In addition, real food has what is called a "thermic effect". A "thermic effect" is the impact that real food has in your metabolism. Because real food requires digestion, your body burns more calories in processing it; as opposed to shakes which are already pre-digested.
Regardless of what the ads tell you, protein shakes do not offer any muscle building benefit, nor "secret muscle building ingredient", above and beyond what real food offers you. Yes, I have read the ads too with all sorts of speedy muscle building promises but I can assure you through experience that most of the ingredients advertised as miraculous have not been proven to work neither by science (even though most ads of this nature usually talk about research studies that usually do not exist) nor by actual results at the gym. These products however have been proven beyond the shadow of any scientific doubt to shrink the size of your wallet and bank account.
What protein shakes do offer the bodybuilder and fitness enthusiast is a convenient way to ingest your protein, thus allowing you to have your five to six meals every day without having to ingest real food in all of them. In addition, the best protein shakes in the market offer a protein blend of different sources of protein, something that introduces amino acid variety into your bodybuilding diet, thus making your diet more complete. However, do not ever think that protein shakes are superior to food.
How Much To Consume
I recommend that you always have a breakfast, a lunch and a dinner consisting of real food items. A breakfast may consist of egg whites and oatmeal, lunch of chicken, some brown rice and green beans, while dinner can be some salmon, with a baked potatoe and some broccoli. In between meals, then you can have your protein shakes so that you can have fulfill your every 2-3 hour meal requirement. Depending upon what your bodybuilding goals are, you may choose to just use a protein powder and mix it with either water or skim milk (assuming that you are not competing), or a weight gainer that has more carbohydrate calories to help fuel the metabolism of hardgainers. You may also have an MRP (Meal Replacement Powder) or an RTD (Ready to Drink) for the convenience that they offer. For more information on this subject, please take a look at my article on Protein Supplements.
Never take in more than half of your meals in the form of protein shakes. So if you consume 5 meals a day, make sure that 3 of those are real meals. If you consume 6, then up to 3 can be shakes. If you are wondering what I do, I personally have 4 real meals and two shakes.
Which Brands to Choose?
As far as a brand, stick to reputable brands, like Labrada Nutrition, which ensure that each batch of their products contains exactly what the label claims. Beware of brands that sell your 5-lbs of protein powder for less than $30 dollars. Good grade proteins are expensive to manufacture, reason why you will see good companies like Labrada Nutrition, Beverly International, and Prolab Nutrition pricing their products accordingly. Cheap grade proteins will cause gas and bloating as they are hard for the body to assimilate. In addition, some products that are very cheap may not even contain what the label claims.