Question of the Day: Protein Drinks

Today’s Question is from Sarah:

"I would also like to get your opinion on protein drinks.  What do you think of them?  Do you recommend them or suggest staying away from them?  I have heard lots of people talking about them, and one even came with my workout program (which I have been taking), but I’m not sure if it’s the best thing to do.  Any suggestions?"

Oy! Protein Drinks! Let’s start with some definitions. Supplements are a multi-billion dollar industry. There are lots of "fitness" foods out there: Protein Drinks, Energy Drinks, Meal Replacement Powders (MRPs), Meal Replacement Drinks (MRDs), Protein Bars, Energy Bars, and Meal Replacement Bars.

  • Meal replacements are designed to replace a complete meal, and therefore have a nutrient formula similar to what that manufacturer believes should be the nutrient breakdown of a meal. It will have an adequate supply of protein, carbohydrates, and fats. These are usually mid range in the calorie arena, around 250 to 300 calories.
  • Energy bars & drinks are designed to boost energy after consumption. These may have stimulants, such as caffeine, or other supportive nutrients, such as ginseng and white tea. They may pack an initial punch with just sugar, or they may go for sustained energy through an array of carbohydrates.
  • Protein bars & drinks is a supplement for adding extra protein to the diet. These are great for a quick protein fix.

Okay – so, I’m a nutritionist. I would like to believe that everyone can get the nutrients that they need from the foods that they eat & that no one needs supplementation. That said, I would be a hypocrite if I said that I had never ate or drank one of the ready made supplements. I used to, but I typically don’t anymore. Here’s why:

  1. They’re processed foods disguised as Health supplements: Look at the ingredient list on a bar or drink – there’s a lot of sugar & other chemicals listed there. It’s amazing! And it kills me that people who spend so much time at the gym & buying organic foods would look the other way when it comes to slurping down a bunch of chemicals just because it’s marketed as being "good for you". In fact, many energy and protein bars are glorified candy bars. Read the labels – just like you would with products at the grocery store.
  2. They don’t really taste good to me: If I eat a bar, then that means that I have fewer calories to eat something that I really enjoy. Some bars and drinks are tastier than others (BE AWARE that the better they taste, more than likely, the more sugar and chemicals they contain), but why waste time, money and calories on something that I don’t love?
  3. I like to eat my calories: I really like to eat. I plan my meals & get excited to eat the foods that I’ve prepared. Eating isn’t a chore for me; it’s a luxury. For that reason, I don’t have problems with getting enough calories into my diet. I have problems limiting the number of calories that I consume. Bars and drinks can contain quite a few calories. If I’m using up calories on that bar or drink, then I have to cut something else from my diet later in the day (that I probably would enjoy more).
  4. They’re not sustainable: When I reflect on my health habits, whether it’s something that I eat, drink, or do, I ask myself "Is this habit sustainable?" Meaning, do I see myself doing this habit when I’m 60? Granted, there may be some things that we do to get ourselves to a certain goal (like working out 2x a day or limiting sweets, alcohol or calories), but being aware that this is just a temporary situation & not a long term solution needs to be acknowledged.

Bars and drinks are fine in a pinch – if you don’t have time to eat, or if you’re hungry & the choice is a Cliff Bar or a Snickers bar – but I don’t plan them into my diet. If you want more protein in your diet, plan your meals around lean protein sources (chicken and turkey breast, pork loin, lean red meat, soy, egg whites, and reduced fat dairy).


Other articles I’ve written on supplementation