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!

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, which is this nerd’s humble opinion:

  • 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. 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.
  • 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.

My two favorites:

The grass fed whey is significantly more expensive than the Optimum Nutrition option, but I found both to be delicious, full of protein, and helpful for me to reach my protein numbers each day.

What to mix it with?

Personal experience: the side of the label tells you to mix one scoop in 8 oz of water and it “mixes well and tastes great!”

I don’t know about the chocolate version, but the vanilla/strawberry powder mixed in just water isn’t great, though it’s manageable. I find it to be better when mixed with a blender than a shaker bottle, but do what you can.

Instead, I mix one scoop in with 8 oz of whole milk or almond milk when bulking up, or

Want some variety?  Add bananas, strawberries, blueberries, peanut butter, almond milk, 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 to mix it in?

You can find a cheap blender on amazon!

Depending on your budget, go to your local Walmart, Target, Kroger, Publix, Sam’s Club, Stop & Shop, etc. and buy a blender for 20 bucks.

 

I will say that I have become a Vitamix fanboy. They are expensive, sure…but you get what you pay for. I’ve probably burned the motors out of 10+ cheap blenders, and since switching to a Vitamix it’s been crushing my powerbomb shake ingredients twice a day in seconds.

If you have the money, it’s worth the investment. 

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

When to drink them?

The most important time to drink a shake is right after you exercise if you can.

This is when your muscles have been broken down from exercising and in desperate need of protein to rebuild. If you can eat a nutrition

Looking to build muscle? Read thisIf 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.

 

If you’re really skinny and struggle to eat enough calories every day, consider making my powerbomb shake that I consume after I work out (note, you’ll need a powerful blender to make this, it’s a LOT):

STEVE’S POWERBOMB SHAKE

  • 2 cups of whole milk
  • 1.5 cups of quaker oats
  • 1.5 scoops of whey protein
  • 1 cup of frozen spinach
  • 1 cup of frozen berries

Adjust the ingredients based on your goals, how many calories you need to consume each day, and make it work for you!

PROTEIN RECAP

My recommendation is to buy a tub of Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein online if you’re on a tighter budget, in whatever flavor you like.

If you have more money, consider the Jay Robb’s Grassfed Whey Protein (my favorite).

Consider mixing in a protein shake after your workout, 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.

A cheap blender will suffice if you don’t have other options, but if you have more of a budget I would recommend getting a Vitamix – you’ll have it for the next 30 years.

-Steve

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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.

  • https://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

  • https://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!

  • https://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

  • https://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) 😛

    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 😀

  • 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

    Buy Excellent Protein Shaker Bottle for good
    nutrition, and maintain good fitness levels with whey protein, using
    this shaker cup for protein shakes. Versatile for blending sport drinks
    or kitchen use and the wide mouth makes adding ingredients easy.
    Protein Shaker Bottle

  • 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.

  • http://thatfix.com/ frizurd

    It doesn’t matter really, as long as it fits your macros.

    But, I like your recommendation Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein, It’s probably my favorite brand/type and the taste is amazing.

    I would also recommend people to check out Cheapest Protein Powder supplements if you’re looking for protein powder supplements on a budget.

  • Gavin

    Something I don’t get: I know this post is super old, but he recommends skim milk above. Yet, in the academy, he says it’s ultimately sugar water, and instead to get whole milk.

    What gives?

  • Denito

    The consensus is 1gm of protein per pound of body weight but is an exaggeration based on easy math.
    The correct amount is 1gm per pound of muscle mass. Usually converted to your weight times .85 (if you have relatively low body fat), then 1gm of protein for this new number.

    Example: Weight 215Lbs. x .85 = 182.75

    Critical times to take a protein supplement if you cannot take it by other means:
    1. After workout
    2. Before bed
    3. For breakfast, although why would you not want steak and eggs is beyond me.

  • Denito

    That’s only if you need to gain weight and are short in the calorie consumption arena.

  • Pedro Silva

    Very nice!
    I even created a blog to pass on tips whey for the Brazilian http://tudosobrewheyprotein.com.br/

  • http://www.qualitysportssupplements.co.uk/9_fitness-authority Fitness Authority

    Yeah, mixing powder with water tastes like shi*… 😀 Checking labels not always works, because sometimes there is not a reliable info… Manufacturer has to be notificated. I try always to buy only notificated and health and supplements center trusted sports supplements.

  • JohnMathew

    I consume 1 gram of Optimum Nutrition HydroWhey every day

  • Wesley Sanchez

    Hey, kinda late but just read this. Im 15 about 125. I go to the school weight room and walk an hour home. When’s a good time to fit a shake in? And any recommendations for homemade shakes without whey?

  • Tom Leahy

    Hey, great site and really helpfull post. Question though: im a skinny guy looking to build muscle without losing alot of fat, cos my bmi is like 18.5. Should I be worried about a shake filling me up too much to eat enough afterwards?

    Tom

  • felyhely

    Good quality info.
    Lucky to me I came to your website not on purpose, but now I have bookmarked
    it.
    trueamino

  • magusxxx

    I use a food processor. Mine allows you to easily remove the blades after mixing. Then I just drink out of it. It’s the perfect size for one serving, does get fully mixed, and you don’t have to clean out a huge blender every day.

