How To Choose The Best Protein Shakes
Protein powder was once a niche product, reserved for the larders of hard-core weightlifters and possibly pro sportsmen. Not anymore! Today, the benefits of protein are widely acknowledged; in fact, the sports supplement industry in the UK is now worth 650 million pounds per year.
Protein is a “macronutrient”, meaning the body requires large amounts of it as part of a balanced diet. Once absorbed into the body through digestion, protein is broken down into various amino acids, which are then built into new proteins to help make red blood cells and building muscles, as well as other functions of the body. For a gym goer, it is crucial after exercise, helping your muscles to recover and grow.
With the sports supplement market ballooning like a body builder’s biceps, today’s protein-hungry consumers are faced with an overwhelming amount of choice. I spoke to some health and fitness experts on what to look for when buying protein supplements.
Whey protein shake
The most common types of protein shakes are made from whey, a by-product of cheese. Whey-based proteins can be broken down into three main subcategories: Whey protein concentrate, isolate, and hydrolysate.
Whey protein concentrate
Pros: Concentrate is the cheapest option, it tends to mix the best in water and it tastes the best.
Cons: It sits at around 80% protein. You’ve got carbohydrates in there – about 5 grams of carbohydrate per serving and 3 grams of fat. It also contains lactose.
Whey protein isolate
Pros: It has been filtered through a different process to concentrate and has had the fat and the carbs removed. The protein content is way up to about 90%. It contains little fat and very little carbohydrate. There is also zero percent lactose. It’s about 99% lactose-free, so for people who have a lactose problem, isolate protein is one they can normally tolerate.
Cons: It doesn’t mix very well.
Whey protein hydrolysate
Pros: It’s been filtered through again, it’s pretty much 95% protein. Hydrolysate is really fast absorbing so if you have a rough workout session or you are doing two gym sessions in a day, it can be absorbed really quickly into the muscles. It also contains digestive enzymes naturally within it which helps to break it down slightly better and that’s why it is slightly faster absorbing.
Cons: It’s the most expensive, it doesn’t taste very nice, and it doesn’t mix well.
There are advantages to choosing vegan protein supplements, even if you’re not vegan. The key is to have core factors and the super foods in there. If your antioxidant intake is up, your immune system will be enhanced therefore you can train harder and longer.
Plant-based protein is also less antagonistic to the gut and can build muscle just as well as other forms of protein. You can add them to healthy smoothies containing fruits, vegetables, seeds and spices for an energy boost.
When considering a protein supplement, consider what your goal is first. Is it to lose fat and tone up or performance or mass building?
If you are trying to lose weight you can replace one or two meals during the day with healthy protein smoothie but you would have to snack healthily. Keep it simple, have a balanced diet and supplement with standard whey protein rather than anything full of carbohydrates. Have a protein shake after the workout, opt for isolate or hydrolysate and avoid blends with additional carbs.
For mass building, I suggest having a shake after the gym and at one other time during the day such as just before bed. There is no need to drink more than around two protein shakes a day. To boost your energy, a protein shake by itself isn’t enough. You will have to put something with it, such as a pre-workout supplement or a blend.