Friday 20 February 2015

Road to Workout - 8: Protein, Supplements & Diet Shakes

   There are all kinds of weight loss and fitness products on the market, and in this post I'm going to go over supplements, diet shakes and protein shakes - what they are, how they work, whether or not you really need them, and what to keep in mind if you decide to try any.


Above: active joint care, CLA, BCAA, thermogens, Vitamin D3
   You must be aware of all of the weight loss and fitness products on the market - supplements and superfoods in particular. Now, it's important for you to realise this right away: most of them don't work, and if they do, they certainly don't do so on their own.
   Most of them will tell you to take their supplements as part of a balanced diet, and this is because they're designed to work on a healthy individual with a body which is working properly. If you eat lots of sugar, fat and takeaway meals, then the supplement simply won't work. They're not designed to counter an unhealthy lifestyle, so unless you make a change in your diet and exercise routine, they won't work. They're an aid, not a solution. You have to help them to help you. The same goes for basic 'superfoods' - sprinkling a super fruit over a chocolate cake won't make a blind bit of difference, and gorging yourself on the fruit instead won't, either, as fruit has a lot of natural sugar - simply put, eating 'too much' of anything is bad, hence the use of the phrase 'too much'.
   It also has to be said that companies are out to make money, and some of them don't care if their products don't work. 'Every body is different' is a very true statement. A supplement/diet/workout might work perfectly for Person 1, but it's very possible that it won't work at all for Person 2, even if they eat and exercise in exactly the same way. But the trouble is that some companies will use this as an excuse to sell a product that genuinely doesn't work.
   So what should you do? Well, first, I'd suggest not bothering with supplements. Eating right and exercising is the only guaranteed method of weight loss. However, I can appreciate that many of you will be curious about some supplements and I don't want to put you off. I've tried some - hell, there are some I still take, but whether or not they work, I just don't know. They make me work harder because I want them to work, so, at the very least, they're an encouragement and a placebo (you think they work, so they 'do').
   If you really want to try something:
1) Be sure to read up on it first - the good and the bad. Side effects are often things that companies and ambassadors won't let you know. A few of them will, however, and if a company freely gives information about a laxative effect or something similar, they're probably more trustworthy than those that sell similar products and try to hide it.
2) Don't expect the product to work. Keep exercising and keep eating right while taking it, don't suddenly rely entirely upon it. Taking or not taking a supplement won't cause you to lose or gain weight on its own, but exercising and healthy eating will cause you to lose weight, with or without the supplement, and that's simply a fact which is well worth keeping in mind. They're simply not a necessity to get slim, fit or healthy, but they can help if you work with them rather than against them.
3) Don't buy cheap rubbish, and don't buy overpriced nonsense. Go for something in the middle ground. You want to be paying for quality ingredients, not a brand name. Find a reliable brand with great reviews on their website and off of it, and try to stick with it. Don't buy the cheapest option of protein, for example, 'just to try it'. Buy quality or buy nothing.

Post-Workout & Proteins

   There are products like whey protein and such things that work in a very simple way: protein is basically the building blocks of muscle, and so a protein shake after a workout, especially strength training, can help to repair the muscles more effectively, speed recovery time and subsequently allow you to work out more effectively the next day. Now, the reason I've brought this up is because whether or not post-workout protein is necessary depends on the workout and your goals. Protein shakes should only really be taken if you've done at least 30 minutes of solid, well-performed (meaning using good weights, good form and preferrably most of your body in every move, like a kettlebell swing or windmill) strength/body weight/interval training, and/or if you're aiming to compete in a sport which will require a lot of training. If all you've done is dance, it's not worthwhile, as dancing doesn't put your muscles through the same strain and having a protein shake after such a workout would just be unnecessary calories. All you'd need after a dance workout is a drink of water and perhaps a chicken sandwich (solid alternative to post-workout shakes as it contains good protein and carbs, but it releases these nutrients slower).
   For 3 days a week I do around 35-60 minutes of high intensity resistance training and cardio in the morning, and the remaining 2 of the 5 days a week I workout I trade in resistance training with weights for body weight instead with ashtanga yoga. These are the kinds of workouts that warrant a post-workout shake, usually containing 25g of protein per serving, but many contain other ingredients which help recovery. I also aim, personally, to improve my strength as well as lose fat (note: this does not mean I'm striving to be a body builder or lift a fridge over my head, and improving strength does not equate to muscle size despite popular belief). As I mentioned in the 6th post of this series, 'The Importance of Strength Training', using weights doesn't make you big and muscly, and neither do post-workout/protein shakes. Above all else, it's massive amounts of dedication specifically towards the goal of building muscle which causes it, along with a lot of protein. A post-workout shake after a standard strength workout even with 12lb/6kg dumbbells won't do that, especially for women, who produce only 10% of the testosterone that men do - meaning we don't produce enough of it to build massive amounts of muscle like men do naturally. If this is the reason you avoid strength training, you're both highly mistaken, and missing out.
   Simply put: protein shakes don't make you muscular, but they do help the recovery of your body after such activity by repairing the tears that form in your muscles from resistance training. They also provide carbohydrates which will replenish your energy levels. The difference between a protein shake and a chicken sandwhich is ultimately the rate at which it's absorbed into your body. Shakes provide faster absorption because they need little digesting, but that also means they're not as filling.

