One of the first things people add to their shopping list when they start a health and fitness program is protein. But, what is a “protein shake”? If I were to randomly ask people in a grocery store what defines a protein shake, most people would have no clue where to even begin.
How many calories should a protein shake have? How many grams of protein should it have in it? Should it have carbs and fat? What type of protein should it have; egg, whey, soy, pea, rice, milk concentrate? These are common questions most people don’t have the answers to.
My goal today is to help eliminate confusion, point out common mistakes and help you understand what to look for when shopping protein shakes so you don’t waste your time or money.
Shopping Protein Shakes
1. Know your goal. Your goal is a big determining factor when it comes to choosing the best protein shake for you. Not all protein products are equal. There are different protein powders for different goals.
Do you want to lose weight or gain weight? How do you plan on adding protein to your meal plan? Will you be doing a shake in place of a meal or will you be doing protein as a snack? Are you taking it post workout, before bed or between meals? These are all super important questions that will result in a different suggested products to help you reach your goals.
2. Know how to read nutrition facts. How do you know how many calories is too much or too little? This is easy! If there are 4 calories in every gram of protein, then a 20 gram shake will have 80 calories just from protein alone. Anything over that will be extra calories from other ingredients. While it’s ok to have a few extra calories from a little fat and sugar, a low calorie 20gm protein shake should be around 90-120 calories. If you need extra calories because you are an athlete and need more energy to perform or to replace calories, then a higher calorie shake would be best. Again, it goes back to what supports your goal. I personally look for natural ingredients, low sugar (1-2gms), low calories and around 20gms of protein or more.
3. Know what type of protein to get. While I don’t have room in this blog to break this topic down in detail, study after study has proven that whey protein is the most superior protein for muscle repair. Egg protein is also very good, probably second to whey. However, soy protein is a protein you should completely avoid since it’s been linked to increased risk of cancer and hormonal issues.
Plant based proteins are okay, but rarely compete with whey simply because they often lack some amino acids, reducing efficacy. Finally, undenatured whey protein is the highest quality whey protein because it is the least processed protein. While most companies use high heat, acid, alcohol or other methods to extract the protein, undenatured whey protein is the healthiest whey protein.
4. Know trustworthy brands. Unfortunately, most companies care more about their bank account than your health. Label lying is real and the vast majority of protein on the shelves are packed with fillers and false advertising. Sadly, just because it says it has 20 grams of protein on the label, doesn’t mean you are actually eating, absorbing and using 20 grams of protein. In order for you to get the most out of protein, the amino acid profile needs to include all 9 amino acids. It’s amazing how many protein powders out there do not have quality complete protein that your body can actually use.
The only way to really know if you can trust the label is to find a company you can trust. A company that puts your health first and has a no-compromise policy. Another way to trust your label is to find products that are certified by 3rd party companies hired to test the product. For instance, my protein is Informed Sports Certified, which guarantees the quality and accuracy of the product. This costs money, so most companies will not take extra measures for quality control.
5. Never settle. If you are trying to improve your health, why would you compromise when it comes to healthy ingredients? Too often people focus so much on protein that they ignore all the mysterious ingredients on the label. What value is it to gain muscle and lose your health. I learned this the hard way. Demand quality. Demand natural healthy ingredients. Get informed and make informed decisions. You are worth it.
Remember, protein isn’t just for bodybuilders. We lose muscle as we age and we must be proactive to give our body the nutrients it needs to fight muscle deterioration to remain strong, vibrant and youthful – plus it helps stave off hunger and makes dieting a lot easier!