So you get it. You've learned that protein is necessary to build and maintain lean muscle tissue, which is critical for maintaining or increasing metabolism. You've also learned that eating several times a day can also help preserve and build lean muscle tissue and increase metabolism. So supplementing protein once or twice throughout the day can certainly facilitate this process.
Sounds simple, right? Not so fast.
Just when you thought you've got it down, you're finding out that now you are faced with the task of choosing the RIGHT protein supplement. Not all protein products are created equal, in fact, some products marketed as protein shakes, actually contain very little protein and are loaded with sugar and/or fat completely contrary to the goal you're trying to achieve.
So how do we begin to make a good choice?
First and foremost when choosing a protein Shake, or any supplement or food, for that matter, READ YOUR LABELS! This is critical!
If you are choosing a prepackaged, pre-mixed product for convenience, make sure you choose one that at least uses a high quality protein source such as whey or soy, or a blend of whey, soy and casein, and that isn't loaded with sugar and fat. Many products claim to be "high in protein", but upon examination of the Nutrition Facts we discover there is more than a 4 to 1 ratio of sugar to protein. Slim Fast, advertised to be a nutritious way to loose weight, high in protein and vitamins, and now with heart healthy soy, forgets to mention the ingredient it's highest in - sugar! With more than 42 grams of carbohydrates, 36 grams from sugar (that's equal to 9, yes NINE teaspoons of pure white sugar), I hardly see this as a "healthy" way to loose weight. It's more like a fast rollercoaster ride through spikes in blood sugar and insulin, inconsistent energy levels, and "yoyo" dieting. The very things that have led to the epidemic of obesity and diabetes.
They also forget to mention the isoflavone content (the compounds that actually give soy all of its health benefits) of their soy product - could it be because they are not actually in the product?
A typical problem with soy products, now that they are now realizing such popularity because of their health benefits, is that manufacturers, for the sake of cost and flavor, are using cheaper sources of soy that have low or no isoflavones.
LaBrada - Shakes and Muscle Milk in TetraPaks (cardboard cartons) are decent choices in pre mixed high protein low carb, low fat products.
Again here, you need to watch out for cheap knockoffs of these products that use less quantity and lower quality protein in a similar product made to look like the original higher quality product. It's easy to get suckered at a large discount store or drugstore when you see a familiar brand name or packaging of a "reputable" product for a great price, only to find later that the price was "great" because the product actually has very little value. Many sports supplement companies that have been in the business for a long time and have gained reputation and name recognition, have ventured into the "quick buck from the masses who are suckers for weight loss products market" and have actually manufactured cheaper product look-alikes containing extremely low quality proteins and flavored with cheaper ingredients, high in sugars and hidden saturated or trans saturated fats. Again, READ YOUR LABELS! The brand name and the package often don't mean much.
Even label claims can be completely misleading. You would think a drink called Carb Solutions, for "low carb dieters" would be a fairly safe choice. Upon closer examination, you will find that in fact the carbs are low, (so is the protein quality for that matter), and if you don't mind 18 grams of fat from the #1 ingredient - CREAM, you are okay! I guess "for low carb, high fat dieters" would be a bit of an oxymoron, and "increases the risk of cardiovascular disease" wouldn't be a good selling point on the label.
Your best choice, to assure the highest quality in a protein, would be to choose a powdered product you mix yourself. You say "yuk - inconvenient and lumpy!" Wrong. Gone are the days where they are all clumpy, nasty tasting powders that must be mixed in the blender with all kinds of things added to cover the awful taste. A powder like OptiPRO M is a delicious protein that mixes easily in water, milk or any beverage with just a spoon or shaker. No mess, no clumps, no awful taste, just 100% high quality protein. And, with a product like this, you actually get more high quality protein, with other added nutrients and health benefits than the premixed shakes, and for less cost per serving - a little more than $1 per scoop.
Be aware, however, that even within the world of protein powders, the quality levels differ drastically. Why does this matter? The lower the quality protein, the less bioavailable it is, or the less your body is able to absorb. Proteins even within the same family, such as whey, may range in quality from isolate being the highest quality and the purest form, with the most biolavailabity, to concentrate, which is much less absorbable. Look for products that contain the isolate forms of whey and soy proteins. These are the highest quality and most bioavailable forms of two of the best protein sources for burning fat and building lean muscle tissue.
Whey is very easily absorbed and is high in Branched Chained Amino Acids - critical to building muscle. Soy is high in the amino acids Glutamine and Arginine, which are essential to tissue repair, immune function, and assist in fat loss and blood sugar regulation. Together they provide an optimized amino acid profile for fat loss and lean tissue gains. Soy also provides the additional benefits of antioxidant, anti carcinogenic protection, regulating cholesterol, promoting cardiovascular health, stabilizing blood sugar, and balancing hormones in both men and women. Blending a high quality whey, which is very quickly digested, with another high quality, but slower digesting protein, will also provide you with the benefit of feeling fuller, longer.
Again, with blended products, not all proteins are created equally. Beware of label loopholes! A product may claim - (this is where the labels get misleading and confusing) to be 100% whey, and contain whey protein isolate. However, when you read the ingredients on the label, the first ingredient is some trademarked, proprietary name for the protein. Then, in parenthesis, you see a list of several different types of protein, including isolate.
The parenthesis is the labeling loophole that allows the manufacturer to not list ingredients in the order of amount in the product.
For example, whey protein isolate may be listed first within that parenthesis and whey protein concentrate last, however, the product could very well consist of 99% cheap protein concentrate or worse, hydrolyzed protein (gelatin - very unabsorbable) with no more than a sprinkling of isolate - just enough to list it on the label. You will find this on most of the large "value" size protein products - this explains their great "value." It's cheap to make a protein powder with hardly any protein in it. Also beware of exaggerated claims. Most claims on a certain product are not about that specific product at all, but refer to an ingredient, which might be common to all the other products, also. For example, "builds muscle 200 times faster". 200 times faster than what? Any protein builds muscle 200 times faster than not eating at all.
So, Caveat Emptor! Or Let the Buyer Beware! Cheap and convenient don't always end up being best and usually not even cheap. Hopefully, armed with a little more information, you will be able to find a convenient cost effective protein product with what it takes to produce the results you are looking for. My best advice - Read your labels, be careful, do your homework, know if it sounds too good to be true it just might be, and always buy from a reputable source where you can be assured they stand behind the quality of their products and where there is someone who can help you sort through claims, hype and misleading, confusing labels to assure you the highest quality, most cost effective product, that fits into your lifestyle and your goals.