Man mixes a protein shakePhoto: Syda Productions (Shutterstock)

I love my protein shaker. (I was even known Mix cocktails in it.) It’s a staple in my life as a meathead because I find protein shakes to help me achieve my muscle building goals. However, a protein shake is not an automatic necessity when you lift weights. So let’s talk about how you know if you actually need one.

Protein is important to everyone

Everyone needs protein, but most casual coaches can get it as much as you need from a healthy diet. When trying to build muscle, you may need more protein than you can comfortably get from your diet. And as you lose weight, keep your protein intake high so you don’t lose too much muscle along with fat.

The amount of protein you need, regardless of which of these categories you fall into, can be achieved through a normal healthy diet. Meat, eggs, dairy products, tofu, artificial meat, and to a lesser extent grains and beans are excellent sources of protein. Protein shakes and supplements are not required. They are just a ready-made meal.

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What about all those shaker bottles in the gym?

If you need to get a lot of protein in your diet, a shake before (or during) your workout is a way to pack some of it. One mindset is that you should do this Space protein throughout the day for better muscle protein synthesisThe shake would be just one of many protein-rich meals that an athlete consumes in a day.

When you’re new to the gym, there’s no need to enter your nutrient timing or drink pre-workout powders or other specialty supplements. Exercising and chugging shakes is not a package deal. You can just do your workout and have healthy meals before and after. Don’t add anything else to your routine unless you have a specific reason to do so.

Think of protein powder as a food, not a supplement

Sure, the FDA regulates it as a “supplement,” but I’d rather think about it Protein powder as food. If I wanted 30 grams of protein in one meal, I could achieve that goal with a chicken sandwich or protein shake. Which one I choose depends on which one accomplishes my immediate goals better.

Do you want something filling? If you are hungry the sandwich is a better choice. But if you’re trying to get something to your stomach before an early morning workout, a protein and carbohydrate shake can do the job without feeling too full.

Are you tracking your macros? Protein powder contains protein with very few other nutrients. If you’re counting calories or limiting macronutrients like carbohydrates, the powder can come in handy as it’s low in calories but still has a huge protein punch.

Are you lazy? Protein powder is cheaper than many other sources of protein, and shaking a blender bottle is faster than cooking a fancy meal. To be completely honest, this is probably the main reason it’s popular with bodybuilders, especially those who eat four to six meals a day. A shake is just a meal that you don’t have to cook.

Illustration for article titled When Do You Really Need a Protein Shake?

How to Make a Great Protein Shake

Okay, let’s say you’ve decided to have a protein shake. What’s the best way to do one?

First of all, you want to choose a protein powder. Don’t buy whatever is the most jacked-up guy on the label at GNC. Many products marketed like protein shakes are actually “mass winners” that provide a lot of calories in addition to protein. If you are looking to increase your calories in order to gain weight, this is a good thing, but consider carefully whether you might want to eat food rather than a maltodextrin slurry.

Next, once you have your actual protein powder –We have a guide to the most common types here– You need something to interfere with. I use a blender bottle (no brand loyalty, it’s just the one I picked up at my grocery store). Any shaker with a whisk is sufficient. Unfortunately, stirring with a spoon or shaking a regular glass will not mix the powder well enough into the liquid.

If you want to make thicker smoothies with lots of fruit and other ingredients, consider using a real blender. But let’s look at the quick and easy type of protein shake that I would say is the best.

I use a 16 ounce bottle, the smallest I could find, then pour in 8 ounces of water (if I’m trying to minimize calories) or sweetened, flavored almond milk (if I try to maximize flavor) . I love the blueberry lavender and matcha-flavored almond milk from Trader Joe’s, but chocolate or vanilla would be fine too.

Then I put a scoop of unflavored whey powder in it. Protein powders come in a variety of flavors. When deciding on a flavor, make sure you like it before you commit to getting a full pitcher. The unflavored stuff goes well with any drink (or other foods like yogurt) but that’s the choice I made. If your powder is flavored, you may prefer water or a milk or neutral flavored drink to my flavored almond milk.

Finally, throw in the whisk and close the lid tightly. I like to swirl the mixture for a few seconds before I start shaking because otherwise I find that some of the dry powder is forced into the drinking spout.

The result is 8 ounces (give or take) of a thin, protein-containing liquid that you can quickly chug before you start exercising. If you find the taste rough, I recommend making it with less liquid so that less of the mixture can be drunk. Or you can toss it all down the drain and have a sandwich instead.