What is Protein Water and Should You be Drinking It?
Protein water seems to be turning up everywhere we go these days — from grocery store shelves to 24-hour convenience marts and well-known online retailers. It’s packaged in a variety of tempting colors and flavors, and one of the newer protein water offerings even comes in a fizzy version. For many, the beverage appears to be an ideal way to multi-task their nutrition needs with a quick hydration and protein fix after the gym or a run. For others, it may serve as a bridge to tide them over between meals.
But is this heavily marketed post-workout hydrator just part of the latest protein diet craze or is there real value to drinking it? Let’s take a closer look at this increasingly popular drink and get answers to help you make the best healthy decisions for you and your family.
Protein Water Defined
First, what is protein water? Brittney Bearden, a registered dietitian and sports nutrition manager at Texas Health Sports Medicine Fort Worth, sizes up the product this way: “Simply put, it’s water that contains protein, as well as added flavorings and sweeteners. The protein typically comes from whey protein isolate — a milk by product of the cheese-making process. Protein water usually contains between 60 to 90 calories per bottle, and provides 15 to 20 grams of protein in a 16.9 ounce serving.”
Protein drinks are big business, and the global market for all protein-infused foods is growing at a rapid rate to satisfy growing consumer demand. In the U.S. alone, the sector is expected to reach $6.7 billion by next year — up more than 50 percent from $4 billion in 2015, according to a report by Global Insights. Behind this incredible growth are beverage companies that have stepped up their game, developing new protein products and repackaging old ones. Today an incredible one-quarter of beverages across a number of categories — from carbonated soft drinks to bottled water, tea, non-dairy milk, coffee and nutritional drinks — include protein among their ingredients.
Advice from a Sports Dietitian
The wave of protein water drinks and other protein foods on the market isn’t lost on Bearden. But she’s quick to point out that although added protein is popping up everywhere from snacks to ice cream and nutrition bars, we shouldn’t get swept up by mass marketing or current diet fads that take our focus away from a balanced diet and other key nutrients we need to live a healthy life.
Protein is an important building block found in everything from muscle and hair to enzymes and antibodies. The nutrient plays a vital role in sustaining our health, helping muscles recover and grow. Consuming protein and carbohydrates after workouts is important for competitive athletes. According to Bearden, most recreational athletes and weekend warriors would be better off consuming a balanced diet and hydrating with regular water during and after workouts.
“Protein water misses the mark in providing the protein and carbohydrates we need after exercising, or sustaining us for a long time period,” Bearden explains. “While protein water can contribute to daily protein intake, a better option is to focus on consuming the majority of protein through high-quality food sources that come from a balanced diet. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach, because calorie and protein needs are different for everyone. It’s important to make food and beverage choices to meet individualized nutrition needs.”
Under most circumstances, protein water should not be used as a meal replacement because the 60 to 90 calories contained in each serving don’t provide enough calories and nutrients to be considered a meal.
A Protein Primer
So, what are the best sources of protein? Bearden notes that consuming eggs, low-fat dairy, beans, lentils, fish and lean meat is the best way to reach daily protein needs.
“Consuming a balanced diet by including a variety of protein sources provides other important nutrients for health and athletic needs,” she adds.
If you’re in a hurry after a workout, Bearden advises a meal or snack that includes protein and carbohydrates. Good grab-and-go options include boiled eggs and fruit, Greek yogurt or a turkey sandwich. Choosing real food is always a better option and keeps you fuller longer. It also may be healthier for your pocketbook if you consider that a bottle of protein water can cost $2 or more — and that’s if you buy it in cases or larger quantities. Those costs can add up quickly.
Your overall health, activity level, and athletic performance goals are important factors that influence your daily calorie and protein needs. Consult a Texas Health Sports Medicine Sports Dietitian for all of your nutrition needs, including individualized nutrition plans designed around your schedule, goals and food preferences.