Diet Shakes & Meal Replacements

   Diet and meal replacement shakes are often sold by nutrition companies, and I think it's important to note right off the bat that these aren't what you might be expecting. Diet shakes and meal replacement shakes are pretty much the same thing, and all consist of the same kind of thing wherever you get them from - of course the quality differs from brand to brand.
   These shakes and bars usually consist of about 200 calories per serving and are loaded with 30% of your RDA of a range of vitamins and minerals. They can help you to lose weight by replacing one or two meals a day with these low-calorie options because you're obviously taking in a lot less fat and junk while getting more vitamins and minerals at the same time, both in percentage and range, than you would have from a normal lunch or dinner, and that's a really good thing.
   However, then you have to keep in mind that calories don't equate to fat; calories are energy, and if you work out, then having a 300 calorie breakfast, a 200 calorie lunch shake and a 200 calorie dinner shake, you're not getting anywhere near what you need to get through the day, let alone do an effective workout. As such, you may well need to snack, and you have to make sure you make the right decisions there. Having a meal replacement shake for lunch and dinner and then eating biscuits and crisps in between negates the benefits, so you need to fill in the lost calories with other good foods, as the calories are needed to get you through your workout and your day, while keeping your body working just right throughout. You don't want to be hungry, that's not a good thing.

   The purpose of diet shakes and meal replacements are actually to ensure you get a good amount of vitamins and minerals while fitting in with whatever kind of diet you're on, whether it's calorie-controlled or something else. The high amount of vitamins and minerals help your body to work properly, as many people may cut out food that they actually need, causing them to lose out on some of the necessary nutrients in favour of eating less.
   Diet shakes rarely ever have bad side effects, and if they're used alongside - you guessed it - a healthy diet and good exercise, they can really help weight loss. But, as I mentioned in the Supplements section, you have to help them to help you, and you can't rely entirely upon them, either. After all, every body is different.
   Just as with protein shakes, meal replacement shakes also come in several flavours - most basically chocolate, vanilla and strawberry. Some brands will juice up the names to make them sounds more luxurious, like chocolate cookie instead of just chocolate, but they taste similar at the end of the day. Of course, a chocolate diet shake and a chocolate protein shake will taste different from one another, too, as they contain different ingredients. Quality of taste varies from brand to brand, and it sort of goes without saying that you want it to taste good. If it tastes bad you may end up eating something sweet later on if just because you weren't satisfied or you've got a bad taste in your mouth. Cheaper brands often taste worse, while more expensive brands can be both more delicious and creamier. It's something that comes down to trying different brands, of course, and, on a side note, I'm putting together a diet shake comparison post in the next few months with just that information, since they all contain more or less the same thing.
   If you're trying to save money - and if you're new to this, it's something I can really appreciate - you're better off just buying a sample size of a quality product rather than something cheap with poor sources. For example, Real Nutrition Co, a very reliable brand, have 5-serving jars of Whey Protein Deluxe, and PHD Woman sell individual sachets of both their diet shakes and post-workout recovery shakes.

