Protein Shakes for Newbies: What to Buy & When to Drink

Two Nerd Fitness readers emailed me yesterday asking about protein powder and shakes.

Whey ProteinThis blog is for you guys!  First of all, if you are able to get your protein naturally in regular food, go for it.  Chicken, steak, burgers, almonds, peanuts, eggs, fish, milk, etc.  Essentially, food gets expensive when you need to eat it every three hours, it’s a pain in the ass to make, eat, and clean up afterward…Which is where protein shakes come in!  I’m no dietitian or bodybuilder, so the advice below comes from personal experience and suggestions from respected people that I trust.

Things to keep in mind when buying:

  • To start out, buy 100% whey protein.  There are other kinds of protein powders that I’ll go into on another post.  For now, look for something that says “100% Whey”
  • When buying protein powders, you want to try and buy a product with minimal other ‘stuff.’ Low carbs, low sugar, low sodium, low calories, low fat, etc.  The good stuff is like 99% protein.  If you go into a vitamin or nutrition store, always check the label before buying.
  • Pick a flavor that you like! Protein powders generally come in a few flavors: vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, etc.
  • Don’t buy from GNC. Prices are outrageous, and they often have an agenda to push the stuff with the highest profit margin.  BUY ONLINE, where prices are often half of what you’ll pay in a store.
  • If you’re a picky eater, buy a few single servings before you invest in a 3 month supply of protein powder.
  • Like the flavor? Buy in bulk when possible.  Many places online will offer 5 dollar shipping or free shipping on orders over $x amount.  If you’re serious about fitness and think you’ll be drinking shakes for the foreseeable future, buy a few tubs at once and save on shipping.

Most Popular Brands:

  • Cytosport Complete Whey Protein: 18 grams of protein per serving, 103 servings, 40 bucks. This is the brand that I’ve been using for a few years.  I picked the vanilla flavor because I’m not a fan of chocolate.    Because it’s only 18 grams, I take a scoop and a half because I aim to get around 30 grams of protein every 3 hours.
  • Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein: 24 grams of protein per serving, 77 servings, 40 bucks. Although this has less servings per container, each serving has more protein in it so both come out essentially the same when it comes to total amount of protein as the Cytosport.  This is a big hit on all the fitness message boards (and with bodybuilders).  Word on the street is the chocolate flavor is delicious and mixes really well.  I’ve never tried it, but I’ve heard nothing but good things from multiple sites and hundreds of users.  Also available in vanilla, strawberry, and other flavors.
  • Update: Check the comments of this blog for another recommendation and differing view on Optimum Nutrition.

What to mix it with?

Picture 2Personal experience: the side of the label tells you to mix one scoop in 8 oz of water and it “mixes well and tastes great!” Fail. I don’t know about the chocolate version, but the vanilla/strawberry powder mixed in just water is TERRIBLE.  Instead, I mix one scoop in with 8 oz of skim milk.  I’ve mixed vanilla powder with 8 oz of orange juice and it’s pretty good too.  Want some variety?  Add bananas, strawberries, blueberries, peanut butter, etc.  Try different combinations and find something that you actually like.  If you can choke down straight water & protein powder, you are a stronger man than I.

What’s that?  It doesn’t taste like the best thing ever?  Drink it, pansy.

What to mix it in?

UltimateChoppersBlenderBest advice: buy a cheap blender.  Go to your local Walmart, Target, Kroger, Publix, Sam’s Club, Stop & Shop, etc. and buy a blender for 20 bucks.  They make super deluxe models, smoothie makers, and fancy machines that will do everything.  Forget that crap; buy a cheap one because you’re going to be using it every day, multiple times a day.

Nf tip: don’t let your roommates use it to make margaritas – their cocktails will taste like protein and your shakes will taste like tequila.

Your other option is to buy a cheap shaker, which has a spoke-type thing in it to break up the powder when you mix it in with milk, water, OJ, whatever.  Personally, I’ve found that these things don’t work nearly as well as a blender.  You could shake a mixer for 3 minutes and it still won’t be as good of a blend as 15 seconds on a blender.  Spend the 20 bucks and get a blender

Your final option is to buy a BlendTec Blender (“Will it Blend?”) for like 700 bucks, but you can then mix your protein with iPhones, glowsticks, pens, golf clubs, hockey pucks, and more.  I wonder, what would happen if I drank glowsticks and protein?

When to drink them?

The most important time to drink a shake is right after you exercise.  This is when your muscles have been broken down from exercising and in desperate need of protein to rebuild.  I always drink a shake right after exercising.  However, don’t think one shake a day will do it unless you’re eating high protein foods throughout the day.  You want to provide your body with protein every three hours so it always has a constant stream of “building blocks” to use on those muscles.

