The Perfect Whey Protein Shake
Perfect and whey protein shake in the same sentence? Yes. It takes the right kind of powder, ingredients and technique but you can make a healthy, balanced and delicious protein shake. I'll also talk about how and when should you consume this delicious beverage since there are no free protein shakes in life.
There are all kinds of protein powders but the most common is whey, a by-product of milk when it's made into cheese. Whey naturally contains a lot of lactose -a sugar that requires special enzymes to digest and those who are deficient in them are lactose-intolerant. So in order to make protein powder, the whey has to be processed to separate the protein from the carbs/fats. Different types of processing affect how pure the whey protein powder is, purity being in terms of ratio of protein/carbs/fat and how much lactose/milk by-products it has.
Whey Protein Concentrate is the most common and cheapest, it's also the lowest quality. Officially whey concentrate has to be between 29-89% protein, usually it's more around 70%. When most people think of protein powder they think of this. It's pretty nasty tasting and causes a lot of problems for those who are lactose intolerant. Only get this if you just can't afford anything better. Usual prices are $4-7/lbs (U.S prices).
Whey Protein Isolate is the best powder imo. It's above 90% protein and should contain no carbs or fats. Whey Isolate just has less by-products and lactose than concentrate, so it will have more of a neutral flavor and works great for anyone who is lactose-intolerant. It also tends to mix better. The only downside is the price: expect to pay $10+/lb for this, but I think it's worth it. I recommend the Whey Isolate (Cold-Filteration) from TrueNutrition, I've used this for several years and I think its hits the mark in terms of quality/cost. It's also very customizable and all the flavors they use are solid - I'll talk more about flavors below.
If you do get from TrueNutrition you can use a discount code (THESWOLE) to get ~5% off.
Whey Protein hydrolysate don't bother. This is basically 'partially digested' whey isolate. It tastes bitter and provides no added benefit. It's also a lot more expensive.
Whey Protein Blends are a mix of two or more of the whey powders and/or other protein powders (egg, casein, etc). Blends are a bad idea unless you have complete control over what powders are getting blended in. The majority of whey protein powders in the market are blends, for example the popular ON Whey Gold Standard!!! (I pretty much hate everything about it) is a propriety blend. Which means its 99% crap whey and 1% okay whey.
Whey blends are basically diamond shavings in a turd bucket with a propriety sticker on it.
Why does my protein shake taste like sand
Since whey powder is a milk by-product it goes best with flavors that go well in a milkshake. That means creamy, nutty, starchy, sweet, basic (not acidic) flavors.
Here are some factors that effect how your shake will taste:
- Quality as mentioned whey concentrate tastes worse than isolate. Also note there are other protein powders than whey which have their own unique tastes.
- Temperature do you like warm milkshakes? Your protein shake doesn't either.
- Solvent are you using milk or water? Milk will almost always taste better but packs in more calories. Also keep in mind the milk fat%. Some people like to mix whey with fruit juice, I don't. I stick to 2% lactose-free milk.
- Sweetener most protein powders have them. Usually its a choice between aspartame, stevia and splenda. I prefer splenda but I know people who like stevia.
- Added flavors since you won't be drinking unflavored whey it will have natural or artificial flavors added to it. Those flavors depend on the manufacturer, I recommend the premium flavors from TrueNutrition.
- Ingredients you mix in just because it's a protein shake doesn't mean it can't have more stuff in it. This can mean peanut butter, oats, berries, bananas, anything really, more on this below. These also help texture a lot.
- Mixing method your shake will suck if you use a spoon. Use a blender - I recommend a hand blender - or a shaker cup. Another cheap trick is to pour it into a bottle with a screw cap and shake it really hard inside.
What to add to your Swole Shake
There's a lot of stuff you can add to your shake to improve flavor and nutrition. This comes at the expense of calories obviously so the more you add in your shake the less actual food you can eat later.
- Fruits especially like bananas, strawberries, berries are my favorite.
- Nuts and nut butters like peanut and almond butter also add a lot of creaminess and flavor. They also add a ton of calories so only use if you have a lot of leeway in your diet.
- Oats/Oatbran will make your shake really thick. It's a good way to get carbs in quickly when needed as well as getting a fibre shot. They can improve also improve satiety; although you are doing something wrong if you are looking for satiety in a shake.
- Flax seeds I like to use just for general health benefits, some omega 3 fats - although not as good as fish oil, nutty flavor and extra calories.
- Low calorie flavoring which can include cocoa powder, vanilla extract, cinnamon, coffee etc.
- Electrolytes like Sodium or Potassium. This is beneficial if you are sweating a lot/training very hard. Obviously the benefit is to balance your electrolytes so I don't just toss it in willy nilly. Sodium is just table salt. Potassium is sold as 'Lite salt', just make sure its pure potassium and not a blend.
- Supplements like creatine or BCAAs. I don't take creatine but it can give you a bit more endurance when taken before a workout. I do take BCAAs though since they give me more energy and help with recovery/muscle gain.
- Caffeine technically you don't add it to your shake, but Caffeine can help give you a boost to your workout. It's especially beneficial for cardio but still helps with lifting. You need to be well rested and not already on a ton of caffeine for it to work.
Why and when?
Shakes are most common post-workout. The point of the shake is to deliver nutrients quickly into your body after a tough workout. After training your body deploys all kinds of systems to start repair and replenishment and a shake is basically a supply drop for that. For optimal post workout nutrition you want whey protein powder + BCAAs + carbs (simple carbs are better).
You can drink a shake before or during a workout although I don't recommend that to most people. If you are eating proper meals then your body should have enough nutrients to go through a workout without having to dump a shake into it. So the only time you would drink a shake is if you didn't get your meals in and you need something quick. I take my shake in the morning right when I wake up since I train shortly after.
Finally a shake can act as a meal replacement. This is really discouraged unless you are trying to gain weight. The main reason is that a protein shakes offer extremely low satiety for the calories you are getting - even if you are just having whey + water. It's also a lot faster digesting and will spike your blood sugars more than regular food, not something you want when you are just sitting on your ass.
Those who are trying to gain weight can benefit from shakes in order to squeeze more calories into their diet. At the same time, if its a choice between skipping a meal and having a shake I'd go for the shake, think of it as a lesser evil.
Hope you enjoyed this post!
Do you add anything to your shake to make it taste better?