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

“Protein shakes make you bigger and stronger. Buy our super secret formula for max results!” 

That’s what every magazine ad and supplement company will tell you about their protein powder.

You’re reading this article because you want to learn more about protein shakes:

  • Can they help me build muscle? I’m a skinny dude.
  • Can they help me lose fat? I’m an overweight male/female.
  • Are they a waste of money? Are certain brands better than others?

Regardless of what you’ve heard about protein shakes, I wanted to set the record straight and help you get started with drinking them, including what to buy and when to drink them!

I’ve been drinking them off and on for the past 15 years, and have tried pretty much every flavor and type under the sun.

A quick note: protein shakes are a tiny piece of the puzzle. You ALSO need to train properly and eat right to get the results you’re after. After all, if you eat like garbage and train incorrectly, all the protein shakes in the world won’t help you get stronger and bigger!

You need to have the right systems, the right nutritional strategy, and the right workout in place, and THEN a protein shake might help you reach your goals a bit faster.

We know this stuff is complicated, and we know that it sucks when you spend 6-12 months drinking protein shakes and NOT getting results (which is what I did when I started out – except I did that for 6 years!). You probably don’t have 12 months to waste, and you want to take this stuff seriously!

To help busy people like you not waste their time in the gym, and help them actually get results, we created our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program. Handcrafted workout plans, nutritional strategies for your lifestyle, professional guidance, and expert accountability help you cut through the clutter and start getting results today. You can schedule a call with our team by clicking the image below to see if we are a good fit for each other!

What You Need to Know About Protein Supplements

A protein supplement should supplement a healthy diet.

This means that whenever possible, you should aim to get your daily protein intake from actual food sources:

Chicken, steak, burgers, almonds, peanuts, eggs, fish, milk, etc.

Now, depending on how much food you are looking to eat every day (or if you are a skinny nerd that needs to bulk up), eating all of that food can get expensive.

In addition to that, constantly prepping and eating and cleaning up a ton of meals can be a a pain in the ass, 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 – egg protein, hemp protein, etc. For now, keep it simple and basic and look for something that says “100% Whey on it”
  • 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 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.

If you’re somebody that just wants to be told WHAT to buy, you can see my two preferred choices from the past decade here:

  • Jay Robb’s Grassfed Whey Protein: my current favorite and absolutely delicious (I go with Vanilla)…but expensive. This comes from grass-fed cows, and thus is much more difficult to come by. I find it to be the best blending option in my powerbomb smoothies
  • Optimum Nutrition Whey Protein: former favorite and the whey I used for years. Optimum nutrition is known in the fitness space, and I’ve used their product for close to a decade without issue. If you are on a tighter budget and can’t afford grassfed whey protein, go with Optimum Nutrition.

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. As I said above, your protein supplement should be PART of a healthy diet.

Just drinking a protein shake while eating like crap will not get you the results you’re after. You need to be eating well, following a strength training routine, and focused on making progress!

If you feel lost with your workouts or are not sure what to do with your diet, download our free guides when you sign up in the box below and you can stop worrying and start making progress TODAY:

HOw Much Protein DO I need Every Day?

Despite what advertisements for protein supplements will tell you, you do not need to be eating hundreds of grams of protein every day.

They like to tell you this so that you use their supplement faster and need to buy more!

Although there’s no exact science to it, and everybody is a unique snowflake, we like to keep it simple here at Nerd Fitness.

Claims for the amount of protein needed vary wildly from source to source (and athlete to athlete).

Personally, I have found that 1 gram of protein per pound of lean body weight (2 grams per lean body weight of kg) works for most people. If you’re not interested in figuring out your body fat percentage to determine your lean body weight, that’s okay too.

Just keep it very simple:

Eating 0.8 grams of protein per pound of total body weight, or 1.6 grams of protein per kg. Done.

Note that your protein is just a portion of a healthy diet! You should be filling up your stomach with nutritious foods like vegetables, high quality, and healthy fats. Read more about healthy eating here.

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.

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? For over a decade, I simply used a cheap blender like this on Amazon!

Depending on your budget, you can also 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 as I got older and had more disposable income 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.

Note: if you are using a shaker bottle, pour the water in first, THEN add the protein shake!

When to drink them?

In my opinion, from my experience, and in my research, I believe the most important time to drink a shake is right after you strength train whenever possible.

This is when your muscles have been broken down from exercising and in desperate need of protein to rebuild. If you can eat a nutritious meal following your workout, even better. If not, or if your stomach gets upset when eating after a workout, consider a protein supplement or homemade protein smoothie to get your body the nutrients it needs!

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 target closer to 1 gram of protein per pound of total body weight every day. Adjust this based on your progress, metabolism, etc.

A quick note here: all the protein shakes in the world won’t help you get bigger and stronger if you’re not eating enough total calories every day – I spent 5 years strength training and drinking protein shakes and didn’t put on a pound of muscle. It’s because I didn’t have a good workout plan to follow, and I didn’t eat enough calories every day.

If you’re not getting bigger, you’re not eating enough.

Struggling 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 for a cheap blender to process and will most likely burn out the motor):

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!

Remember, none of the above will matter if you’re not also following a great strength training routine!

If you’re just getting started and need a workout plan to follow, download our free guide, Strength Training 101: Everything You Need to Know, and our Skinny Nerd Bulk Up Cheat Sheet when you sign up in the box below:

Protein Recap

Protein supplements should SUPPLEMENT a healthy diet, not replace it.

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.

Hopefully this should get you started! Feel free to try out different flavors and combinations of ingredients in your smoothies to make them something you actually look forward to!

-Steve

PS: Still overwhelmed? Still not sure you’re training right or eating correctly? Want to know which supplements are worth it and which ones are a waste of money? I hear ya. We know this stuff can be complicated, and the LAST thing you want is to waste your time and money on strategies that don’t get you results. These questions and people like you are why we launched our 1-on-1 Coaching Program: to help busy people cut through the noise and just start building muscle, getting leaner, and feeling better.

If you’re interested schedule a free, quick call with us to learn more and decide if we’re a good fit for each other!

photo credit: kidmissile Am I Doing It Right?! via photopin (license)

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Woman
Man
  • Nice post! I find protein shakes can be beneficial for the right situation. I’ve used them at times and right now I don’t need them. I put together an infographic you might find helpful here https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/586aa149ef6ab50432187a4305ccb9060085099ddc5852d79de3c55d0715bd31.png

  • Theproteinreport.com

    Great post, Nerd Fitness. I find protein powders and mass gainers useful, especially during bulking.
    Be sure to use a quality product that does not contain unnecessary additives.

  • linda basauri

    we all have heard of it. Is it’s beneficiary?the most common type of supplements is food and health supplement. The food supplement helps us to fulfill the nutritional deficiencies, whereas the health supplement keeps our health insured.
    http://www.healthsguardian….

  • Albin

    Real men have figured out you don’t need a $15 protein shaker, when an empty mayo jar is larger than their 28 oz and eBay sells stainless shaker balls for a buck a pop or less. As for whey protein, blend or isolate, it’s all about grams per dollar (the “amino spiking thing” is just shrill noise left over from a false labeling lawsuit a decade ago – the “aminos” are just harmless filler) with mixability and taste considerations for the fussy. Real nerds can do a quick spreadsheet to calculate out the best price from the intended, industry-induced chaos of different blends, jar and scoop sizes, and wildly fluctuating “sale” pricing. Ignore the homoerotic photos and phony claims about magical scientific formulas – it’s grams of protein for the consumer buck.