The most popular supplement among gym users.
Ask around at the gym if people are taking any sort of supplements, and the most common one you’ll find that people are using are protein shakes. Protein shakes are incredibly popular for helping athletes get a necessary amount of protein into their diet, especially immediately following a workout.
The information out there regarding protein shakes can be pretty unreliable though, because every company who produces protein shakes wants you to believe theirs is the best, and that their particular brand of protein shake is essential to your success.
It’s completely possible to get all the protein you need from real, whole foods, but bringing chicken breasts to the gym and wolfing them down after a workout isn’t for everyone, making protein shakes a good option. Today we’ll be looking at what type of protein shake will be right for you.
Start by asking yourself if you can tolerate dairy.
The most common and most effective type of protein shake is whey protein. Whey is component of milk and dairy, and is isolated from dairy products to have the maximum amount of protein. Whey protein is extremely fast acting and hits the muscles faster than any other type of protein out there.
If you’re lactose intolerant though, that speed won’t make much difference if it causes you to sprint to the bathroom. While whey protein doesn’t contain all the same things that cause lactose intolerant people to get sick, it still could upset your stomach if you’re highly sensitive to dairy. In that case, using casein protein, which is also from dairy, but more of the type that’s found in cottage cheese might be a better solution. Casein is nowhere near as fast acting, but has the added benefit of releasing itself slowly to your muscles over a period of 8-10 hours.
If both cause problems for you, or you avoid dairy entirely due to following a Paleo diet, then you may need to look at other options for your protein shakes. There are egg proteins, soy proteins and even pea proteins. Recently, beef protein has hit the market as well, and is slowly becoming a more popular choice.
Whey is still the preferred choice of protein if you can tolerate it though, and should be your first choice unless you have issues with it.
What to look for in a protein shake.
The first thing you want to look for, is obviously the protein content. All good protein shakes will have an absolute minimum of 20 grams of protein per serving, with most having closer to 25 grams. Anything less than that, and you’ll have to use multiple scoops per serving, meaning that your money won’t go nearly as far as it would if your protein shake had a higher protein content.
The next thing you want to look for is what other types of supplements are included in your protein shake. The best protein shakes will include BCAAs (Branch Chain Amino Acids) as well as Glutamine. Both of these should be in the range of about 5 grams. These will help your muscles to recover properly after you’ve pushed them to the limits during your workout.
Some protein shakes will include carbs, some won’t. The large majority of protein shakes have less than 3 grams of carbohydrates, as they aren’t meant to act as a source of carbohydrates. People who are trying to bulk up though will want to include some carbs in their post-workout shake and should look for a protein shake that has a decent amount of carbs included in it. A good source of carbohydrates in this case is dextrose, as similar to whey, it is very fast acting. Most protein shakes that contain dextrose are marketed as weight gainers.
If you’re using whey protein, then try to get the highest quality whey you possibly can. This means using whey isolate, the purest form of whey. Whey isolate is also the most expensive form of whey, so those on a budget may not be able to afford it, and will have to settle for whey concentrate. Many people are tricked into believing they are buying whey isolate, because the protein shake advertises itself as being whey isolate, although whey isolate is actually the second ingredient, after whey concentrate.
What to avoid in a protein shake.
The biggest thing you want to avoid in a protein shake is sugar. After doing a workout, the last thing you want to do is pump your muscles full of table sugar. Thankfully, very few protein shakes actually include sugar.
This might sound strange, because many people are used to protein shakes which taste sweet, so they believe it must contain sugar – which is where the artificial sweeteners come in.
We all know the dangers of particular artificial sweeteners, so you’ll want to avoid all the notorious ones like aspartame. The two best choices for a sweetener in your protein shake are Sucralose and stevia, with stevia being the best option.
While it’s certainly possible to get all the protein you need from your food, and we recommend aiming to do so, a protein shake is a very convenient way to give your muscles the protein they desire after a good workout. Just listen to your body about how the protein shakes are affecting it, and think about changing types or brands if you’re experiencing negative side effects from your protein shake.