If you think about it, the shake is one of the longest running stars in the fitness industry. Often maligned and not considered as something that should be part of a serious fitness diet, it has taken its verbal lumps and never lost its appeal. In fact, it is going stronger than ever. Almost everyone involved in fitness has at some time used and even relied on the consumption of some form of nutrition based shake. As much as some will try to tell us that it’s never the best choice, the popularity of the shake remains as it stands tall, strong, and cold!
To be honest, there is nothing magical about a fitness shake. It is basically food in a liquid form. What makes it so popular is the versatility it can have and the ease in which it can be prepared and/or consumed. There is however a right way and a wrong way to use the simple shake as a tool that fits in with your nutrition program.
One of the most popular is of course the basic protein shake. This is a perfect way to add protein to your diet if you struggle to get enough. It can range from being almost all protein which keeps the calories low, to a nutrient enriched, medium calorie meal replacement shake, and even on up to a high-calorie protein, fat, and carb containing weight-gain drink. That sort of versatility is a big part of its popularity.
Shakes can be used as another option when eating solid food is a challenge like when you’re on the go, or simply find it difficult to consume all the calories you need daily via solid food. Or they can be used to target specific nutrients that you feel you’re are not getting enough of as with antioxidant rich, veggie based green drinks. A scoop of protein powder in a superfood juice blend can do the body a lot of good beyond just convenience.
Shakes are often used first thing in the morning as a quick meal to get out the door in time for work or the gym. They can be used post workout to target the specific nutritional needs that hard training can create. A shake can also be used as a regular meal to help you get all the calories you need without the digestion issues that trying to eat too much solid food can create. And shakes can be used as a controlled, low calorie meal substitute to keep you on track with your diet.
A bit of caution. While shakes can be consumed regularly, they still should not be seen as a substitute for whole foods in all situations. Try to cover as many of your nutritional needs as you can by consuming whole, solid foods. You can even use shakes as a portion of your meal like a straight protein shake with your oatmeal in the morning, or a nutritious green veggie smoothie with your wild caught salmon for dinner! Just a shake by itself, especially if it only contains protein powder and water, will often not supply enough calories to make up an entire meal. Pairing it with whole foods like nuts and/or fruit, or using a designated meal replacement shake which contains protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, vitamins and minerals, etc. is a good option.
Also, if you are dieting to lose weight, understand that it takes the body more calories to digest, absorb, and assimilate solid foods than it does to drink a shake, so eating food will fuel your metabolism to a greater degree. Generally speaking, try to imit your shakes to no more than 1-2 a day, and you should try to have at least twice as many servings of whole food as you do shakes (that’s 1 shake for every 3 meals). Although you can incorporate shakes even when you’re dieting, listen to your body and how it is or isn’t responding in order to see if it’s working for you. And remember, shakes can come in all sizes and varieties from very clean with no artificial colors, flavors, or sweeteners, to pretty heavily processed fast-food restaurant quality non-nutritious beverages. So do your homework and make sure you know exactly what’s in any powders or pre-mixed formulas you choose to use, or just make your own version using a high-quality clean protein powder and natural food ingredients like fruits, vegetables, yogurts, natural nut butters, etc.
The popularity of nutrition and protein shakes has stood the test of time and shakes remain a fitness industry staple. Used properly, these liquid meals can be a valuable tool due to their convenience, portability, and customization. Just be cautious not to get lazy or complacent in taking control of your overall nutrition program. Make sure to use them as a way to help keep your fitness diet on track, not take it in the wrong direction.