Diabetes is a disease where the body cannot maintain normal levels of blood sugar, and blood sugar levels go too high.
Blood sugars that are too high can cause symptoms such as dry mouth, increased thirst, frequent urination, tiredness, and increased urination at night. High blood sugar levels over time can damage the eyes, kidneys, nerves, and blood vessels.
What people eat has a huge impact on their blood sugars. Carbohydrates found in foods cause blood sugar to go up. Foods that digest slower cause a slower rise in blood sugar, which is helpful for those with diabetes.
But what about protein shakes?
What is protein?
Meat, fish, eggs, nuts, cheese, pulses, and milk are all sources of protein.
The three essential macronutrients found in food are protein, carbohydrates, and fat.
Protein helps to maintain, rebuild, and repair muscle. Protein is also a building block for the skin, nails, bones, and even blood. It makes up hormones, enzymes, and antibodies. Protein in foods has staying power because it digests slower than carbohydrate. Proteins do not raise blood sugar.
Periods of growth, such as during infancy and pregnancy, need more protein. Protein needs are also raised for people with injuries, those who have had surgery, or active people.
Most people, including those with diabetes, are looking for healthy options to grab on the go like protein shakes or bars. While it is important to rely on packaged food products as little as possible, it is smart to have some healthier options in mind when needed.
The problem with protein shakes is that they often have lots of artificial ingredients and can have as much sugar as soda.
The total amount of protein consumed in a day is important, but so is how that intake is spread out over the day.
Many people will consume a small amount at breakfast, a moderate amount at lunch, and a large amount at dinner:
A typical day might include:
- 10 grams or less at breakfast in cereal
- 25 grams at lunch in a sandwich
- 5 grams for a snack in a granola bar
- 40 grams at dinner in a serving of chicken or beef
However, the body can only absorb and use so much protein at one time. The body uses what it can and then creates waste with the leftover. Instead of having 60 grams of protein in one meal, it is more beneficial to spread that 60 grams out into three to four meals of 15-20 grams each.
The recommended dietary allowance, or RDA, for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight each day. This is the minimum amount of protein needed for meeting nutritional requirements, not the maximum.
Endurance athletes need 1.2 to 1.4 grams per kilogram of body weight, and power athletes require 1.2 to 1.7 grams per kilogram of body weight. The more active a person is, the more protein their body needs.
Increasing protein intake or taking protein supplements alone does not increase muscle. People have to do the work in the gym to see any result.
People often need 15-30 grams of protein after a hard workout to repair and start to rebuild muscle. The amount of protein needed depends on body size.
Carbohydrates should be eaten with the protein to help refuel the muscle and “spare” the protein for repairing and rebuilding the muscle.
If someone is unable to eat a meal after exercise or they are simply just not hungry, they can grab something easy like a bar or a shake instead.
Types of protein shakes
There are two different types of protein shake: those that are made with a protein powder mixed with a liquid and those that come ready to drink (RTD).
Protein powder-based shakes
For people with dietary requirements, protein shakes are easily customized.
The easiest way to get a healthy protein shake is to make it at home, starting with a high-quality protein powder.
Most of the common protein powders at the local grocery store or supplement shop are filled with artificial sweeteners and unnecessary chemicals. To avoid these, look at the ingredient label. A buyer should be able to read the label and recognize each ingredient as food.
The two most common types of protein powders are whey-based and plant-based. Whey based powders get their protein from milk, and plant-based powders use a variety of things such as soy, peas, nuts, rice, or hemp.
Although many whey proteins claim to be lactose-free, some people have a hard time digesting them. There is also a difference between being lactose intolerant and allergic to milk. Those who are allergic to milk are allergic to the protein in milk, and thus need to avoid milk protein powers.
The following people should choose a plant-based protein powder:
- People with a history of milk protein intolerance with who whey doesn’t agree
- People who prefer to avoid animal products
People can mix protein powder with plain water, but this will likely not be enough for a complete meal or snack. Protein powders are often lacking complex carbohydrates or healthy fats.
People with diabetes should limit sweeteners like sugar, agave, or fruit juice in their shakes or smoothies. They should also beware of smoothie shops that label their drinks as healthy, as many can have more sugar than the typical person should have in a day.
To make a more nutritious, complete meal or snack shake, people can use this easy formula:
Easy post-workout or meal replacement shake formula
- 1 cup of milk (can include non-dairy milks)
- 1/2 cup frozen or fresh fruit
- 1 scoop high-quality protein powder
- 2-3 ice cubes
All ingredients should be mixed in a blender until smooth. Optional add-ins for bonus nutrition include:
- Handful of chia seeds
- ¼ cup raw oats
- 1 tablespoon peanut butter
- 1/8 cup Greek yogurt
- Handful of spinach or kale
Ready-to-drink protein shakes
To find a good RTD protein shake for people with diabetes, first look at the sugar content. Try to avoid those with added sugar. Some RTD shakes can have 30 or more grams of added sugars.
People with diabetes can always add their own sweetener to the shake so they can control the sugar content. Adding whole fruit gives some good fiber and sweetness naturally. Berries, bananas, and other soft fruits can be added easily to premade shakes.
Next, people with diabetes should look at the ingredients. Many protein shakes have artificial sweeteners, refined oils, artificial colors, and flavorings. It is best to steer clear of ingredients that are not recognizable as food.
Nutrition tips for people with diabetes
People with diabetes should be sure to eat on a regular schedule. It is ideal to eat every 4 to 5 hours while awake. Having a source of complex carbohydrate, lean protein, and healthy fat with each meal or snack will help to control blood sugar throughout the day.
Complex carbohydrates are recommended as part of a healthy diet.
They should also limit quick-digesting carbohydrates like pasta and white bread. It is best to opt for slower-digesting carbohydrates with additional nutrients such as:
- Sweet potatoes
- Whole fruits
These complex carbohydrates cause a smaller spike in blood sugar and are even better when paired with a lean protein and healthy fat.
Risks and precautions
People with diabetes that have existing kidney conditions may need to limit their protein intake.
For people without kidney disease, most studies support an intake of up to 2 grams per kilogram of body weight without any adverse effects. However, intakes above 2.5 grams per kilogram of body weight put people at risk of the following:
Eating more than 200 to 400 grams of protein each day can exceed the liver’s ability to turn excess nitrogen to urea. This can lead to nausea, diarrhea, and other adverse side effects.