Diets, muscle building, scales: Heike Niemeier knows all about it. The Hamburg native is a nutrition expert, advises and accompanies people on their way to the figure they want and wrote the book “Eat well, everything is good: How we learn to listen to our gut again”. The expert explains in an interview with stern why Niemeier is an advocate of protein shakes, how early our body starts to break down and how you can stop it.

Ms. Niemeier, aren’t protein shakes just for bodybuilders?

Muscle growth only occurs when we have a calorie surplus. And this excess must come from proteins. Because this is the building material of muscles. And since everyone should have an interest in muscle, protein shakes aren’t just for bodybuilders. Muscles protect and release important hormones. And as we age, the body loses muscle. Proteins help to counteract this breakdown. Shakes offer a quick, uncomplicated supply of protein and are basically suitable for everyone.

At what age does muscle loss begin?

At the age of 20 to 30 already. And you can counteract the breakdown with physical training.

Some manufacturers promise weight loss with the help of protein shakes. But don’t you actually gain weight by taking it?

Nope. If the weight gain is based on more muscle mass, you will get applause in our consultation. When it comes to weight change, you have to differentiate: Did you gain more muscle mass or more fat in your body? But in principle, protein shakes are also suitable for weight loss. Because proteins have the highest satiety effect. The stomach is busy for longer. In addition, hormones are released in the intestines that signal to the brain: I am full. And protein-rich foods and protein shakes are good for this. Many people reduce their calorie intake when dieting and automatically consume less protein. Then muscles are broken down. Protein shakes help maintain muscle mass.

How can the difference between muscle mass and fat be measured?

In practice we use a so-called BIA scale. BIA stands for Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis. It makes visible what cannot be seen from the outside. Namely how much fat and how much muscle is present and distributed in the body. The device works with electrodes on the feet and hands. This means the entire body is measured. BIA scales measure differently. Precise devices cost several thousand euros. This is the difference to home scales.

How do they work?

The measuring principle is the same. You stand on the scale, a current runs through your body and the device spits out data. But if only the feet are on the scale, then only the lower body is measured. The upper body is appreciated. In the settings of such scales, you enter your gender, age and height beforehand. The device then uses an average value for the upper body that fits your data. To get a rough overview, such scales are fine. However, medical BIA scales are more precise.

Protein shakes help to build and maintain muscle mass. Is it possible without it?

I’m basically on the food team. You don’t necessarily need protein shakes. Quark, cottage cheese, organic meat, eggs, soy, tofu, peanuts and pumpkin seeds are very good sources of protein. However, shakes are practical when you don’t have much time to prepare something. However, it is not a good idea to live solely on protein shakes in the long term. Because the nutrient supply is not sufficient with commercial products.

So protein shakes shouldn’t replace meals?

Only when you don’t have time to prepare and eat meals. I would consider protein shakes as a dietary supplement. If you want to use protein shakes for a longer period of time, you should do so under medical supervision and make sure that they also have a sufficient amount of minerals and vitamins, so-called formula diets.

Can you achieve faster muscle building results if you also consume shakes in addition to a protein-rich diet?

Possibly. You should consume at least 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. So you multiply your own weight by a factor of 1.6 and you have calculated the protein requirement per day. To meet this need more easily, it often helps to also consume protein shakes.

What should you pay attention to regarding the nutrients and ingredients of protein shakes?

There are two good sources of protein. One is whey protein, which is also called whey protein. And the other is the casein protein. Whey is quickly available. This is a good protein for shakes to have during the day. Casein works more slowly. This is more likely to be taken in the evening as a bedtime shake to build muscle at night. In addition, the protein content should be at least 50 percent, i.e. 50 grams of protein per 100 grams of shake, 70 grams would be even better. People who use vegan products should make sure that the proteins come from different plant sources. For example, peas, rice and soy. Plant protein sources on their own are not as high quality as whey proteins. That’s why you mix them. In addition to the quantity, the relationship between the different amino acids in proteins is also important. A certain amino acid, the so-called leucine, is particularly important for building muscle. This value should be high in the protein shake. You should also make sure that there are little to no additives in the powder. And that it was approved in the EU.

When is the best time for a protein shake? Before exercise to have enough energy or after?

You should consume enough protein throughout the day. So not just after exercise, but regularly, as the muscles are constantly broken down and only rebuilt when new proteins are supplied. If you feel hungry again quickly after exercising, your first meal should contain protein so that you don’t immediately consume so many carbohydrates and fats. This interrupts fat burning if you want to lose weight. Meals after exercise should therefore be low in fat and carbohydrates and high in protein.

Can you eat too much protein?

Yes. However, a natural defense mechanism is that we become very nauseous. People who ignore this mechanism and are driven by muscle building may also have developed an eating disorder. From around three grams of protein per kilo of body weight, this is called too much. This amount makes most people feel very nauseous. You should also drink enough water. At least two liters. In addition, the breakdown of proteins in the body creates excess acids in the body, which are only balanced out by minerals. And you can find them in vegetables, fruits and legumes. A steak should therefore always be accompanied by a salad.

What does a suitable exercise program look like if you want to build muscle and lose weight at the same time?

Without training, muscle building cannot take place. That is the basic requirement. A suitable sports program includes endurance training such as jogging, although strength training can achieve greater effects. Jogging, for example, is very strenuous for overweight people, which is why strength training can be more effective. That’s why you often start with this and supplement it with endurance training. Even if you don’t want to become a bodybuilder, but just want to achieve a defined body, a progressive increase in muscle mass is important to achieve visible results and maintain them.

When do successes become visible?

You can’t say that across the board. It is important to train regularly and progressively. The first visible changes depend not only on training, but also on various other factors, such as age, stress levels, sleep quality, alcohol consumption and medications. However, a good mood and motivation are crucial. And once you have achieved your desired muscle mass or figure, you don’t necessarily have to continue training progressively, but you can simply continue training without lifting more weights. It is important to keep the joy of training and not to put too much pressure on yourself.

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