A protein shake can be a well-earned treat after your workout and an indispensable part of getting your gain on.
But did you know that your protein shake could also be sabotaging your workout routine?
When you’re whipping up your favorite muscle-making concoction, you need to be careful that you’re not making these five mistakes:
Mistake #1: Your Shake Has Too Many Calories
How many calories are too many? That’s not a question that’s easy to answer. You might be wanting to burn fat, or you might want to build muscle.
Either way, caloric consumption should be something you choose, not something that happens to you. For the protein-shake alchemist, especially the novice, too much experimentation with a recipe can result in too many calories, blocking your path to success.
The worst offenders here are going to be anything sweet. We don’t mean your powder, though we’ll talk more about that later. You’re most likely getting excess calories via sweetened and flavored milks (including nondairy milk alternatives) or nut butters with added sugar.
Even if you’re avoiding sweetened ingredients, it’s important to be purposeful about what goes into your shakes. How many calories does that tablespoon of low-fat, sugar-free yogurt you just threw in the blender have? More importantly, why are you putting it in? Never dump ingredients in for the sake of filling up the blender.
Mistake #2: Your Protein Powder Is Junk
You might balk at the price on some popular powders, but the old saying “you get what you pay for” definitely applies to protein supplements. You don’t have to spend big to get a decent powder, but you do need to know what you’re buying.
Many cheap supermarket-brand powders are loaded with carbs and fat. Spend more time looking at the ingredients and nutrition values on the label rather than just the price tag.
Again, the point isn’t that you need to spend the most money possible on super-engineered protein. That can be a big waste of dinero. But you need to be getting all the protein you want with none of the empty calories you don’t need.
So what’s the best deal? Isolate proteins of any kind. They cost a bit more, but they’re going to give you all the protein you need without empty calories that kill your gains. Make sure that the powder you choose has at least 20 to 25 grams of protein in a scoop. Anything less than that probably won’t be adequate for your needs.
Mistake #3: You’re Using Too Much Protein Powder
Protein powder tastes good, and it’s good for you. But can you have too much of a good thing?
Actually, you can. Getting more protein than you need isn’t going to grow more muscle. On the contrary, too much protein, and you'll be back at the same problem we addressed earlier: You’re going to get too many calories, and those calories are going to be converted to fat.
How much protein do you need? Get ready to do some math: If you’re looking to bulk up, you want to get 1.6 to 2.0 grams of protein per kilo of body weight. People who are cutting will want less. Remember that supplements exist to make up a gap in your diet. If there’s no gap in your diet, there’s no need to supplement.
Mistake #4: You’re Timing Your Shakes Wrong
When are you drinking your protein shake? If the answer is right before your workout, you gave the wrong answer.
Ideally, a protein shake should be consumed within an hour after you finish working out. Why? Because your muscles are hungry for protein during this time period. They want nourishment — protein — for rest and recovery. So when you drink a protein shake, your muscles are going to gobble up all that protein you just drank. That’s precisely what you want a protein shake to do.
But what should you have as a protein source before your workout? Actual food. Eating an omelet a couple of hours before your workout will ensure that your muscles have the protein they need to fuel your pump.
That said, for the person on the go, a protein shake can make an excellent quick breakfast. Studies show that a protein-rich breakfast is the best way to avoid getting hungry later in the day.
Mistake #5: Your Protein Source Is Wrong
You want to be using the right kind of protein. Don’t worry, though: The “right kind” basically means anything other than soy. Where things might start getting a little complicated is when it comes to varying your protein source.
Just like you want to vary your food sources, it’s also useful to vary your protein sources. Keep a few different kinds of protein always on hand for maximum efficiency.
What’s more, different protein sources have different advantages, each of which you can leverage for maximum efficiency. For example, because whey absorbs so quickly, it’s great for post-workout but not good as a meal replacement. Soy is generally off-limits because most of it is GMO and can be murder on the thyroid.
Your best all-around bet is plant-based proteins from a variety of sources or defatted beef from grass-fed cows.
Don’t be paranoid about your protein shakes. Just make sure that you’re doing your due diligence and exercising common sense when it comes to ingesting protein. Remember that supplements are supposed to “supplement” your workouts, not sabotage them.