It’s the #gains aid that has gone from specialist health store to supermarket aisle; in today’s gyms, bros can’t stop bending their elbows over protein shakes, but some are all gear, no idea.
It’s understandable, given that the range of products on offer can be overwhelming to anyone without a PhD in sports nutrition. The confusing line-up is a real concern when you consider that using the wrong one can affect whether or not you actually achieve your fitness goals. Plus, with tubs of protein costing anywhere from £15 to £60+, making the wrong call can also be a colossal waste of money.
That’s why we asked fitness industry experts to cut through the marketing jargon and give us the top line facts about everyone’s favourite post-workout ritual.
Why Drink Protein Shakes?
Let’s cut to the chase, “shakes aren’t strictly necessary,” reveals personal trainer Chris Hall. “Protein-rich foods such as meat and fish can be munched post-workout to get the amino acids your muscles need to repair and grow.”
Where shakes have the upper hand is mostly convenience, but also per serving they work out cheaper than ‘real’ food.
Convenience is king. Protein powders promise superior muscle-building powers, but the real reason to drink a shake is that it’s easier than inhaling chicken breasts or mackerel fillets post-workout.
What’s In A Name?
The main two types of protein powder are whey and whey isolate. The difference? “Aside from price, very little,” says clinical performance nutritionist Martin MacDonald.
Whey isolate is more expensive, but that doesn’t mean your six-pack will suddenly come out of hiding. You might hear bro-science types going on about it being a better quality protein, but the actual difference is irrelevant to most people. “The lactose is removed, making it better for those with an intolerance,” explains MacDonald.
A third type, casein, is a slow-releasing protein that’s recommended before bed to ensure a steady release of essential amino acids to your muscles overnight.
Unless lactose intolerant, there’s no point wasting money on expensive whey isolate. According to MacDonald, most products are a blend of both anyway. Only use casein if you’re serious about packing on a lot muscle, and going to the gym the morning after.
When Should You Have Them?
Most people rush to neck a shake right after their last rep, but there’s actually no need. A recent study by the International Society of Sports Nutrition discredited the idea of a muscle-building window.
“As long as you’re having enough protein across the day and eating within a three-hour window before and after training, having protein within the ‘magic’ hour after exercise has little to no advantage over muscle growth,” says Hall.
Don’t worry about hitting a special muscle-building window. It doesn’t exist. All that really matters is getting enough protein throughout the day, which bring us nicely to the next question…
How Much Should You Have?
The government’s protein RDA is currently set at 0.8g per kilo you weigh (so, an 80kg guy would need 64g), but that’s not going to help you get guns worthy of any kind of show.
“For anyone who trains three to five times a week, a protein intake between 1.9g and 2.5g per kilo of bodyweight is what I recommend all my clients,” says body transformation expert Chris Walton.
All the PTs and nutritionists we asked recommended amounts within the range suggested by Walton. Of course, this must be paired with a solid exercise plan, otherwise you can end up putting on weight rather than muscle.
Anything Else To Consider?
You already know the importance of building an effective approach to the gym, but as well as training smart you should take time to check the ingredients label of any powder you’re looking to buy.
As a general rule of thumb, the less carbohydrates – especially sugar – the better if you want to get lean and ripped, rather than turn into a beefcake like Cartman did in South Park.
Most contain artificial sweeteners to keep the sugar content low. Studies seem to show these are fine unless consumed by the bucketload. If you’d rather avoid them, wholly organic whey powders are available, and if you’re vegan there are other products derived from plant sources.
Just like body-sculpting products, protein shakes aren’t totally necessary but there’s no harm in calling on a little extra help in the pursuit of shoulders like boulders, if used correctly.
Pair the right drink for you with a solid exercise plan and achievable fitness goals to get Judy Dench (hench) in no time.