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Protein Shakes Exposed: Is Your Daily Drink Delivering the Wrong Kind of Gains?

The protein industry has a dirty secret – they sell fast, they taste good and they keep people coming back for more. But are protein shakes the healthy go-to for gains or merely your future energy slump in a bottle? Let's sift through the pitfalls and blend up the truth the most popular brands would rather you didn't know.

Protein shakes have long been touted as a convenient and effective way to boost muscle growth, support weight loss, replenish your energy after a workout and even to get a pick-me-up between meals. But despite their popularity, protein shakes may not be as beneficial as they're made out to be. In fact, there are several reasons why protein shakes may do more harm than good, despite being one of the poster children for the protein industry – but it’s time to shake up (pun intended!) the myths that shroud this industry and lead unsuspecting fitness fanatics down the wrong track – and right off the gains train!

But first, what makes a protein shake a protein shake? At its core, it’s a beverage made by blending together protein-rich ingredients with liquid, typically water, milk, or a dairy-free alternative like almond milk or coconut milk. The primary purpose of a protein shake is to provide a concentrated source of protein, making it easier for people to meet their daily protein needs, especially for those with active lifestyles or specific fitness goals.

Common Ingredients in Protein Shakes

Protein Powder: The cornerstone of any protein shake, protein powder is a concentrated source of protein derived from various sources, including whey, casein, soy, pea, hemp, and rice. Whey and casein protein powders are derived from milk and are rich in essential amino acids, making them popular choices for muscle growth and recovery. Plant-based protein powders like pea, hemp, and rice protein are suitable alternatives for those with dairy allergies or dietary preferences.

Liquid Base: To create the desired consistency and texture, protein shakes typically include a liquid base, such as water, milk, or a dairy-free alternative - this is probably the least concerning ingredient, though some milk varieties can contain a dose of preservatives and even added sugars. 

Sweeteners: Many protein shakes contain added sweeteners to enhance flavor and palatability. Common sweeteners include sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners like sucralose or aspartame, and natural sweeteners like stevia or monk fruit extract. It's important to be mindful of added sugars, as excessive consumption can contribute to weight gain and other health issues.

Flavourings and Additives: Protein shakes may also contain flavourings and additives to enhance taste and texture. These may include cocoa powder, vanilla extract, fruit extracts, and artificial flavours. Additionally, protein shakes may contain thickeners, stabilisers, and emulsifiers to improve consistency and shelf life.

Here’s why these shakes could be causing more problems than they fix (and, spoiler alert, they don’t fix much!):

Excess Protein

It's true that protein is essential for muscle repair and growth, but like any nutrient, it's possible to have too much of a good thing. Excessive protein consumption can strain the kidneys, leading to kidney damage or dysfunction over time. Moreover, consuming more protein than your body needs can also lead to weight gain, as excess protein is converted into fat and stored in the body. So, it's important to strike a balance and ensure you're getting enough protein without overdoing it - if you're already getting enough protein in your diet, you might consider making use of ingredients naturally rich in protein like yoghurt or cottage cheese in a homemade 'protein' shake. Remember, adult women require around 0.75 g per kilogram of body weight per day, while adult men require around 0.84 g per kilogram of body weight and people who are pregnant, breastfeeding or over 70 years old require 1g per kilogram of body weight, though these numbers can vary depending on your individual needs. Most experts say as low as 2 g of protein per kg of body weight a day can be all it takes to start seeing problems, the exception being elite athletes. So, it's not as hard as you might think to overdo it. 

Hidden Sugars

Many commercially available protein shakes are loaded with added sugars to enhance flavour and palatability. While these sugars may make the shakes taste better, they can wreak havoc on your blood sugar levels. Spikes in blood sugar can lead to energy crashes, making it harder to stay active and focused throughout the day. Additionally, excessive sugar consumption has been linked to weight gain, insulin resistance, and an increased risk of chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Therefore, it's crucial to opt for protein shakes with minimal added sugars or better yet, make your own at home using natural sweeteners like fruit or stevia.

