Protein Shakes – Should I bother?

by PT Protein
News | PT Protein

Kicking off the Gridiron Hub supplement series, I aim to provide you with the no bullsh*t information you need to make a decision about what you need and how much of it you should be taking.

As protein is probably the most common nutrient I receive questions about, I thought I’d start out with protein shakes as the first topic to be covered.


Does it work and is it better than normal food?

Yes, and not necessarily. Protein powder is literally an easily digestible form of the protein, it has no special properties other than having a high Glycemic Index which effects how quickly it is adsorbed and its effect on your blood sugar levels, which after a workout is exactly what you need. Research has shown that whey protein vs the same amount of chicken breast of a similar quality is marginally more effective for recovery. Marginal. If you’re a pro athlete or taking things really seriously, then maybe that marginal improvement is worthwhile to you, just be aware that it’s not going to be the difference between you gaining 5kg on your 1RMs over a 6-week period and it’ll be more like 5kg extra over an entire year.

That being said, the studies performed often don’t account for the time it will take you to drive home, cook, then eat the meal, plus you also need to consider just the general convenience of it. I personally am not a morning person at all, I’m a very last minute kind of guy and really struggle to drag myself out of bed early enough to make a proper breakfast, so my regular morning meal will be brown toast to get some carbs in me, coffee and a shake on my way to Uni. For me in this instance it’s not a decision of shake vs normal food for my protein, it’s a case of shake vs nothing (bar the brown bread), so buying in a tub every month is a no brainer. I’m sure the similar will apply to many of you, perhaps you travel a lot for work and want something you can keep in the car to save you from hunting down meal deals after every gym session.


Do I need carbs in my shake?

It depends. Carbs are essential when muscle building as whilst carbs are burning for energy, the protein you’ve eaten is freed up to make those precious gains. This may not be what you personally need though. If you’re looking to lose weight, then it could be a good idea to go for a low or no carb protein powder to help you recover without picking up the extra calories. The same applies if you like to eat something solid or have your shake with a meal, if you don’t want the extra kcals then choose a lower or no carb option. If you’re not bothered about losing weight or want something that you can directly swap for a meal, a powder with moderate carbs, some fat and protein all in one is a great option. And finally, if you’re looking to bulk up… you guessed it. Especially if you don’t have the best appetite and struggle to get the extra kcals in through solid food, a very carby shake is great for that.


Do shakes need milk?

They definitely taste better with milk, but it is in no way more effective unless you’re taking into account for the nutrients from the milk as well as the protein. But bare in mind if you’re in weight loss mode, those kcals from the milk could be slowing your progress! If you really can’t bare a water based shake, low kcal milk alternatives are available in most supermarkets (almond milk is pretty good).


Protein Quality

Unfortunately, much like basically anything in the world, you really do get what you pay for with protein shakes. Any protein that looks like a bargain and costs about £15 for an 8kg sack is likely to be a sh*tty product. But why is this?

Just like some farmers may try and cut costs whilst rearing chickens by choosing practices like battery farming and using poor quality food stuff to raise said chickens, those dastardly protein companies also have a cost reducing trick or two up their sleeves! Most noticeably, cheap protein powders in general don’t taste that great and can be seriously lumpy which should be enough to make you want to shop elsewhere, one other quite concerning factor is that the actual product itself can be a bit of a scam.

Adding good quality grams of protein to a product is expensive, when you check the label of a protein shake and you see that it contains 30g of protein per scoop, it doesn’t always mean that. Protein in supplements is actually measured by the grams of nitrates contained within, instead of actual protein. To take advantage of this loop hole, a concept called “nitrate” spiking was created in the protein industry, where companies have been known to list a product to have 30g per scoop, whilst actually only adding 15g of protein, before topping the remaining 15g with nitrates. Sneaky? Yes. Illegal? Sort of.

Although nitrates aren’t necessarily bad for you, if you’re religiously tracking your protein intake and using a lot of shakes to help make up your daily amount, you could be wayyy off your target if you’re relying on a dodgy product. So play it safe, if you see something that looks too good to be true, it probably is!


Takeaway points

  • Protein powder after a gym session is marginally better than normal food
  • Buying good quality protein matters
  • The convenience of protein powder is worth it for some people, but others not
  • Low carb for loss
  • Moderate carb for lean muscle gain
  • High carb to pack on mass