Maybe you’ve heard about protein shakes as just something bodybuilders use to gain muscles – or you saw them in some latest model Instagram picture.
And now you’re asking yourself if they’re as effective to lose weight or gain muscle and – most importantly – how you can make one that doesn’t taste like your dog’s poop.
If you see yourself in this picture, then this article might be what you were looking for.
I’m here to clear up your mind on protein powders (to figure out which one might work best for you) how they can be effective in your fitness program and even different recipes to make a good-tasting one (skip to the end of the article for my favorites!)
Also, I want to save you a few headaches from reading protein powders’ labels and not understanding a single term. We’ll see what different proteins types powders are made from and what they’re useful for.
I agree this can all be quite confusing at first, but nothing to be really scared of.
What Are Protein Shakes?
Protein shakes are drinks made by mixing protein powder with water or other ingredients.
In fact, don’t forget you can add protein powders to almost every single one of your meals (but you shouldn’t!). You can sprinkle a scoop into your dairy-free milk, coffee, oats, homemade nutrition bars, pancake/waffle mix or hot cocoa – just to name a few.
You can buy protein powders and mix them yourself, but many different brands of pre-made liquid shakes are also available.
Good reasons to add protein powders to your diet:
- To get more proteins: when your access to quality high-protein foods is limited, powders are great substitutes.
- To increase your daily intake: even though most people don’t need them to meet daily protein requirements, they can be useful to increase your intake for some reason (ex. increase your metabolism).
But more precisely…
What Are Protein Powders?
Protein powders are concentrated sources of protein from animal or plant foods, such as dairy, eggs, rice or peas.
There are three common forms:
- Protein concentrates: they typically contain about 60–80% protein, with the remaining 20–30% of calories from fat and carbs.
- Protein isolates: they contain about 90–95% protein.
- Protein hydrolysates: these are absorbed more quickly by your body, and your muscles take them up more easily.
BUT THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PROTEINS THEY ARE MADE FROM …
I don’t want to get too specific with these, as I don’t really want to bother you with useless details you might not really need.
Basically, I quickly schematized proteins types powders are made from so that you can have a general idea of what’s written on labels.
Whey protein: Quickly absorbed, dairy-based. Contains all the essential amino acids.
Casein protein: Slowly absorbed, dairy-based. Contains all essential amino acids.
Egg protein: Egg white protein contains high-quality protein that is easily digested and absorbed. A few studies have looked at its effects on muscle mass, weight loss, and appetite.
Soy protein: Plant-based and contains all essential amino acids. Also contains soy isoflavones, which may provide some health benefits.
Hemp protein: Plant-based and high in omega-3 and omega-6 fats, but low in the essential amino acid lysine.
Rice protein: Plant-based and low in the essential amino acid lysine.
Pea protein: Plant-based and low in the non-essential amino acids cystine and methionine.
Also, please note that often brands contain a mix of different types of proteins.
For example, many plant-based brands combine different proteins to complement each other’s amino acid profile.
How Protein Shakes Can Help You Lose Weight and Belly Fat
Protein has always been an important nutrient for weight loss. Getting enough of it can boost your metabolism, keep you full longer and help you lose body fat (without losing muscle).
As we already said, protein shakes are an easy way to add more protein to your diet, and have been shown to help with weight loss.
Let’s see in more details how and why this happens.
Protein can decrease hunger and appetite
Many studies during these years pointed out that there’s a connection between our blood glucose level and our levels of energy.
In fact, our brains actually need glucose in order to operate, but high-glycemic foods – like muffins or chocolate – are digested very fast, which causes your energies to drop after a short period of time (around 1 hour after eating).
And this is why it’s recommended you consume (especially at breakfast!) more low-glycemic foods (= high-protein foods, like eggs or meat) to keep your energy levels constant during the day – and feel way less hungry.
In one study, a high-protein breakfast helped participants consume up to 135 fewer calories later in the day, while in another, increasing protein intake from 15% to 30% (of total calories) helped participants consume 441 fewer calories per day without actively trying to limit their portions.
Finally, another study found that shakes containing 20-80 grams of protein all decreased hunger by 50-65%, regardless of the amount of protein in their shakes.
As you can see, shakes can be a great way to add protein to your diet, but please keep in mind that too much can still lead to excess calories (20 grams of protein per shake seems sufficient to reduce hunger while still keeping calories low).
Protein Shakes May Increase Metabolism
An high protein intake can boost your metabolism, helping you burn slightly more calories each day.
This happens for two main reasons:
- A high-protein diet — especially when combined with strength training — may help you build muscle (and muscle burns more calories than fat). We already talked about it here.
- Protein needs more calories to be digested and metabolized. This is known as the thermic effect of food (TEF).
Protein Shakes May Prevent Muscle Loss and Metabolic Slowdown
If you cut too much on your calories for too long – and don’t focus on the right workout sessions (you can read more about this topic here) – you will lose muscle mass, which can slow down your metabolism.
