One of the most common questions asked of me is about protein shakes or smoothies: “Should I be drinking them?”
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past couple of years, no doubt you’ve read about protein shakes and 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 can help to increase your percentage of lean muscle.
3. Protein shakes can act as a healthy alternative for a meal, but they shouldn’t be used to replace all your meals.
Protein shakes come in all shapes, sizes and flavors (and yes, costs).
Costs vary widely ranging from as low as $10 for a month’s supply to as much as $200. The less expensive ones are often made from low quality protein and contain fillers. Then, there are the pre-made cans and bottles you find over the counter. These pre-made shakes are nothing more than disguised milkshakes, loaded with sugar, fillers and low quality protein that don’t deliver on what the body needs. The most expensive ones, while of much better quality, often are overpriced to cover the commission of the person selling it.
So what should you look for?
Do the math. For starters, look for something that is as close to 100 percent whey as you can get. An easy way to figure out how much of it is filler is to compare the calories to the grams of protein per serving. A gram of protein is four calories. If the product touts 25 grams of protein per serving then the calories should be 100. Anything above that is usually a filler of some sort. Note, most products have some extras in them, but you want to minimize it as best you can.
Watch the front labels. You’ll see things like low carb, low sugar, low sodium, and low fat used as marketing gimmicks. 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.
Look at the ingredients list. If you see a bunch of stuff you can’t pronounce, don’t buy it. While you can buy 100 percent 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 five or six ingredients.
Watch out for the organic label. Often some companies will push a particular protein powder as “organic.” Yes, they may be organic, but I know of one that has four different types of sugars — also organic. Organic does not necessarily equal healthy.
Find a flavor you like. Often, that’s the hardest part. 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 it mixed in my coffee. Who needs those $6 frappuccinos when you can enjoy something healthy, and for a fraction of the cost, all while getting the benefit of extra protein?
Try a few different powders until you find one you like. No two brands are the same. Ask for samples so 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 chalky), and see how well it mixes into your drinks. One piece of advice: get a cheap blender. Shaker cups are great in a pinch, but often leave clumps no matter how hard you shake it.
Watch the packaging. A common trick in the industry is to package the protein in large containers. You figure you’re getting more for your money by purchasing a larger container. But, look at the package and read how many servings is contained inside. Don’t be surprised if that large package is half air.
Focus on cost per serving. As mentioned earlier, costs vary widely. 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 paying to cover the commission of the person selling it. A rule of thumb I use, look for 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.
While it is much better to get your protein from meats, nuts and other foods, for those that struggle to get enough protein in their diets powders, can be an excellent alternative. Again, focus on quality over quantity and cost. When you find something you like stick to it.
Dan Romand is co-owner and operator of Full Circle Fitness-NY in Colonie, where he is a certified personal trainer.