Hidden Culprits

Many protein shakes contain preservatives, artificial colours, and other additives to prolong shelf life and enhance appearance. However, these additives can have detrimental effects on your health. Preservatives like sodium benzoate and artificial colours like FD&C Red No. 40 have been linked to inflammation, digestive issues, and hormone imbalances. Moreover, some studies suggest that these additives may increase the risk of certain cancers and other chronic diseases. To avoid these hidden culprits, opt for protein shakes made with natural, whole-food ingredients and free from artificial additives. 

Digestive Distress

While protein shakes may provide a quick and easy source of protein, they can also wreak havoc on your digestive system. Many protein shakes contain whey or casein protein, both of which can be difficult for some individuals to digest. This can lead to bloating, gas, and discomfort, especially for those with lactose intolerance or sensitivity to dairy products. Moreover, some protein shakes may contain artificial sweeteners like sucralose or sugar alcohols like xylitol, which can further exacerbate digestive issues. To support optimal gut health, consider opting for protein sources that are easier on the stomach, such as plant-based proteins like pea, hemp, or rice protein.

Nutrient Deficiencies

While protein shakes may provide a concentrated source of protein, they often lack the essential vitamins, minerals, and micronutrients found in whole foods. Relying too heavily on protein shakes as a primary source of nutrition can result in nutrient deficiencies over time, as you may be missing out on key nutrients that are vital for overall health and well-being. Additionally, many protein shakes are fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals, which may not be as readily absorbed or utilised by the body compared to nutrients found naturally in whole foods. To ensure you're meeting your nutritional needs, prioritise a balanced diet that includes a variety of whole, nutrient-dense foods.

Financial Drain

While protein shakes may offer convenience and portability, they can also come with a hefty price tag. Purchasing pre-made protein shakes or protein powder can quickly add up, especially if you're consuming them regularly as part of your daily routine. Moreover, the cost of protein shakes may be significantly higher than that of whole-food protein sources like chicken, eggs, or beans. By relying less on protein shakes and more on whole foods, you can save money and invest in nutrient-rich foods that offer greater overall health benefits.

What to Do Instead

In a world where convenience often trumps quality, it's no surprise that many turn to pre-packaged protein shakes as a quick fix for their protein needs. However, these ultra-processed options often come loaded with artificial ingredients, added sugars, and questionable additives. But fear not, for there is a better way! By crafting your own protein shakes at home, you can take control of your nutrition and create delicious, nutrient-dense beverages that support your health and vitality.  

Why Make Your Own Protein Shake?

While store-bought protein shakes may seem like a convenient way to boost your protein intake, excessive protein consumption, hidden sugars, and artificial additives can all have negative effects on your health. Instead, focus on getting protein from whole-food sources like lean meats, fish, eggs, dairy, legumes, nuts, and seeds. By prioritising whole, nutrient-dense foods, you can support your health and fitness goals without relying on processed protein shakes.

We also recommend putting your apron on making your own protein shake so you have complete control over the ingredients, allowing you to prioritise whole, nutrient-dense foods and avoid harmful additives and preservatives. Homemade protein shakes are also customisable, allowing you to tailor them to your taste preferences and nutritional needs. Additionally, making your own protein shakes can save you money in the long run, as you won't be shelling out cash for expensive pre-packaged options. 

Recipe: Nutrient-Packed Green Protein Smoothie


  • 1 cup spinach (fresh or frozen)
  • 1/2 ripe banana
  • 1/4 cup Greek yoghurt (plain, unsweetened)
  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder (high-quality, added sugar free)
  • 1 tablespoon almond butter (unsweetened)
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Ice cubes (optional, for desired consistency)


  1. Add spinach, banana, Greek yoghurt, protein powder, almond butter, almond milk, and cinnamon to a blender.
  2. Blend on high until smooth and creamy, adding ice cubes if desired for a thicker consistency.
  3. Pour into a glass and enjoy immediately as a satisfying breakfast or post-workout refuel.

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