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Recently I've been frequently consuming protein/nutrition shakes. Sometimes I make them myself using whey protein powder or a mix. Sometimes I buy them from cafe's such as Starbucks' protein/fiber powder containing Vivanno, or one of Jamba Juice's offerings.

I've been wondering though - am I really getting the full benefit of these nutrients when they've just been added to a drink in powder form? Or do I have to actually eat more natural foods like beans, eggs, meat, vegetables, etc, to get the full benefits? Is there any strong evidence one way or the other?

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Good question, I was planning on trying to make shakes as an alternative breakfast –  Ivo Flipse Jul 26 '11 at 22:42
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up vote 9 down vote accepted

The more processed and isolated the nutrient, the easier it is for your body to digest and make use of it. That's as true for protein as it is for carbs and fats.

That said, you will never have 100% absorption rate of any nutrient. Some of it will be lost in the digestion process, and the protein powders from GNC (much less Starbucks) are not as pure/isolated as you might find from a Lindora or Ideal Protein shop. I don't see that as a bad thing.

Keep in mind that over-consumption of protein (i.e. more than your body needs to repair muscles) will result in that protein being converted to blood glycogen in the kidneys. The release of energy is through a very slow and thermogenic process (i.e. it takes a lot of calories to do it). However, with enough of an increase it will elevate the blood sugar levels to generate an insulin response.

Part of the advantage of real food vs. processed food is that your body is inefficient at processing it. Because the body works harder, it consumes more Calories to digest the food.

Let's look at some references:

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I'd change "advantage" to "complexity", but otherwise I completely agree. It is hard to overstate the impact the discovery of cooking had on the human species. Both positive and negative. –  Christopher Bibbs Jul 27 '11 at 13:38
    
Good answer, thanks. But do you have any references, by chance? It's hard to find authoritative answers in a field where everyone seems to be saying something different. –  Joshua Carmody Jul 27 '11 at 15:52
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