Looking to build muscle? If you’re a skinny guy trying to gain muscle, you’re going to be eating a lot of calories and want to aim for at least 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight.  Let’s say you weigh 150 lbs and you want to gain muscle, you want to eat 6 meals a day with at least 25 grams of protein in each.  Try drinking a protein shake at the end of the day an hour or so before bed – because you’re sleeping and not expending large amounts of calories, your body can use the protein from the shake to rebuild your muscles.

Studies have also shown that a breakfast high in protein will result in less desire to eat big unhealthy meals throughout the day.  Protein will help fill you up!  Keep this in mind if you’re looking to lose weight.  Eat breakfast!

Recap:

My recommendation is to buy a tub of Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein online, in whatever flavor you like, and while it’s getting shipped to your house, go to your local grocery store and buy a cheap blender for 20 bucks. Start drinking shakes after your work out, for sure, and then whenever you’re in between meals and in need of protein.  Think of a shake as a way to get good protein when you can’t afford/don’t have time to make a good meal.  I’ve even bought an extra blender and left it in the kitchen in my office at work.  Bring in a tub of protein and a gallon of milk and I’m good to go.  Sure you might get a funny look or two from a co-worker, but I guarantee they won’t be laughing when you kick their ass at the company softball game and look like King Leonidas from 300.

-Steve

Author’s note: the reason I linked to Vitacost.com is because it’s where I buy all of my stuff.  They don’t pay me to promote them, I just like their low prices, cheap shipping (5 bucks), and they’ve never screwed up an order in 4 years.

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  • Sy the Paleo Guy

    Good site, but wanted to add my 2 cents about whey protein. I used to buy the ON stuff but it has sucralose in it which is unhealthy and messes with your intestines. The “natural” version has fructose which is better but not necessary. I’ve been using NOW unflavored whey protein isolate in a 10 lb bag. It’s super cheap compared to ON, too. The only drawback is that it doesn’t taste like anything but I just add some L-glutamine and NOW dextrose and chug it down. Like I said, my 2 cents.

    You into the Paleo/Primal/Caveman diet thing at all? I started 4 months ago and lost 30 lbs. Now I’m trying to add some muscle back. Ryan Reynolds and Daniel Craig are both great prototypes, but it takes a lot of hard work and a strict diet to look like that (as you point out in your articles.) Keep up the good work.

  • Sy the Paleo Guy

    Good site, but wanted to add my 2 cents about whey protein. I used to buy the ON stuff but it has sucralose in it which is unhealthy and messes with your intestines. The “natural” version has fructose which is better but not necessary. I’ve been using NOW unflavored whey protein isolate in a 10 lb bag. It’s super cheap compared to ON, too. The only drawback is that it doesn’t taste like anything but I just add some L-glutamine and NOW dextrose and chug it down. Like I said, my 2 cents.

    You into the Paleo/Primal/Caveman diet thing at all? I started 4 months ago and lost 30 lbs. Now I’m trying to add some muscle back. Ryan Reynolds and Daniel Craig are both great prototypes, but it takes a lot of hard work and a strict diet to look like that (as you point out in your articles.) Keep up the good work.

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve

    Hey Sy,

    Thanks for the comment! Great point about the sucralose in the ON whey. I’ll start doing some research on the NOW whey protein and maybe give it a shot. Does it come in any size other than 10 lbs? Hahaha.

    I’m reading about the Paleo diet right now and I’m intrigued. Agreed on Ryan and Daniel being good end goals, as long as people realize how much hard work (and money and time) was involved to get in that kind of shape. Thanks for reading.

    -Steve

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com Steve

    Hey Sy,

    Thanks for the comment! Great point about the sucralose in the ON whey. I’ll start doing some research on the NOW whey protein and maybe give it a shot. Does it come in any size other than 10 lbs? Hahaha.

    I’m reading about the Paleo diet right now and I’m intrigued. Agreed on Ryan and Daniel being good end goals, as long as people realize how much hard work (and money and time) was involved to get in that kind of shape. Thanks for reading.

    -Steve

  • Pingback: NF Mailbag: Fix My Diet | Nerd Fitness

  • Jai

    Hey Steve,

    I’d defo stay away from maybe the older formulation ON whey powders, but the one I’ve got (ON 100% Whey Mint Chocolate) doesn’t have sucralose, at least when I checked the ingredients 3 times. I guess it depends on the flavour.

