Making protein shakes part of your health and fitness strategy sounds logical. Everyone’s doing this — right?
If you’re an elite athlete looking for convenient protein, a shake may be for you. But if you’re not in this group, the extra calories can be more harmful than healthful.
“No one really needs protein shakes,” said Paula McIntyre, a registered dietitian with Marshfield Clinic. “You can get the recommended amount of protein by choosing high-quality protein-rich foods.”
Pros and cons
Protein shakes are convenient. They’re not messy and take only minutes to make.
What are the downsides to these tasty shakes?
- High calories: Some protein shakes have between 300 – 500 calories, McIntyre said. The average adult might not burn this in a workout.
- Cost: Pricing varies, but protein powders can be expensive.
What to look for in protein shakes
You can avoid the cons if convenience is a priority.
Compare your exercise to calories in your preferred protein shake.
“Balancing diet and activity is the only way we can build muscle mass,” McIntyre said. “People who exercise 30 minutes a day don’t need the extra calories in many protein powders because they’ll undo what they just did.”
Pay close attention to labeling and ingredients.
“If you’re interested in protein powders, look for whey or casein,” McIntyre said. “Stay away from anything labeled ‘fortified with herbals.’ Herbals can interact with medications and cause other issues.”
McIntyre recommends mixing protein powder with eight ounces of skim or 1 percent milk. This blend is just as effective as water but has additional nutrients – a benefit to your workout and overall health.
Protein shake alternatives
If shakes don’t fit your needs, consider these protein packed alternatives:
- Beans – navy, kidney, pinto and black beans
- Low-fat chocolate milk
- Lean meat, like fish or chicken breast
- String cheese
- Quinoa – try our quinoa and black bean salad
- Low-fat milk or light Greek yogurt
- Peanut butter
Protein shakes are OK if they fit your exercise plan and lifestyle.
Try this recipe
For a lower-calorie, high-protein shake option, try this protein shake recipe.
Key Lime Protein Shake
Prep time: 5 minutes
- 1/2 cup fat free cottage cheese*
- 1 scoop vanilla whey protein powder
- 1 tablespoon lime juice (fresh or bottled)
- 5 – 10 ice cubes (less for thinner consistency)
- 1/2 – 1 cup water (alter according to desired consistency)
- 2 – 4 packets Stevia (or ¼ -1 teaspoon sweetener of choice)
- 2 – 3 drops green food coloring or a handful of spinach to make it green!
- Optional: 1 graham cracker, crushed into crumbs
*If the texture of cottage cheese turns you away, try a 5.3 ounce container of Dannon Light & Fit® vanilla Greek yogurt or 6 ounces of low-fat vanilla-flavored yogurt.
Mix all ingredients in a blender. Add ice cubes and water to vary consistency.
Top with graham cracker crumbs if desired.
Original: Each serving has approximately 180 calories; 7 g carbohydrates; 4 g sugar; 36 g protein.
Yogurt alternative: Each serving has approximately 185 calories; 11 g carbohydrates; 11 g sugar; 40 g protein.