Protein shakes are associated with meat heads, body builders and gym rats. You don't need to fall into any of those categories to drink or benefit from one. Protein shakes can help you gain muscle, increase your strength and get you into shape. In some cases, drinking a protein shake can even help you lose weight.
A protein shake is a drink that usually contains some form of sugar and protein. It's taken directly after a workout to give your body the nutrients it needs to quickly recover. When you workout, whether it's cardio or weight lifting, you're causing small amounts of damage to your muscle tissue. The body can repair this damage but it needs the proper tools.
Repair Muscle Damage
The "tools" your body needs to repair damaged muscle tissue is mainly protein. Protein is used as a building block for muscle tissue. If your body doesn't have access to protein, it won't be able to effectively repair damaged muscle tissue and instead of getting stronger, you'll get weaker. If protein can be described as the building material, carbohydrates are the workmen that put everything together.
Your body needs carbs for energy to be able to fix damaged muscle. When you're fixing a hole in your wall, you can't just put the container of materials next to the hole and hope it works out. You have to work those materials into the wall which burns energy.
After a workout, your body is low on these nutrients, particularly carbohydrates. Carbs are the body's main source of energy and just as after a long trip your car would be low in fuel, after a workout, your body is low in energy because you've burned a lot of it off. Carbs are stored in muscle tissue, the liver and blood. When you exercise, these stores are drawn down.
After exercise, your body's number one priority is to replenish these stores. At that point, it isn't very concerned about muscle damage. If your body doesn't get the energy it needs to replenish those stores, it will begin breaking down muscle tissue (which is made of protein) in order to make carbohydrates. Your body is so serious about "refueling" that it's willing to break apart muscle tissue for energy.
A protein shake is a quick way of getting your body the energy it needs so it can concentrate on rebuilding muscle damage. A shake that is made from whey protein and contains simple sugars will be digested and absorbed very quickly. This fast absorption will allow your body to quickly begin using the nutrients to recover. A shake is better than food because whole foods takes a lot longer to digest.
If you're looking to gain weight, you can add more than just protein powder. Bananas, honey, ice cream, milk and fruit are all good ingredients. If you want to lose weight, a good post workout shake should be made out of the bare minimums to conserve calories: protein powder and milk.
A protein shake will help you gain muscle. If you're trying to lose weight, you may think this would move you in the wrong direction. If you think you don't need to gain any muscle, you're wrong. Muscle is much more metabolically active than fat meaning it burns calories just for being there. Even when you're sitting on a sofa watching TV, muscle tissue is constantly burning calories. The more you have, the more calories you'll burn throughout the day to keep your muscle tissue alive. By building more muscle, you're speeding up your metabolism and by extension, the rate at which you lose weight.
The Bottom Line
Though some people think that the more protein you take in the more muscle you'll gain, protein is just like any other type of calorie. If you eat too much of it, your body will store it as fat. Drinking two or even three protein shakes per day might seem like a good idea to increase muscle mass but if you aren't working out really hard, you don't need that much protein and will probably end up gaining fat instead of muscle. One protein shake after a workout is enough for most people but for those with a very hard time gaining weight, more than one is an easy way to increase calories.