Protein drinks can offer a convenient way to consume all or part of your daily protein requirement. Whether you choose ready-to-drink protein shakes or protein powder that you mix with another beverage, this protein source is easy to stash in your gym bag or purse for a meal replacement or an impromptu snack. However, protein drinks come with a number of potential hazards. As with any nutritional supplement, consult with a health care professional before adding them to your daily meal plan.
Your body requires a daily dose of dietary protein -- between 0.4 and 0.9 gram per pound of body weight, depending on your activity level -- for muscle growth and maintenance, hormone production, immune health and tissue repair. Because protein drinks contain high concentrations of this nutrient and because they are easy to consume, including protein drinks in your diet may cause you to take in more protein than your body needs. If you do not burn the extra protein as fuel, your body will convert it to fat -- leading to unwanted weight gain.
Protein drinks can cost significantly more money -- up to three times as much -- as whole-food sources of protein. Lean meats, fish, low-fat or nonfat milk products, eggs, whole grains, nuts, soy and other legumes can contribute protein to your diet at a lower cost than engineered protein supplements. If the protein drinks you consume add more protein to your diet than your body can assimilate and you burn the excess for energy, you are using an expensive fuel source. Carbohydrates are a cheaper alternative than protein for providing your body with calories to fuel your activities.
A risk of nutritional deficiencies is an additional hazard of protein drinks, particularly if you use them as meal replacements. Protein-rich whole foods incorporate additional nutrients along with protein, and these nutrients may be lacking in protein supplements. For example, a lean cut of beef steak offers iron, a salmon fillet provides heart-healthy fats, skim milk supplies bone-strengthening calcium and brown rice and beans add fiber to your diet. Relying on protein drinks for the bulk of your protein needs may deprive you of essential nutrients.
Toxins and Disease
An investigation reported in the July 2010 issue of “Consumer Reports” revealed that, of the 15 protein drinks tested, all had a minimum of one sample contaminated with toxic heavy metals. The magazine found lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium in the commercially manufactured protein drinks. These toxins can harm your internal organs and may be especially detrimental if you are pregnant or planning to become so. If protein drinks add more of this nutrient to your diet than your body requires, they also can lead to progression of existing kidney disease.
- Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service: Protein and the Body
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: International Society of Sports Nutrition Position Stand: Protein and Exercise
- Run Injury Free with Jeff Galloway/Tips from Nancy Clark: Protein Power: The Truth About Supplements
- Consumer Reports: Alert: Protein Drinks
- Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images