense to use a protein shake that doesn't contain artificial sweeteners at all (and then perhaps add some raw honey or organic maple syrup to the protein shake when it is being prepared). Alternatively, use a protein powder that contains stevia (a natural sweetener) as the sweetener.

    Rapid absorption

    Whey protein is rapidly absorbed into the body, resulting in a large increase in amino acids in the bloodstream (aminoacidemia). This means that protein synthesis (tissue construction) also occurs rapidly after consumption but is short-lived. If protein synthesis doesn't occur for an extended period of time a negative nitrogen balance or catabolic state may result in the body, which is characterised by tissue breakdown.

    Furthermore, high levels of amino acids in the bloodstream (aminoacidemia) get broken down to toxic by-products, like ammonia, and then converted into non-toxic urea. However, it may put additional stress on the liver and kidneys in order to excrete it from the body.

    Aminoacidemia may be avoided by slowing down the absorption rate of the protein. An easy way to do this is by adding psyllium husks and/ or flax seed oil to the protein shake. Fat and/ or fibre has the effect of slowing down the absorption rate of the protein.

    Another alternative is to use a protein shake or powder that has a slower absorption rate. Pea and/ or rice protein sources have a slower absorption rate compared to whey.

    Major cause of silent inflammation

    Silent inflammation is a 'low-grade' inflammatory response in the body that doesn't necessarily cause pain but still causes similar inflammatory effects such as, redness, heat, and swelling. It is also associated with a high degree of oxidation in the body and may lead to a range of diseases including: heart disease, cancer, Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, depression, ulcers and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

    Some of the symptoms of silent inflammation include: lethargy, bloating, body aches, headaches, nausea, joint stiffness, weakness, mood problems, persistent coughing, general soreness, and skin conditions.

    Dietary factors are the major cause of silent inflammation and in particular, dairy foods and products containing gluten are the most common causes.

    Since whey comes from dairy it may cause some degree of silent inflammation in the body and therefore should be avoided if people experience the symptoms of silent inflammation.

    Why a combination of vegetable sources of protein is essential

    There are several reasons why using a combination of vegetable sources of protein is better than using individual vegetable-based protein sources.

    Firstly, rice protein is a commonly used vegetable-based protein powder but it has a gritty, chalky texture making it unpalatable for many people. Furthermore, it is low in lysine, one of the essential amino acids.

    Pea protein is a pleasant-tasting protein source but is low in the amino acids, methionine and cysteine.

    Therefore, a combination of pea and rice protein ensures a far more balanced amino acid profile, with pea providing high levels of lysine (which is low in rice protein) and rice protein providing high levels of methionine and cysteine (which is low in pea protein).

    Overall, an adequate protein intake is essential for good health and overall body functioning. Furthermore, using a protein shake offers a quick, easy and convenient way to consume additional protein in the diet. However, some people experience health problems associated with whey protein (the most common source of supplemental protein available today). Therefore, an alternative must be used.

    BCN's ProBlend is a high-quality vegetable-based protein containing a combination of pea protein and rice protein. It is a great alternative to whey protein. It is dairy-free, soy free, low in fat, low in carbohydrate, low allergenic, vegan- friendly, and does not contain any artificial sweeteners.

    It is available from health food stores and pharmacies everywhere.

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