  • http://www.flexappealreno.com/ Flex Appeal Reno

    Thanks for sharing informatics information for us.Get in touch with good brand and quality product for buying genuine protein shakes.

  • Valerie Robin

    Steve – I’m so glad you wrote this! It’s helpful. Except for one thing: Whey protein gives me a terrible headache. Do you have any other suggestions for kinds of proteins people use?

  • Kyle Smith

    “sucralose in it which is unhealthy and messes with your intestines”
    You people and your superstitious BS.

  • nick aj

    i once saw a post in some website say. “A shake with high protein and low carbs is not ideal,”. know you say to take with law carbs. can you clear the confusion. see this web for more info.
    http://www.menshealth.co.uk/food-nutrition/muscle-foods/a-beginners-guide-to-protein-shakes-344902

  • Kemi A

    Hi I was wondering which protein powder you use as i have been looking for one without flavorings added to it

  • _Payzee_

    @Steve
    Gday
    Just a question, I’m 28, 175cm and 95kg (209.439lb)
    How much intake should my protein shakes be?

    I’m a landscaper and by the end of a day I’m sore and buggered (muscles), breakie is usually porridge or an apple with a coffee, don’t get time for lunch most days at work (3-4 days a week) and I mainly only get dinner which could be meat (steak, chop or chicken Maryland) and veges (spuds, peas, brocoli, spinach (only like greens)), or its takeaway (pizza, KFC, fish and chips)… I mainly only otherwise eat some fruit (oranges, apples and kiwis) or a meat and mushroom pie at lunch.

    Plus I drink ALOT of coffee and ice coffee.

    I also have a tub of Creatine Monohydrate.

    I don’t get to go to the gym, even though I have a membership because on my off days I’m too sore to go workout.

    I’ve lost track so I’ll leave it at that..

    Cheers

  • Hamza Shueib

    Great article, I’m only 15 and I’m looking to build muscle. For almost a year I’ve been trying to convince my mom to buy me a protein shake because my parents didn’t have the time to make me healthy meals. With my mom being an all organic type of person, that came into the way of buying a protein shake. It wasn’t until just recently that I found a shake that was organic certified and my mom to finally buy me it. My question is, what types of organic whey protein shakes would you recommend? Ive researched the types of organic shakes they have but can’t decide which ones to buy in the future. If your not sure that’s alright. I’m only planning on staying organic until I can start working on my own.

  • SusieJ Wingo

    Hi Steve, great article!
    I’m a fan of gold standard, you said you mix with milk… but after the exercise won’t be better to mix with water to have a faster recovery and be absorbed faster?

    Also, I’m looking to try a different protein and I found this article, with cheapest protein powder do you think I should give a try at BSN?

    Thanks

  • http://www.renegadedad.net/ Tim

    Hi Steve, I used to use ON’s All Natural Whey but there are a lot of better alternatives out there now.

    I wrote an article to help people discover the best “All Natural” whey for them. Here’s the link to that article: http://www.renegadedad.net/what-is-the-best-whey-protein

    I also created a chart so people can sort and filter a whole bunch of All Natural Whey Protein powders by Cost, Type (Concentrate, Isolate etc.), whether they are from Grass-Fed Cows or not etc. Here’s the link to that chart: http://www.renegadedad.net/all-natural-whey-protein-comparison-chart

    Hope these are helpful to the NF Community!

  • Marcy

    So like I just started drinking protein shakes Probably like 8 grams in a bottle I think I started with 3 bottles a day n exercising every 3 days for bout 3 days n now I just
    eating natural without the protein shakes by the way I’m a female about 155 lbs but now I’m trying to get rid of my fat bluber around my waist n stomach, I think where I wen wrong is drinking the proteins , they probly turned into fat, now I’m eating eggs,chicken n leafy vegs, but where did I go wrong?

  • Fiona Tyler

    I’m lactose intolerant and very new to the world of protein powder. Do you have any recommendations for someone like me?

  • DamuSSon

    Might be a little late, but you’d want to use 100% whey isolate. It has a higher percentage of protein than typical 100% whey, also called concentrate, and is further processed removing much of the lactose.

    Alternatively, you could try vegan protein powders that get their protein from things like soy beans, peas, brown rice, etc.

  • Ronnie Manglona

    Heads up GNC does beat em by a buck so if you show them on your phone a cheaper price they can beat them by a dollar, including if it’s a carrier by amazon. And the GNC I go to the employees are helpful and knowledgeable and never trying to push products on me.

  • Nataly Carbonell

    What about Purely Inspired Organic Plant-based protein powder? It seems “healthy”, but after reading the ingredients, it’s basically vegan and does not contain any whey. Is this considered an incomplete protein? Will this be ineffective while trying to build muscle?

  • Nataly Carbonell

    Are vegan protein powders like Purely Inspired brand a ‘complete’ protein? Does it matter if you want to build muscle?

  • DamuSSon

    I’m not familiar with Purely Inspired, but they do look to be another brand of vegan protein powders. Mostly it just comes down to researching the different brands and ingredients and finding one that you like.

    I don’t have personal experience using vegan protein powders, but from what I’ve read they can be just as effective as whey protein at building muscle.