We'll be the first to tell you that supplements aren't essential, especially when it comes to protein shakes.
Protein is an essential macronutrient that should be present in a healthy diet, regardless of whether you exercise or not. If you have any thought of muscle building, fat loss & toning in your head, then consuming enough protein should priority number one in our eyes.
There's a lot of controversy surround the supplement industry. There's a huge amount of pills, blends and other products out there that claim to do lots, when in fact they do very little. The amount of information can be overwhelming and leave you as a consumer scratching your head. The supplement industry is worth BILLIONS and often preys on their customers insecurities, offering short cuts to what they believe will lead to a happier life.
Now, back to protein shakes
Personally, I like food, who doesn't. And a protein shake to me is the equivalent of a blended up chicken breast.
What protein shakes do offer is a huge amount of flexibility within a lifestyle. Those that are busy and don't have time to cook/buy/eat their daily requirements, then I would certainly suggest that a protein shake or 2 a day would be recommended. I also use them as an end of day top up, if I can see that my protein is slightly lacking, I may just mix a certain amount of whey with water to meet that daily requirement.
How much protein should I consume?
The recommended protein requirements for a sedentary individual is around 0.8g per kg of body mass. This amount is simply there to prevent protein deficiencies - in other words, to cover the basic requirements for protein turn over.
For those that exercise, especially those that enjoy more high intense training sessions, these daily requirements increase to 1.4 to 2 grams of protein per kg of body mass.
Personally, I like a little more protein in my diet, and have read literature supporting those consuming up to 3 grams of protein per kg of body weight. But as always, it should come down to personal preference.
For those that do not count or track their macronutrient intake, it could be an eye opener for you to do so. On the other hand, consuming around 3 to 4 protein based meals (breakfast, lunch, snack, dinner) spaced evenly throughout the day should help meet those demands. I typically recommend females to have one palm sized and males to have two palm sized portions per meal, this would be the equivalent to one or two scoops of whey.
When should I take a protein shake?
This is an easy question to answer. The best time to shakes is when ever you'd like to. It does not have to be pre or post workout, there is not mythical anabolic window unfortunately. Some people like to have them on a morning as they can't stomach meat or fish at that time.
Which brand is best?
This is a slightly more difficult question to answer. My first suggestion would be to be careful of good marketing. Those that are selling a particular brand, they will most likely have a very bias, dogmatic view towards their own product and label anything else as inferior.
For me personally, I look at quality, affordability, taste and the reputation of the brand.
This is why we have chosen PhD nutrition as our protein provider. They offer a high quality, affordable product that tastes and mixes great (Bickle top tip: mix it with about 300-400ml of Alpro coconut milk, thank me later)
As always though, it should be based on personal preference.
As stated earlier, protein shakes are NOT essential, but if you feel that you're deficient in any way, I'd suggest that you start keeping some sort of food log to determine whether it could be a good investment to your health. The same applies towards any protein product, whether it's from a shake or a whey bar (advanced mass flapjacks are unreal btw).
Another key point to remember is that you don't need to be exercising to require a protein shake. Those that do increase their activity levels will require a higher protein content through their dietary intake, whether from a whole food source or protein shake.
If you're still unsure, book a nutritional assessment for £15 where will will sit down for an hour and look though your food diary.
Either way, we believe that transparency is key and we wouldn't sell a product to a client/customer if we felt it was unnecessary. We truly want to change the fitness industry for the better and simplify a confusing and misleading industry by educating the masses though blogs like this, or any other way.
As always, I hope this helps.