What is it about health shakes that feels so…well, healthy?
There’s something that just feels right when you sip a protein shake after a tough workout or blend a few fruits and veggies into a quick smoothie. Not to mention it’s almost impossible to get in or out of any gym without first passing some kind of smoothie bar.
If you read the advertisements for these products you’ll see some impressive claims.
Here are some of the most common ones:
Sounds pretty great, right?
If you are currently drinking green smoothies or protein shakes to help improve your health and/or performance, keep reading. This article will shed some light on some common misconceptions regarding these drinks and will give you some guidance on whether you actually need them in the first place.
To get started, let’s take a critical look at the above-mentioned health claims individually.
Promotes Fat Burning and Weight Loss
Think about this one logically…you’re consuming food in order to “burn fat.”
Does that make sense?
Remember, whether or not you’re burning fat depends almost entirely upon your energy balance (the number of calories you consume versus the number you burn).
And unfortunately, liquid calories still count!
If you simply add health shakes into your diet without changing anything else, you’ll actually start gaining weight!
It’s true that your body has to expend energy in order to process the food that you eat—this is called the Thermic Effect of Food (TEF).
It’s also true that some foods will burn slightly more calories than others—with protein being the most significant example.
Here’s the rub though: You are still consuming calories! The additional calories burned from the TEF are not enough to “cancel out” the total amount of calories from the food itself.
The diet industry loves to point out certain foods/spices/stimulants that boost your metabolism.
Things like coconut oil, green tea, or chili pepper…
This is because it’s easy to pull up a study that shows they do have an effect on your metabolism.
What they don’t tell you is that in order to get the full benefit you almost always have to supplement with a fairly large dose. In the end, the amount of extra calories you burn from the boost in your metabolism is pretty small and is not worth the effort.
To burn fat you need to learn how to make moderate reductions in your overall calorie intake and stay active.
Trying to “hack” your diet in order to trick your body into burning fat is putting the cart waaaay before the horse.
Health shakes will not automatically help you lose weight. Just like any other type of food, they contain calories which need to be accounted for. If you want to use them in order to lose weight, you need to replace a higher calorie meal with a shake instead.
Advocates of green smoothies will say that their smoothies promote satiety because of the high water content and the fact that you’re getting fiber from the fruits and veggies.
Advocates of protein shakes will point to their protein content as an effective appetite suppressor.
And guess what?
Protein, fiber, and foods with high water content are good for promoting satiety!
The question is…
Are protein shakes and/or green smoothies more filling than eating a normal, whole foods meal or snack?
In most cases, I would say no.
Obviously if you replace a highly processed, low nutrient food like gummi worms with a green smoothie, you’re going to feel fuller, longer.
But if you simply ate each ingredient in your green smoothie in its whole food form and then drank a glass of water, there’s a good chance you’d feel even fuller and more satisfied.
Likewise, a chicken breast is going to fill you up more than drinking a protein shake would.
As I mentioned above, in order to lose weight using a health shake, you need to swap out a higher calorie meal or snack and have the shake instead.
If hunger is a big issue for you and you find that drinking a shake isn’t filling enough, then you’re better off eating a whole food meal that has similar nutrients.
Health Shakes can be filling in comparison to some foods, but are usually not as filling as eating a whole food meal with a similar nutrient profile.
I’ll keep this one short.
“Toxin” is just a buzzword that people use to try to scare you into buying their ultra detox cleansing kit or whatever other product they happen to be selling.
Most people feel guilty about the foods they eat; so when they hear the word toxin, they attach all of the negative feelings about their diet to this idea that they are full of toxins that must be purged.
You have a kidney and liver for that!
And they do their job just fine.
This article explains the whole detox scam in greater detail in case you're interested.
“Detoxifying” is just a buzzword used to play on your emotions. You don’t need to worry about toxins, just focus on getting to a healthy body weight, eating a variety of nutrient dense foods, and staying active.
Promotes Muscle Growth/Recovery
This claim is generally made in regards to protein shakes. Like most of the other claims on this list, there is some truth to it given the proper context.
If you aren’t getting enough protein in your diet and you’re resistance training, then the additional protein you’d get from drinking a protein shake could help you build muscle.
Or you could just eat more protein…
There is nothing particularly special about the protein in protein shakes; it just happens to be a convenient way to increase your protein intake.
You do not need to worry about getting fast absorbing whey protein isolate or a slower absorbing casein.
Nor do you need to worry about getting protein within a rigid “30 minute window” after exercise to promote recovery and optimal partitioning of the nutrients.
As I mentioned in Flexible Dieting Part 2, the latest research suggests that the “anabolic window” is much bigger than previously thought.
As long as you have a protein containing meal roughly 1-2 hours before and after training, you’ve taken all the steps necessary to cover any theoretical timing benefits.
In terms of recovery, you generally want to make sure you consume some carbs in the meals following an intense training bout. This will refill your muscles glycogen stores and ensure that you are ready for your next training session.
Whether or not you need “fast absorbing” carbs such as simple sugars really depends on how close in proximity your next training session is. If you’re not training until the next day, just eating a normal amount of carbs in your meals following your workout will be enough for recovery.
If you’re doing multiple, intense training bouts in a day, then you’ll want to have some simple sugars following your workout to maximize the rate of glycogen replenishment. This can come in the form of a shake or food, whatever you prefer.
Protein and carbohydrate intake can affect muscle growth and recovery but only in certain contexts and they do not need to come in the form of a shake. Furthermore, worrying about whether you need to have a shake right after working out is not necessary in most cases.
So…Should you Drink Health Shakes?
As usual the answer is…it depends.
It may seem like I’m against green smoothies and protein shakes in this article.
If I happen to be dieting I generally don't drink my calories because I prefer to fill up on food.
But for much of the year I have a green smoothie nearly every day...
I also have a protein shake probably 3-4 times per week.
Here are my personal reasons for drinking shakes:
So, if you're considering whether you should keep drinking health shakes or wondering if you’re missing out by not having them, ask yourself the following questions:
There are reasons both for and against drinking health shakes. Whether or not you include them in your diet will depend on your own personal preferences and goals.
My question for you is…
Do you personally drink health shakes? Why or why not? Any good recipes?
Let’s get a discussion going in the comment section below!