Fat Binders

   These are not supplements, but I wanted to have a word about these in particular. I've never tried them, and I don't intend to.
   They have mixed reviews from users and I think, ultimately, it's because a lot of people don't understand them. Fat binders are supposed to bind dietary fat. This does not mean the fat which is already on your body, it means the fat in the foods you're eating. The fat which is already on your body has to be burned off with exercise and healthy choices. The fat binder simply takes care of the additional fat you're consuming.
   Fat binders take some of the fat you've consumed (note that it's specifically fat, not sugar or excessive calories) and clump it together, making it too thick to pass through the walls of your intestines, meaning it doesn't get absorbed into the blood stream and deposited all around. Instead, you simply poop it out. It goes without saying that you're likely to get clogged up if you don't drink enough water, eat enough fibre and keep eating fatty foods.
   However, there are a number of different types of fat: saturated, polyunsaturated, mono-unsaturated and omega-3. Saturated fat is the closest to 'unhealthy' on this list, but it's only unhealthy when too much is consumed. So if a fat binder could target only saturated fat then it wouldn't be so bad. The trouble is that fat binders don't target just one type of dietary fat, they target all of them, and the reason this is an issue is because your body needs fats, even if you're trying to lose weight. Certain fats are responsible for the production of certain hormones and bodily processes, and without that fat - pretty much all of those listed above, though saturated not so much - your body is going to suffer. If your body isn't performing properly, the hormonal levels aren't what they should be and it's not getting enough nutrients, you're going to suffer. If you're trying to lose weight, you need fats. If you're trying to stay healthy, you need fats. If you're athletic or lazy, you need fats. In short, it doesn't matter who you are, you need the healthy fats (mono-unsaturated, polyunsaturated, omega-3).
   Fat binders don't take healthy fats into account and will instead bind most of the fats you consume - the good ones and the bad ones - and that's not good for your body. There is a reason that on food packets it says "fats; of which saturated" - it's because it's the saturated fat you need to keep an eye on, and it's easier to list just the saturated fat than it is the rest. Suffice it to say that if 100g of Californian walnuts have 69g of fat, but only 2.5g of that is saturated, it's pretty clear that walnuts are full of good fats. And indeed they are.
   But fats are still fats, and you don't want to exceed about 45g of fat a day, all fat types inclusive. If something is heavy in good fats, great, but don't overdo it. You also don't want to choose low- or 0% fat foods that have been processed to have all fats removed to make it seem 'healthier' or simply as a way to alter a cooking ingredient.
   In short, fat binders don't take fat type into account and instead will bind any type of fat, even the many good ones your body needs. Just avoid them.


   The definition of 'supplement' is 'a thing added to improve or complete something', not 'something to replace something', and you should always keep that in mind when using them. If ever something tells you that it can help you to lose weight all by itself, don't trust it. If something says it can help you to lose weight when used alongside a proper diet and exercise regime, it's a lot more likely to be effective if you help it along.
   Fat binders clump fat you've just eaten together, but they bind all fat types including the many good fats your body needs which will starve you of needed nutrients. Fat binders do not bind body fat, meaning it doesn't affect the fat already on the body.
   Diet shakes are a replacement, but only to a certain degree. They're still not a substitute for a balanced diet and active life style. Expecting your body to change with the shakes alone will lead to frustration and disappointment.
   Protein is key in aiding muscular recovery especially after a strength-focused workout, as such activity puts great strain upon the muscles. However, if all you do is dance and yoga and/or work out every other day, protein shakes aren't something for you. They're intended for individuals who do intense workouts on consecutive days and/or have goals of gaining more muscle definition or more muscle mass. If all you seek is to lose weight, not become leaner and more defined, protein shakes shouldn't be on your shopping list.

   In the end, these kinds of products and eating habits rely on you doing the right amount of the right work to be of any use; 20 minutes of dance every other day doesn't warrant a protein shake or a scrummy chicken sandwich, for example, whereas 45 minutes of strength training every other day does.
   If you decide at any point to try a food supplement, always read the instructions. They're all perfectly safe and all perfectly legal within the sporting world, too, but if you don't read the instructions you could well cancel out the benefits without realising it, or take too much or too little at the wrong time of the day. Some supplements like thermogens are designed to be taken before a workout, wheras supplements like BCAAs are designed to be taken after. If it tells you to avoid certain foods (rare, but when it does it's usually just sugar), avoid them, but if the list is a very long one, the product you're looking at is probably not going to work anyway.
   And remember, there is no substitute for a healthy diet and active lifestyle if you want to lose weight. It's the only thing which is guaranteed to work, and while you might well be looking for fast results without putting in too much effort, remember that these fixes either don't work, or are extremely dangerous. Plus, if you're obese, losing weight too quickly will result in excess skin as your body's not had the chance to keep up with the weight loss, and that's going to be just as confidence-crushing as fat, if not more so.

Next Up: TBA

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