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Safety and Effectiveness of Protein Shakes & Healthy Alternatives

Hardcore bodybuilders aren’t the only ones reaching for protein supplements these days. Ordinary people looking to step up their gym workouts, recover from an injury, or just trying to sustain more energy throughout the day are trying a variety of powders, pills, and liquids that promise to synthesize bodily proteins and deliver amino acids where your body needs them most.

But how effective are these types of products in supplying your body with protein? Does your body need more protein than it’s getting from food? And are these products even safe?

What’s in Commercial Protein Supplements

Since workout supplements aren’t very closely regulated by the FDA, manufacturers can put a wide variety of ingredients in these products and market them as protein boosters. Some of the common ingredients you’ll find in these products include whey, casein, soy, egg, milk (goat or cow), wheat, beef, pea, hemp, and brown rice.

Photo credit: las - initially (Lori Semprevio) via Flickr

Photo credit: las – initially (Lori Semprevio) via Flickr

Protein supplements also come in few different forms. Isolates are pure protein sources, concentrates are less pure, hydrolysates are formulated for quicker absorption, and blends contain any combination of these sources. You’ve probably seen protein powders on the shelves of your market or health food store, but protein supplements also come in the form of ready-to-drink shakes and gels in fruity flavors.

Do You Need Protein Supplements?

The recommended daily intake of protein for adults is typically 0.75 g of protein/kilogram of body weight, which comes out to about 45 to 56 grams of protein a day. Most people get adequate protein from the food they eat, and pumping your body full of excess protein can actually be counterproductive and even harmful. Studies show that most Americans get twice the amount of protein they actually need in any given day, and any excess protein is stored as fat and can lead serious conditions like dehydration and osteoporosis.

Benefits, Risks & Effectiveness

It is safer for athletes to consume more protein since they are working their bodies harder than the average person. Vegans and other people who practice restricted diets may benefit from adding more protein to supplement their meals to make up for deficiencies. Prevention magazine offers some good advice about types of protein powders to try for certain needs and brand recommendations.

However, testing has shown that many protein supplements contain toxic heavy metals, such as arsenic, cadmium, lead, and mercury. One 2014 study published in Sports Medicine concluded that “…to date, when protein supplements are provided, acute changes in post-exercise protein synthesis and anabolic intracellular signaling have not resulted in measurable reductions in muscle damage and enhanced recovery of muscle function.”

Photo credit: East Midtown via Flickr

Photo credit: East Midtown via Flickr

How to Get More Protein from Natural Foods

As an alternative to questionable protein supplements, you can also try all-natural fruit and vegetable concentrates to make up for gaps in your diet. For example, these pure and healthy supplements allow you to enjoy the health benefits of organic carrots, broccoli, and artichoke without any of the prep time or taste.  Or try a supplement of marine protein capsules, concentrated from freeze-drying whole cooked fish, containing 600 mg protein/capsule along with omega-3s.


And last but certainly not least, these are some healthy and natural foods that are very high in protein that you should consider eating more of in your diet before turning to protein supplementation. Not only is it safer to get your protein from foods, but it’s also cheaper and more effective in your body.

  • Hemp seeds
  • Almonds
  • Chicken breast, white meat
  • Soy milk
  • Eggs
  • Fish, such as yellow fin tuna and halibut
  • Lentils
  • Beans
  • Peanut butter
  • Tofu
  • Greek yogurt
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