Protein Shakes May Help Prevent Weight Regain After Weight Loss
If you build enough muscle (something a high-protein intake will help you do), your metabolism will increase and you’ll be able to eat way more while still keeping your ideal weight.
Also, this is supposed to be a lifestyle change, so of course if you stop exercising completely you will gain. There’s just no way around that.
But the good news is this whole process can be enjoyed by keeping a balance between healthy food & treats, working out & lying on the couch watching Netflix etc.
Yes, you can have it all!
THE BEST-TASTING PROTEIN POWDERS ON THE MARKET
I strongly believe there’s a perfect powder shake for everybody (and often more than just one!). It depends on training goals, daily calories intake and taste – don’t forget you’re supposed to consume it almost every day, so the taste of it is a pretty crucial part. While someone might prefer more fruit-based shakes, others like entirely-protein ones. I personally like having a sweet taste coming from fruit – as it makes the shake more enjoyable in my opinion – but most of the time its composition really depends on the type of workout I’m doing. For instance, I’d put way more fruit in my shake if I’m going for a run – or doing any other type of cardio workout – while I’d add more protein for HHT and other volume training workouts.
BiPro is a whey protein isolate that is a highly biologically available protein. Their most basic version is simple whey protein, while the flavored ones have natural flavors, some stevia and sunflower lecithin. 20 grams of the powder equals 90 calories, which make it a perfect choice if you’re trying to drop more than 2 sizes of clothes.
This is by far one of the better-tasting protein powders on the market in my opinion. It contains 24 grams of high-quality whey protein isolates per scoop and only two grams of sugar.
I didn’t want to be too ‘pushy’ and ‘salesy’ in this article, as I wanted to give an honest and as-neutral-as-possible opinion on the powders I tried this far, but I just can’t keep myself from recommending this one. It’s my absolute favorite and the one I use the most. Why? Because it’s so freaking good-tasting! It comes in a variety of delicious flavors, from ‘cookies and cream’ (be honest, wouldn’t you love a shake that tastes like cookies??) to ‘café mocha’. One scoop of this powder contains 20 grams of protein and 3 grams of belly-filling fiber (it makes you feel full for longer. Great to fight unhealthy food cravings).
If you prefer powders with no added sweeteners, but still want to have a tasty option, this is the right fit for you. This company prides itself on offering products with no artificial ingredients or sweeteners, and their protein powder is sourced straight from New Zealand.
This one protein powder was specifically designed and formulated to promote lean muscle growth for women. And even though it wins the award for ‘worst name ever’, it’s a great protein powder that not only promotes lean muscle growth, but also curbs appetite and acts as a great energy source (especially if you’re a big fan of High-Intensity Training like me!). It’s really hard to go wrong with this one!
This one powder is known for being an excellent source of all essential amino acids. Ascent uses only natural ingredients, and it has 25 grams of protein for only 110 to 130 calories, depending on the flavor.
Naked Nutrition Egg White Protein Powder contains only non-GMO eggs and sunflower lecithin (Yes, you read that correctly: only 2 ingredients! Crazy, huh?). You won’t have to mess with your brain reading labels, because these powders are as simple as their name – ‘naked’ – suggests. Indeed, this powder doesn’t have any added sweeteners or colors, and it packs 25 grams of protein for 110 calories.
Being vegan doesn’t mean there aren’t protein powder options. Au contraire!
If you prefer something more animal-friendly, VegaOne is the first option I’d recommend you. It is perhaps the most supplied company for vegan powders around – they provide a wide range of good-tasting powder options with no added sugars.
This organic fermented protein-and-greens powder company uses brown rice, quinoa, amaranth, and mushroom powder, plus fruit, veggie powder, and probiotics. They are healthy, keep your energy stable, and add a boost of much-needed probiotics (to keep your tummy happy & healthy too!).
‘Navitas Organics Cacao & Geens Essential Blend’ is a great mixture that consists of pea, pumpkin seed, sunflower seeds, flax, and hemp. It also has added greens and probiotics (btw, it’s soy-free).
RECIPES FOR PROTEIN SHAKES WITHOUT POWDERS
I’ve been collecting shake recipes since I have memory of. I always love preparing a good smoothie, not only to balance my post-workout levels of energy but also because I love their taste! I find protein shakes to be a good snack alternative and even a meal replacement for when I’m on the go. That’s why I personally collected here my favorite protein shake recipes that do not contain any powder. Actually, I think some of these recipes could actually surprise you in a good way (I don’t want to ‘spoiler’ anything, but there’s one recipe with Oreos and yes, it’s healthy!)
Skinny High Protein Oreo Milkshake (You will love this one!)
AND HERE ARE EVEN MORE RECIPES:
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What are your favorite powders and shake recipes from this list? Have you ever tried one of these? Please feel free to share your experiences and thoughts in the comment section below.