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The Great Shake Debate: Should Student Athletes Drink Protein Shakes?

When the competition gets tough, the tough turn to smarter, faster ways to rise to the top. Maybe that's what turned you on to protein shakes. At first glance, they are a swift, convenient way to stay in shape.

Protein shakes have spurred a great debate in recent years, however, because they offer many benefits with few calories to back them up. Are protein shakes really as nutritious as their labels claim? Do they offer the complex proteins that will make you a better athlete? Do they have everything you need in your daily diet?

The trouble is that while protein shakes can serve as a supplement that's rich in proteins, carbohydrates or amino acids, they are not an adequate substitute for actual food. They often don't contain complex proteins, and they may rely on fillers to give you the sensation that you're full. When you use these as substitutes for a meal, you may even notice the effects, struggling to make it to the end of fitness training for baseball or softball. There are many risks to consuming protein shakes, especially for teenagers.

These range from protein toxicity -- where you simply get more protein than your body can handle -- to the risk of nutrient deficiency, potential contaminants or inadequate regulation. If you're taking protein supplements on top of a healthy diet, than you're probably getting all the nutrients you need. It's when student athletes start to replace their diet with protein shakes or powders that they run into problems.

You run a real risk of protein toxicity if you take protein supplements on top of a high-protein diet. The Mayo Clinic recommends that you consume 50 to 175 grams of protein, or up to 35 percent of your total daily calories, based on a 2,000-calorie diet. Much more than that, and you may experience side effects of nausea, diarrhea, dehydration or build-ups of unwanted byproducts in your bloodstream.

While protein promotes muscle growth and tissue repair, the protein shakes you find in stores will give you protein without the calories and healthy fats your body needs. Eating meat and fish can still be important for young athletes, so you'll want to make sure you are also getting balanced meals.

These shakes may be high in carbohydrates or amino acids, but they don't contain the fiber and other minerals that the body needs to function properly. When it comes to contaminants, there are also some reports of steroids or hormones being used in some products, and other contaminants may make the shakes unsafe for teens. Because regulation of these drinks is largely left to the companies that make them, there are few guarantees from the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) or other agencies that these are safe.

A comparison of protein shakes shows that some of these drinks are better than others. Shakes that use whey offer the highest quality of protein, according to LiveStrong. They may also decrease your appetite, which can limit your nutrient intake outside of fitness training. You can get complete amino acids from soy-based protein supplements, and they are easy to digest. Drinks that use casein for protein, which have become more popular, are harder to digest, although the longer process of breaking down proteins can lead to longer-lasting energy.

None of these products are a replacement for a full, balanced diet, however, as the five food groups work together to give you the best performance on the field. The best thing to do ahead of fitness training it to check with your doctor to get sound advice before consuming protein shakes during the baseball or softball season.

In the end, you may find that the complex proteins served on the dinner table are your ticket to a competitive edge.


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