How to Choose the Right Protein Shake – All the Jargon Explained!

By on August 28, 2014

choosing-the-right-protein-shakeChoosing a protein shake can be a nightmare if you’re new to the world of supplements. There are just so many different brands, so many different flavours and so many different types, that it can almost be impossible to make an informed decision. The average protein shake is full of sciencey-sounding words which often don’t mean anything and only serve to confuse you further. You’re spending a lot of money so you want to get it right, not to mention that it will greatly affect your gains.

To get your head around it all, start by watching the video below where I go over the basics. Following that, I’ve provided a little recap of the different factors you should be considering when making the choice. This should provide you with your basic decision tree when picking the protein best suited to your needs.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Whey

Price vs Servings: To get an idea of the value of your protein shake, you want to look at the number of servings that you get for the price. Sometimes this will be mentioned on the tub, otherwise you should look at the size and weight of the tub and then how many scoops each serving consists of. A good, average-sized protein shake should provide around 20-30 servings, but buying in bulk is often the smarter financial decision.

Amount of Protein: Next look at the amount of protein per serving. 20 grams is a very average amount but they can go up to 50 grams and above. Of course you can take fewer or more scoops depending on how much protein you want from your shake, but this will also impact on the value. Remember that you’re aiming to get 1 gram of protein per 1 pound of bodyweight (see this article) if you’re trying to pack on extra muscle and this should be from your diet as well as your shake. Use this to calculate how much of the shake you’re going to use daily and thus how long it will last.

Amount of Carbs/Calories: If you want to bulk and don’t care how, then calories and carbs are a good thing – especially if you’re an ectomorph or ‘hard gainer’. On the other hand though, if you’re looking to build only lean muscle, then you want something high in protein and low in carbs to avoid adding any unwanted fat.

Type of Protein: Next consider the type of protein the shake contains. Whey protein is by far the most popular being highly bioavailable and with a great amino acid profile. Casein is slow-release and great as a before-bed shake, but it’s also expensive. Egg protein has a great amino acid profile but is expensive once again. Things like pea and soy protein just aren’t as bioavailable, so you should only really turn to those if you’re lactose intolerant/vegan.

Concentrate vs Isolate vs Hydrolised Whey Protein:Assuming you’re getting whey (you probably are), you then have to pick between concentrate, isolate and hydrolised whey. Concentrate is the least processed version so it’s not as lean, but is the most bioavailable. Isolate and hydrolised are leaner and more quickly absorbed, but they’re also more expensive and may not offer as many health benefits. Many protein shakes will use a combination of all three, and again you’re best off not worrying too much about it.

Extras: Many protein shakes come with a variety of added extras including things like creatine, BCAAs, testosterone boosters etc. Some such shakes are known as ‘all in ones’ and the usefulness of this is going to depend on your personal preference.

In terms of value, it’s often cheaper to just buy those extra supplements yourself – especially as beginners might not be fussed yet about creatine (though it is good) or tribulus terrestris (which doesn’t do much anyway). It’s also worth noting that you often take things like creatine differently from the way you take protein (there’s a ‘loading phase’ for instance). On the other hand, it can be convenient if you can’t be bothered to take lots of supplements or to design your own stack and especially if you want to bulk fast and try throwing everything at your body.

For most beginners, sticking with a pure whey will make the most sense. Pros will want to make their own stack. If you’re somewhere in between though, an all-in-one might be worth considering depending on your goals.

Taste and Mixability: Finally, does the shake mix well with water/milk and do you like? Though as I said in the video, don’t worry too much about this one: worry about whether or not it works. You don’t love the taste? Oh boohoo, here’s the world’s smallest violin!

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