Protein powders are everywhere.
They first kicked off in the body building community right back in the 1950s, but in more recent times, the industry has flourished.
In the 1990s, Dan Duchane started promoting whey protein – the use of which apparently dates back to around 6000 BC.
It wasn’t until 1993 however that experts started to conduct scientific experiments on the health benefits att ached to whey, which was when bodybuilders really ramped up their use of it.
Since then we’ve had Protein World campaigns all over the Tube suggesting that protein shakes were a fast track to a beach body (LOL).
Adriana Lima’s revealed that before a Victoria’s Secret show, she drinks only protein shakes for nine days (umm).
And every Made in Chelsea star’s Instagram (*coughs* Louise Thompson) seems to have become a continuous MyProtein advert (urgh).
The BBC has predicted that by 2017, we’d be downing £8bn a year of ‘sports related’ protein shakes, bars and supplements.
Today the protein industry is worth $16bn (£13bn) in the US alone.
Since when did everyone become so obsessed with drinking the stuff?
In the office, there are packets and packets of protein powder stashed under desks while my gym kit nestles next to a large jar of instant coffee and some jelly beans.
And that’s because I always assumed protein powders were just pointless unless you were strenuously working out and trying to get hench.
As someone who almost exclusively runs rather than does weights or core, it seems worthless.
Even my boyfriend, who is a pretty muscular guy, doesn’t believe in shakes or powders because he believes he can get all the protein he needs for his genuinely gruelling workout regime from a diet of porridge, salmon and eggs on gym days.
If we are trying to get lean though, should wannabe Adonises be chowing down on protein powders or are we just consuming calories we don’t need?
And are they actually any good for us anyway?
I asked other exercise keenos of varying levels of fitness whether they took them, and the resounding answer was yes.
Harry is a rower who trains six days a week, four hours a day. On his days off, he does an hour of cycling.
‘I’ll have two shakes a day – one with breakfast and one when I get in from training,’ he tells Metro.co.uk.
‘Whey protein tastes rank, rags your guts (read the back of them it even has a warning), and is only really necessary if you’re constantly pushing your body to the limit so need to massively increase your protein intake.
‘In my case, I find I have to be training full time (10+ long or hard sessions a week) to make them worthwhile otherwise they are just calories and you might as well just eat some cake which tastes better.’
A typical shake using MyProtein Impact Whey protein is 262 calories (without milk), 80% of which is protein. A slice of sponge is said to contain around 240 calories.
But obviously cake is carbs and fat and protein shakes are largely… protein – which is better for working out than carbohydrate.
But there are loads of gym-goers who aren’t exercising at Harry’s level who swear by them.
‘I’ve been taking protein shakes for over 10 years now,’ says Simon, a rugby player.
‘They essentially make it easier to recover from high intensity training, or training where you are likely to have broken down a lot of muscle.
‘You shouldn’t use them in place of food, as it’s important to get the nutrition from well-balanced meals, but it’s quite awkward to take half a chicken with you to the gym, so they are more for convenience if anything.’
And of course, there are plenty of women who use them to help them lift.
Rebecca says she drinks protein shakes about three times a week after working out because she lift weights.
‘It is very effective – if you feel my thigh, you’ll notice,’ she says.
I did feel her thigh, and it was very firm.
She also adds protein powder to her smoothies to keep fuller for longer and make them ‘more nutritionally balanced’.
But she says she’s careful to watch out for protein powders which are packed with saturated fats, salts and sugars.
So, whether it tastes rank or not, everyone seems to be in agreement that protein is filling, convenient and good for rebuilding muscle. So far, so good.
But does the average Joe actually need to supplement their diet in order to reach their fitness and body goals?
Being constantly bombarded with Instagrams from fitness gurus like Tammy Hembrow, you might think so.
If we want her cracking body, we should be following her lead – right?
Bridget Benelam, senior nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, says that generally speaking, the average protein intake is ‘well above requirements’, she tells Metro.co.uk.
‘It’s very unlikely that people in the UK are not getting enough protein,’
‘For those who are active, there is evidence that consuming about 20g of protein following a training session can support muscle protein synthesis and repair – this can be provided by about half a medium-sized chicken breast, a small can of tuna or about three eggs.’
Consuming more protein than that, she says, doesn’t really add any extra benefit and simply converts into calories.
‘While protein shakes could be used to provide protein in the diet, they are not necessary as the protein required can be provided by a balanced diet,’ she says.
‘This has the benefit of providing a wide range of essential nutrients and encouraging healthy eating habits.’
Which basically means that if you worked out before work, lunch or dinner, you could easily consume the necessary protein without the added calories or sugar by simply having a normal meal.
Many personal trainers seem to agree.
Kieran Hassett, a trainer at private members’ club Home House, says that he only recommend shakes to people who are working towards increasing their muscle mass by a big margin, but who ‘lack the time or discipline to get the required protein portions through natural sources’.
‘I don’t use protein shakes myself as I try and consume all I need through a balanced diet, he says.
‘It’s more tasty and offers more variety.’
But he does say that shakes can offer you a wide variety of amino acids which you can only get from a eating a variety of different protein sources.
So if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, for example, you’ll find it way easier to consume a good selection from things like hemp and pea protein, than from your actual diet.
‘To really maximise the extra protein that a lot of these shakes offer for muscle gain, you have to be training at a high level following an intense, heavy loading programme on a regular basis (three or four times a week),’ he says.
‘If you’re in the gym just once a week following a simple, high repetition, lots of rest routine, the benefits are mainly lost.’
Celebrity online trainer Scott Laidler (he’s trained the likes of Kate Hudson) is slightly less critical.
He uses vegan protein himself, but he warns potential users to be careful about the sorts of powders they’re buying.
‘In essence, protein shakes are liquid food,’ he says.
‘Protein powders don’t necessarily “do” anything – especially the purer ones that I would recommend.
‘They’re just a convenient way to consume calories, and can help meet you intake guidelines.
‘However not all protein powders are created equal so it is important to choose the right products.
‘They range from overpriced, useless and unhealthy to a fantastic way to take on unrefined natural nutrients.’
He says that he recommends powders to some of his clients usually because of logistical restrictions.
‘Personally I take a vegan blend at home and will get hold of whey protein isolate when travelling to areas that are slightly behind the UK with their product ranges.
‘I don’t have protein every day, it really does depend on the day’s schedule.’
So, most of us probably are getting enough protein to negate the need for supplements.
But if you still want to use them, check the contents.
Some shakes, like Protein World, have been accused of containing up to 17 times more carbs than stated on the label.
Hardly a one-way street to being ‘beach body ready’, whatever that means.