One of the most common questions we get is about protein shakes or smoothies. Mostly asking something along the lines of: "Should I be drinking them?" Unless you've been living under a rock the past couple of years you've no doubt read about protein shakes/smoothies and their benefits.
If not, here are some benefits and reasons to jump on the protein shake bandwagon!
1. Protein shakes will help you recover faster after a workout. The ideal time to consume one is within 30-45 minutes post workout.
2. They help to give your body the amino acids and nutrients it needs to maintain or even increase your lean muscle mass. Something those of us over 50 really need to focus on.
3. Protein shakes can act as a healthy alternative for a meal but they shouldn't be used to replace all your meals.
Now, I don’t hide the fact that I’m a fan. Truth is I drink 3-4 protein drinks in various forms every day in order to meet my nutritional aka protein needs.
Protein shakes come in all shapes, sizes and flavors and yes costs.
Sadly most people purchase based on the cost which while a factor shouldn’t be THE factor when it comes to deciding which one to buy.
Costs vary widely ranging from as low as $10 for a month’s supply to as much as $150-$200.
And the fact is the cheaper ones are less expensive for a reason. You get what you pay for.
Usually they have a ton of fillers in them and are made from low quality protein. In some cases the amount of protein they actually have in them doesn’t really qualify them as “protein” shake/smoothie (more on that in a bit)
The most expensive ones while usually (but not always!) of much better quality. The protein in them is sourced better and usually you will see more grams of protein per serving than you would in the cheap ones.
However there’s also another side of it. As a marketing gimmick many are often are overpriced for what you are actually getting to get you to believe they’re of a better quality when I reality they aren’t.
Why? Usually it’s to cover the commission of the person selling it.
Then there’s the pre-made cans, and bottles you find in the store. Often purchased mostly for convenience these pre-made shakes can be good but many are nothing more than disguised milkshakes, loaded with sugar, fillers and low quality protein.
Thus they don’t deliver on what the body needs.
Are you confused yet? If so you aren’t alone!
Keep in mind there is little to no regulation on these products. For example claiming something is “high protein” is meaningless as there is no definition of what “high protein” is.
I’ve seen shakes with less than 10 gram of protein in them labeled, usually in big fat red letters on the front as “high protein”.
So what should you look for?
1) For starters look for something that is as close to 100% whey (or other type) of protein as you can get. An easy way to figure out how much if it is filler is to compare the calories to the grams of protein per serving. A Gram of protein is 4 calories. If the product touts 25g of protein per serving then the calories should be 100. Anything above that is usually a filler of some sort. Note: Most if not all have SOME extras in them but you want to minimalize it as best you can.
2) Watch the front labels. As I mentioned before there is little regulation on these products so just because it says it’s high protein on the front doesn’t’ mean it is. A general rule of thumb that I look for is for the product to have at least 20-25grams of protein in it to be considered “high protein”. Also watch out for other marketing gimmicks like low carb, low sugar, low sodium, and low fat all of which can mislead you. The truth is whey powder in general is ALL of those things. Just because it doesn’t say it on the label doesn’t mean it isn’t. In fact a common trick I’ve seen is to use the term “LOWER”. All that means is that it is lower in X than the company’s other product.
3) Look at the ingredient list. If you see a bunch of stuff you can’t pronounce don’t buy it. While you can buy 100% pure whey it is flavorless and tastes like chalk. Most of the commercial grade powders will have some other ingredients but look for the least number of ingredients you can. Most of the good ones I’ve tried have no more than 5-6 ingredients.
4) Watch out for the organic label. I hate to break it to you but the term “organic” on a product can be misleading. As I’m fond of saying… Bullshit (as in literally cow poop) is technically “organic” but I’m not about to go and eat it. So when companies tout something as organic it’s worth checking to see if it actually is. Also keep in mind some of the companies will push their particular protein powder as “organic” and it may actually be, but I know of one that has 4 different types of sugars included in it! Organic does not necessarily equal healthy.
5) Find a flavor or flavors you like. As I said you can buy flavorless protein powder and I use it in baking often. But to drink it.. oh heck. You want to at least find a flavor you like so it doesn’t’ end up sitting on the shelf forever. Vanilla and Chocolate are the most popular flavors but there is a wide variety of offerings out there. My personal favorite is salted caramel and I enjoy mixed in my coffee. Who needs those $6 frappachinos from the coffee place when you can enjoy something good for you for a fraction of the cost and get the benefit of extra protein?
6) Try a few different powders till you find one you like. No 2 brands are the same. Purchase single serving packs or ask for samples if they have them, so that you don’t buy huge canisters without knowing if you’ll like it. It’s not just about taste. Look for a texture you like (some are very chalky), as well as mixability. One piece of advice… get a cheap blender to make them in. While at home I use a Nutri-bullet which I highly recommend, at the studio I have this one which I picked up for less than $20. Shaker cups are great in a pinch but can often leave clumps no matter how hard you shake it.
7) Watch the packaging - A common trick in the industry is to package the protein in large containers. The idea being you look at the container and the price and figure you’re getting more for your money even though the cost per serving is 3, 4 even 5x something in a smaller package. You open the package and find half of it is air.
8) Focus on Cost per Serving. As mentioned earlier costs vary widely and the industry has a wide range of low to high costs per serving. If something is cheap per serving, most likely you are getting what you pay for. If it is extremely expensive per serving then often you are overpaying, to cover the commission of the person selling it. A rule of thumb I use is to look from something between $1-2 per serving. In general I’ve found those less than $1 per serving have a bunch of fillers in them and those more than $2 per serving are overpriced. Always choose quality over quantity and do some research on the company making the product.
In conclusion while it is much better to get your protein from foods like meats, nuts and others for those that struggle to get enough protein powders can be an excellent alternative.
Again focus on quality over quantity/cost and when you find something you like stick to it.