    As a more budget powder, imho I think it’s still a decent starter whey, and the flavours are pretty good and like you’ve probably read on other sites it mixes very easily.

    It’s still better to get the majority of daily protein from meals, but the way to make it cheaper in the long run is to buy bulk frozen chicken and fish fillets. make little salad boxes with a mix of greens, quinoa or sweet potato, some healthy fat and all that.

    Keep up the great work, and I love the site!

  • Jai

    Hey Steve,

    I’d defo stay away from maybe the older formulation ON whey powders, but the one I’ve got (ON 100% Whey Mint Chocolate) doesn’t have sucralose, at least when I checked the ingredients 3 times. I guess it depends on the flavour.

    As a more budget powder, imho I think it’s still a decent starter whey, and the flavours are pretty good and like you’ve probably read on other sites it mixes very easily.

    It’s still better to get the majority of daily protein from meals, but the way to make it cheaper in the long run is to buy bulk frozen chicken and fish fillets. make little salad boxes with a mix of greens, quinoa or sweet potato, some healthy fat and all that.

    Keep up the great work, and I love the site!

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com/ Steve

    Hey Jai,

    Thanks for the comment. That’s good to hear that the newer ON whey doesn’t have sucralose. I definitely agree with you that the best possible protein source is going to be from natural sources (chicken, fish, eggs, etc.), but sometimes you just need a quick 30 grams and are too tired to cook/out of food.

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying the site!

    -Steve

  • http://www.nerdfitness.com Steve

    Hey Jai,

    Thanks for the comment. That’s good to hear that the newer ON whey doesn’t have sucralose. I definitely agree with you that the best possible protein source is going to be from natural sources (chicken, fish, eggs, etc.), but sometimes you just need a quick 30 grams and are too tired to cook/out of food.

    Glad to hear you’re enjoying the site!

    -Steve

  • Pingback: NF Mailbag: When Should I Drink My Protein Shakes? | Nerd Fitness

  • 44010577

    Out of the many protein sources out there, hemp protein is the ultimate. It comes from nutrition. Go to http://www.hempproteinguide.net/ for great information.

  • Anthony Aziz

    I know this is a really old post, but I *think* you made a mistype… You say 1lb of protein for pound of body weight (which seems crazy) but the next sentence seems to say 1 *gram* of protein per pound of body weight (which makes more sense) :P

    Just wanted to point that out. Oh, and while I’m here, a big thanks to all your advice and posts, helping this fatty get in shape :D

  • Barbara

    This post might be old, but I just discovered it. It seems like this was made with males in mind. I’m a 19 year old, 120 pound female who works out but has NEVER drank a protein shake. How much do I need to drink? What amount of protein do females need? Because I don’t want to end up looking like a body builder..

  • http://www.justine-dolorfino.com Justine

    I follow 1 gram of protein per pound of bodyweight too. Women won’t be able to ‘bulk’ up like men due to the differing hormone levels so while protein intake will help you continue to build muscle and strength, it’s not going to transform your body into that kind of physique.

  • Barbara

    Thank you for the information and for the fast reply!

  • Chris

    Wow as if you took the the time to write all this for nothing haha thanks though, great article & very insightful.. Much appreciated!

  • Johnjo R

    I just got into the gym, I’m 20 years old 130 pounds, full time college student and my nutrition and protein intake isn’t very good. I go to the gym very late, like 6:30 pm, because that’s the time I usually get out of classes. Is there anything you would recommend?. I eat a lot, and I mean A LOT of almonds, with every meal that I can get I always add a 1/4 cup of almond Non Salted. Is it a problem if I drink a Protein shake 2-3 times a day, I really need some advice, I feel the with my current nutrition my muscles are going to have difficult time growing.

  • Josh Budden

    Honestly im very critical with the info about nutrition on the internet these days, but I am actually very impressed with this article and would recommend anyone to listen to what this article says, agree 100% with most if not all. Well done Steve and believe me I read alot of articles on this stuff and disagree with alot of it but yours I would have to approve.

  • John

    Is this guy serious? Drinking too much protein just leads someone to gain fat not muscle. If your body doesn’t need it, it will convert to fat. You need to be working out nonstop to make that amount of protein work.

  • Gavin

    What are you basing that on? Genuinely curious as the general consensus from searching around the web is that 1g of protein per pound of weight is the way to go.

  • http://www.flyoneagleswings.com Jenny Williams

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  • ANBU

    Hey, really enjoyed the information posted here. I’ve read the 1gram per pound frame, but being a 130 pound male at 19 years of age, wanting to gain 20 pounds. Should I be consuming 150 grams of protein a day? to gain the extra 20 pounds.