Shakes are no longer just for athletes. They have become a hugely popular, readily available and easy way to top up protein, total energy or to help us cut Calories. They appeal to the super busy because they "give you complete nutrition" in the 30 seconds it takes to make it and the 60 seconds to guzzle it down. They seem perfect for our super speedy, I want it now lifestyle but are they?
Whether it's a fitness or protein shake or a meal replacement, they vary greatly in content and quality. Of course it will depend on what you want help with that will determine whether they are a suitable option. Here's my quick guide to the pro's and cons of shakes.............
Without a doubt, if you are short on time and need something quick, a shake can be ideal. Quick and convenient, but so is blending up a banana with a glass of milk............
They can be expensive! The most pricey will boast a gluten free, dairy free, vegan and organic shake providing dozens of essential nutrients, perhaps digestive enzymes, individual amino acids and the most natural of ingredients. At the end of the day, they are highly processed products and you are paying for convenience (which I get can be priceless!) and the brand. Branched chain amino acids remain popular in fitness communities. These ARE expensive so until you address the other areas of your diet I doubt you'd benefit from their addition, that's if they even work!
You don't need to be good at math. Pre-calculated to give you everything you need in a single scoop means you know you are getting exactly what it says on the tin. IF you are counting your macros and Calories they might be for you but not if you are trying to avoid doing this!
On their own, meal replacement shakes do little to educate us about our eating habits. You may find it hard to get in your fibre and 5 a-day without careful planning and if you have them to help with weight loss, there's the risk of putting any weight you lost straight back on again once you stop using the products.
Liquid meals and snacks are often easy to get down. If you are not a breakfast person or you have a poor appetite (can be due to illness or age for example), a drink can be much more appealing and a great way to get in some decent nutrition.
Liquid meals may have a lower satiety factor. This means the feeling of fullness you get after eating. Relying on such shakes may mean you feel hungrier and eat more.
Balanced nutrition - often providing a good combination of vitamin and minerals. Handy IF you know your diet is lacking. But do you know if it is? They could be useful for vegetarians and vegans beginning their journey.
You often get what you pay for and from my experience, the cheaper the shake, the higher the sugar or sweetener content. It's interesting how many of the shakes are marketed as replacements for our favourite desserts and biscuits. From strawberry cheesecake, to Oreo, to chocolate peanut butter flavours. Some of these shakes may mess with your body and head.
Big hits of protein and sugars can play havoc with your microbiome. Older studies that looked a body builders and their bowel habits reported a much higher incidence of bloating, diarrhoea, constipation and other digestive problems when they regularly consumed a protein supplement. If you already have a sensitive gut, I'd recommend you stay clear until you find a way to settle it down.
Before you decide if they are an option for you, ask yourself these questions:
Do I want to learn about my body and understand how to better respond to my hunger and fullness cues? Yes? I would give them a miss. Keep them for 'emergencies'
Do I want to make changes for the long term? Yes? I would give them a miss - these probably won't help you set and establish new habits.
Am I doing the best that I can do with my current diet with the time I have? Yes, then these may help fill the gap you need.
Am I training for a competition or simply struggling to get my protein and energy in? Yes? They could be useful to ensure you meet your nutrient requirements.