Liquid Protein

So, I really think I have tried almost every protein drink, bar, gel and goo out there in my quest for the perfect fuel; as I learn more about the benefit of whole food I am less eager to fuel my body with these options, but when I am really in a pinch or grabbing something from a convenience store when I am on the go, they are good for a quick fix to tide me over for a few hours. ┬áSo I’d like to discuss a few of the options out there…

…of which there are about a jazillion. Literally. So for my purposes today, I am only going to cover three of the more common protein shakes you will find, as well as everybody’s favorite: chocolate milk. Because, let’s face the facts, folks; they can try as hard as they want to make protein drinks taste like chocolate, but the general effect is like looking for fireworks and getting something more like sparklers.

As I waded through the test subjects, there are a few things I found to be fairly common ground for all of them that I’ll go into here. First, the serving sizes are all about the same, about 8-12 ounces. Second, they have a lot of ingredients in common and this isn’t necessarily a good thing. For example, they all (including the organic chocolate milk) contain carrageenan. Why is this important, you ask? Well, even thought it has been deemed “safe” by the FDA for use in foods as a thickening agent, it can lead to gastrointestinal disorders. It tends to coat the inside of your stomach like honey, which can present a digestive challenge. Some folks may not react well to it. Not to mention that it is also used in aircraft de-icers (?!); it is used to thicken the fluid in order to help it adhere to the aircraft surfaces.

These types of pre-made shakes also tend to have a LOT of ingredients that are phonetically challenging; lots of -ides and -ates that make me a little nervous. But it is possible to find some with less; this is actually one of the areas where chocolate milk comes out ahead because the organic varieties really have very little in them.

But I am digressing slightly. Let’s meet the contenders:

1) Gatorade Protein Recovery-G Series Recover 03: Gatorade has branched out a little from their standard electrolyte drinks trying to break into this “recovery” market, as people start to realize the importance of replacing not just their electrolytes but also their protein and glycogen stores. And while I am not sure how I feel about this, I decided to give it a shot.

So, how does it stack up? In a serving just over 16 ounces, you get 270 calories, 20 grams of protein, and 45 grams of carbohydrates. For your buck, you get a little less protein bang. But Gatorade did use whey protein, which is optimal for muscle recovery. I found that I didn’t get any gassiness or bloating from this one, which is sometimes problematic for me when I drink these things, and which may be a problem for those with lactose sensitivities since this product does include milk protein concentrate. The taste is so-so, about what you’d expect from store-bought shakes. If you make your own pretty regularly, don’t expect this to come close.

2) Myoplex and Myoplex Lite: EAS manufactures these gluten-free options for protein fulfillment and recovery, and I have to say, they are among my go-to drinks when I am looking for quick protein. I like to keep a bunch at work for after my workout or for a mid-morning snack. I usually opt for the lite version (which is a little out of character for me, but they are smaller servings and also a bit cheaper).

Myoplex Original comes in 17 ounce servings and weighs in at 300 calories; you get 42 grams of protein and only 7 grams of fat; the lite version is only 11 ounces and you get 20 grams of protein and only 170 calories. I don’t usually sweat the calories; I mean, I’m not super worried about what I’m taking in there. I know that with either one, I am getting good protein for muscle recovery without a lot of sugar (4 grams in the lite and only 1 gram in the original). And both contain a variety of B vitamins and trace minerals that are important for your daily health (although not a substitute for a solid multivitamin).

The Myoplex shakes use soy proteins, which don’t necessarily come up on everyone’s list of favorites. There are a lot of discrepancies in the conversations surrounding soy protein, like should you opt for it before or after working out? Or is it inferior to whey protein? Is it really a “girl’s protein” as some men’s magazines have claimed? Well, after reading through a bunch of the internet articles about it and trying both soy and whey in addition to others, the conclusion I have come to is that it is–like so many other diet and supplement choices–highly personal. What works for me might give you gas or make you feel, well, icky. I know that isn’t exactly scientific, but I really feel that it is hard to make a solid recommendation on what works “best” for everyone.

3) Muscle Milk: So, Muscle Milk is pretty common; I mean, as convenience stores make the effort to appeal to more health-conscious customers, this tends to be what shows up in their coolers. What’s inside? If you are looking at the 11 ounce container, you get about 210-240 calories, depending on the flavor, with about 25 grams of protein. They use milk protein concentrates and whey protein (which absorbs quickly), plus you get lots of trace minerals and B vitamins. What you don’t get is lactose or gluten: bonus!

The down side? I really don’t think the taste is anything to write home about; it’s a bit chalky and even when I’m drinking the chocolate (which is usually my standby flavor for protein drinks), I just can’t shake the sensation of my mouth being coated with something odd.

4) Chocolate Milk: I saved the best for last. I gotta say, even though it seems a bit sinful, chocolate milk might be your best option, especially if taste is a big factor for you (and really, when is it not?). There are a bunch of perks: there is a 3:1 carbohydrate to protein ration, which enhances glycogen replacement after exercise, and more potassium than Gatorade Recovery. It also contains casein, which absorbed slowly, which in turn sustains amino acids in your circulation for hours after you consume it. And, of course, calcium.

If, for example, you were to pick up an 8 ounce container of Horizon Organic lowfat chocolate milk, you would find that it has 11 grams of protein and only 2.5 grams of fat; plus you can find it with DHA omega-3, which is awesome. The other bonus is that it is usually a lot cheaper than some of the specifically-marketed “recovery” drinks.

The bummer here is that if you are lactose-intolerant, this is probably not going to work out so well for you, depending on the severity of your body’s reaction to lactose. Also, most of the studies done on the efficacy of chocolate milk as a recovery aid were done on high-end endurance athletes. That being said, I think most derby practices and bouts qualify as endurance events.

I know this was a little wordy, but I also know how confusing it can be when you are staring down a shelf full of options and have no idea where to start. I hope this helps a little. Also, bear in mind that it might take you trying a few products to find what is going to work best for you, and that it might change over time; I find that some days downing a protein shake just doesn’t work for me and my digestion.

Until next time…