Got protein?

Do you need a protein drink?

Protein drinks have moved out of the gym and into grocery and convenience stores. No longer a Rocky Balboa mixture of raw eggs and milk (thank goodness!) protein drinks are available in powders or ready-to-drink shakes in a variety of flavors. Advertising and marketing aside, does anyone truly need a protein drink?

Protein is an essential nutrient that enhances muscle recovery after exercise, contributes to lean muscle mass, promotes satiety and helps with weight loss, and even supports your immune system. Growing children and teens need more protein than adults. Add in daily exercise, and your kids on sports teams or who simply enjoy running around outside after school need adequate protein.

Protein needs can be met through foods at meals and snacks: chicken, fish, lean red meat, tofu, nuts and seeds, milk, cheese, and yogurt. Skipping healthy foods at meals and relying only on protein drinks increases the chance that you?ll also miss a variety of important nutrients found in foods. If your teens sleep late and don't have time for breakfast, or would rather drink a protein beverage than eat a sandwich before practice, or have a long bus ride home after a game before they can eat a meal, protein drinks can play an important role.

A recent article in Training and Conditioning magazine recommends reading the nutrition facts and ingredients labels on protein drinks closely. One serving should contain 10-20 grams of protein, usually from whey, casein, soy, rice or hemp. Skip products with caffeine, yerba mate, guarana or kola nut. Chocolate milk and chocolate-flavored soy milk have been shown to be just as effective in promoting muscle recovery as expensive, ready-to-drink protein beverages. Or make your own healthier smoothie: blend 3 4 cup vanilla Greek yogurt with 1 2 banana, 1 2 cup frozen strawberries or blueberries, and enough fat-free milk to thin to your favorite consistency.

Protein drinks are just one part of an overall healthy diet. Limit these beverages to no more than 1-2 times per day (it's OK to enjoy milk or soy milk with every meal) as a meal or snack replacement.

Lynn Grieger, RD, CDE, cPT is a health, food and fitness coach in Manchester and online at The women in her running groups enjoy chocolate milk or soy milk after their long training runs to promote recovery.


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