Healthy Q & A: Exercise and Protein Shakes, with Recommendations


Q:  I’ve started working out, and I want to start taking a protein shake, but am kind of overwhelmed with the choices.  Do you think a protein shake is necessary?  What would you recommend?  I want something that is good tasting too.

A:  Good job starting an exercise program!  Protein is great for muscle recovery, enhancing muscle rebuilding and growth.  Drinking a protein shake within 45 minutes of exercising has been shown to aid in promoting muscle growth in studies.

Depending on what type of exercise you’re doing, a protein shake may not be necessary. Light exercise like walking or yoga usually does not require additional protein added to the diet (though everyone should be getting at the very minimum the RDA of protein, which is 46 grams for women and 56 grams of protein for men).  Weight training or more intense exercise, which people of all ages should be doing, would benefit from additional protein.  Strength training helps to increase bone density and prevent osteoporosis as well as reducing arthritis pain improving insulin resistance, and reducing blood pressure. Building muscle also helps to boost your metabolism which increases the rate in which you burn calories.  A natural part of aging is reduced muscle mass, so incorporating some strength training into your daily routine literally can “turn back the clock”.

One thing to think of when adding a recovery protein shake is the amount of calories consumed.  Pretty much every protein shake tastes better when made with milk or soy milk, but in most instances protein powder mixed with water is preferable due to its lower calorie count.  When trying to get in shape or lose weight, it’s important not to sabotage your weight loss efforts by drinking all the calories you burned post workout.

Whey protein, which is derived from milk, is often said to be the best form of protein for building muscles since it is so easily absorbed.  I don’t eat dairy, so I asked Patrick who works at the store, and he recommended Isopure as his favorite protein shake, due to its taste and protein and amino acid content.  After Isopure, Patrick and his family agreed that our Biochem chocolate whey protein powder was the next best tasting.

For non dairy protein, after trying a number of other protein shakes, the one I’ve stuck with is NOW Food’s unflavored pea protein powder.  It is economical and has a high protein content per serving, particularly for a non dairy protein shake (non dairy protein powders are typically lower in protein than their whey protein counterparts).  I like it because it has a similar amino acid profile to whey protein and is a clean shake without excess ingredients.  Unlike some other protein powders, it isn’t gritty, which makes it easy to drink.  I do also like Nature’s Plus Spirutien shakes, which are a mix of rice, pea, and soy protein.   They’re especially nice since they come in so many different flavors.  They aren’t as high in protein per serving as some other shakes, but they do have added vitamins, minerals, and superfoods like spirulina.

Research has shown that roughly 20-25 grams of protein post workout is optimal, so look at the nutrition facts for the protein powder you’re using to find how much you need to take.