One of the most frequently asked questions we get is about our opinion on liquid calories, i.e. Protein Shakes and Smoothies. I am going to look at this from strictly a body composition stand point, because covering every side of this topic would take way to long for one blog post. Now for some this may be an ok choice to add to your daily dietary regime, however I am going to look at this from strictly a body composition stand point, which means that its not an ok choice for body comp. goals. I am looking at it from only one perspective because covering every side of this topic would take way to long for one blog post. Sometimes what we recommend for a daily protein intake can seem slightly impossible to some people, especially for those who are recovering vegetarians. So inevitably we get asked, “Can’t I just drink protein shakes to get all the protein I need in a day?”, and our answer in almost always “No”. People also have a tendency to overeat on fruit and other carb dense foods, so the questions of, “I’m really not hungry in the morning, can’t I just drink a homemade fruit smoothie?” also receives a resounding “NO!” Let’s discuss why we are so adamant about getting real foods into your system over liquid calories, starting with the easiest one to explain the down sides, Smoothies.
There are a few things that are wrong with downing a big glass of puréed fruits, but let’s just take a look at some of the simpler reasons why this can act against a lot of people goals. The biggest one for me is that it’s a lot easier to slurp down to many carbs from fruit than it is to actually eat it. Think about it, some smoothies claim to have 5-6 servings of fruit in a 6oz bottle. I’ve listened as people have told me what they put in their smoothies, like a whole banana, a cup of blueberries, ½ a cup of strawberries, and some juice. When I ask them if they could/would eat that much fruit in one sitting without turning it into juice, the answer I almost always get is No they wouldn’t/couldn’t. So the problem is it makes it a hell of a lot easier to over indulge in fruit (something which I am under the opinion one should eat in a limited fashion and used as a desert), and overindulge in fructose and send your whole system from your taste buds to your liver into a really bad situation. And we can argue all day on whether the heat that the blender gives off when you’re and making your smoothie breaks down the sugars and allows for a greater insulin response, and if that is really something we should worry about or if we are just getting to neurotic about the foods we eat. I am off the opinion that all liquid calories create a greater insulin response when consumed.
Now I know that there are some studies that show that protein shakes can help people lose weight if used as a meal replacement. This can be a very valid statement, if the meals they are replacing are based off of the modern American diet (high carb/low fat), and are full of grains, Trans fat, and gobs of fructose. However if you are taking an ancestral based meal of lean meats, veggies, and some good fats (olive oil, walnuts, coconut, etc.), and replacing it with what’s basically a highly processed glass of milk, that may cause some problems down the road. Are we saying that there is never an occasion where slugging down a protein shake is a good idea? No, there are some instance that protein shakes are completely fine and even a fairly smart choice, but for the vast majority of people out there (especially those with body composition goals) getting in real food is really the only way to go in my opinion. Let’s take a look at why this highly processed glass of milk is a bad idea for those who are concerned with body composition goals. It basically comes down to one reason. Protein shakes, for the most part, are a dairy based liquid protein substitute. This is a problem because of dairies natural ability to increase your insulin levels even though it’s a form of protein. According to a study put out by Garrett Hoyt, Matthew S. Hickey, and Loren Cordain, the insulinogenic amino acid profile of beef and milk are very similar, but beef has an II (Insulinemic Index) score of 51, and dairy products have an Insulin score that range from 89-115. The lactose alone in dairy products has an II of 50. Since in dairy products there is both the insulin stimulation from Lactose AND from the amino acid profile then the additive effect of lactose and amino acids might just be an underlying cause of why milk products cause such a high spike in insulin. This is a problem given the hypothesis that consistent Hyperinsulinemia can lend itself to, if not cause, insulin resistance which, for those who don’t know, is really bad. ( http://thepaleodiet.com/articles/Milk%20Final.pdf)
If you train or you are someone who is interested in improving body composition, it is really important that you get them/yourself to EAT your food instead of drinking it. There are a whole bunch of problem related to consistent hyperinsulinemia, and it’s much easier to put and keep yourself in that state if your food is coming through a straw instead of off a fork.
Please post any questions/comments, this is a topic worthy of a good debate or discussion.