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A guide to protein shakes

Protein shakes are by far the most popular way to ensure you get the high protein intake you need to help your muscles grow and recover after training.

If you're new to protein shakes, it can be a bit confusing to pick the right one, as there are shedloads of different types available to suit different needs and dietary requirements.

We've put together this handy guide to protein shakes to make it a bit easier for you to understand how protein shakes work, how they differ and which ones are likely to be best for your needs.

Protein shakes are the most popular way to increase protein consumption

Dairy protein shakes

 GN Whey Protein 80™ >100% Natural Whey >GN Whey Isolate 90™ >PeptoPro® >
  GN Whey Protein 80 100% Natural Whey GN Whey Isolate 90 PeptoPro
What is it? The UK's best quality and cheapest whey concentrate with 80% protein. Ideal for general use and those on a budget. A naturally sweetened version of our best-selling GN™ Whey Protein 80 containing Stevia instead of Sucralose®. Top end whey protein isolate containing 90% protein and very low fat and carb levels. Ideal for cutting and fat loss. Premium hydrolysed casein protein, ultra low in fats and carbs and designed for use during and after workouts.
1kg pack price from £12.79 £18.99 £19.75 £44.99
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 GN Diet Whey >Micellar Casein 85 >Calcium Caseinate 90 >
  GN Diet Whey Milk Protein 85 Micellar Casein 85 Calcium Caseinate 90
What is it? An advanced whey protein formula designed for those who want to build muscle and cut fat. A milk protein containing 85% protein ideal for use before bed to aid recovery and muscle growth. An ultra slow digesting pure casein protein shake containing 85% protein for use before bed. A top-end 90% protein casein protein shake which is low in fats and carbs and for use before bed.
1kg pack price from £18.99 £16.99 £17.99 £18.99
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Non-dairy protein shakes

 Brown Rice Protein 80 >Soy Protein 90 >Beef Protein Isolate 97 >Egg White Protein 80 >
  Brown Rice Protein 80 Soy Protein 90 Beef Protein 97 Egg White Protein 80
What is it? Packing 80% protein per serving, this protein shake is ideal for vegans, vegetarians and those with dairy intolerance. Soy Protein contains 90% protein and is ideal for vegans, vegetarians and those who can't handle whey or other dairy protein. Not as tasty as whey, but contains 97% protein and is ideal for those with food intolerances or those on the Paleo Diet. No fat or carbs and 80% protein per serving make this perfect if you're trying to build muscle and cut fat.
1kg pack price from £15.99 £11.99 £15.75 £21.99
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Protein blends

 ProBlend 5™ >Pure Mass™ >Solo™ >Essential Protein >
  ProBlend 5™ Pure Mass Solo Essential Protein
What is it? A top-end protein blend with 46g of protein per serving plus added digestive enzymes to boost uptake. A high calorie weight gain formula packing 43g of protein per serving designed for those looking to bulk up. An all in one protein supplement containing whey, Creapure®, carbs, amino acids and vitamin C. A budget protein blend providing 29g of protein per serving for those looking to gain lean mass or bulk up.
1kg pack price from £18.99 £13.99 £18.99 £9.99
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The basics

Why do I even need to consume protein?

Protein is used by the body when muscle cells are grown and repaired. A good, balanced diet containing high protein foods keeps protein levels high. However, there's a huge benefit in consuming extra protein.

If you consume the right kind of protein at the right time, your body will utilise it to grow muscle or repair muscle, which means you'll recover quicker or gain muscle via a process called "protein synthesis".

The problem is, you'd need to spend a fortune at Tesco and eat huge amounts of food - plus all the associated fats and carbs - to consume enough.

Protein shakes let you consume high quality, readily utilised protein so you can trigger protein synthesis without taking in too many fats or carbs, and without spending a shedload at the supermarket.

What does a protein shake do?

The purpose of a protein shake is to build muscle mass and provide a higher intake of protein to people who are unable to get their full amount through food alone, or for people looking to activate protein synthesis immediately after a workout.

A higher dosage of protein is usually required for bodybuilding or for athletic performance gains.

Consuming a protein shake generates the biochemical processes needed for cardiovascular function, muscle contraction, muscle growth and healing.

What are the main types of protein shake?

Protein shakes come in two main types: dairy protein shakes and non-dairy protein shakes. For most people whey protein is the protein of choice (see our guide to choosing the best whey protein for handy tips).

However, if you're lactose intolerant, vegan or don't consume milk for religious reasons, you'll want to consider a non-dairy protein instead.

You can find out more about the different types of protein source and why you would use them in our guide to choosing the best protein powder for you.

The other difference among protein shakes is whether the shake consists of a single ingredient, such as whey, or a mixture of ingredients in the form of a protein blend.

Single ingredient protein shakes, such as our best-selling Go Whey Protein 80™ outsell blends, however, there are also benefits to using protein blends.

Can protein shakes make you gain weight?

Yes, protein can make you gain weight. If you're trying to build muscle mass, your weight may increase as you build up more muscle after training.

It is also possible to gain unwanted weight through the consumption of protein shakes if your intake is too high and you do not complement it with the necessary training. Unfortunately, you can't get buff simply by consuming protein. You do need to work out too!

How much protein should I be consuming?

On average, to build muscle you need to consume 1g of protein per pound of body weight. Protein shakes enable bodybuilders and athletes to meet this goal on a daily basis. Depending on your personal training programme, you may be required to consume more protein than this.

How can I use protein shakes for weight loss?

There are a range of protein shakes available to help you achieve weight loss while improving performance gains and building muscle. Protein shakes for weight loss goals are low carbohydrate shakes such as Soy Protein Isolate 90 or GN Diet Whey.

Soy Protein contains zero carbs and most diet whey products contain active weight loss ingredients such as L- Carnitine and Green Tea Extract. Whey isolate is also a popular protein for fat loss as it is a purer powder containing less fat, cholesterol, lactose and carbohydrates.

Consuming at least one of these types of protein shakes while regularly training will help you cut fat and encourage weight loss without losing lean muscle. Mixing your shakes with water rather than milk will also reduce calories and fat within your diet.

Protein shakes or food?

You should always make sure you eat the right protein foods when on a high protein diet and regularly training. However, protein shakes are an easy way to consume a higher intake of protein and enable you to activate protein synthesis immediately before and after a workout. This is the optimum time to feed the muscles for growth and healing.

The use of protein shakes enables you to regularly train without overtraining the muscle. While we don't recommend that you only get your protein intake from protein shakes, we do stress the convenience and importance of them for athletes, whose daily protein target is likely to be unachievable through foods alone.

Choosing protein

How can I assess protein shake quality before I buy?

You need to consider your goals before assessing the quality of a protein shake and deciding whether it is right powder for you. There is usually plenty of information on the different types of protein shakes available that will allow you to assess the quality of each protein shake option.

If you are a bodybuilder or an athlete, you may want to assess different types of whey proteins, as whey is the most efficient source of protein a body can use. If you're an athlete, hydrolysed whey protein is a good choice as it has superior bio-availability to accelerate recovery after a training session.

If you're simply trying to build lean muscle mass and recover after a workout, whey concentrate or isolate are worth considering when you're looking to buy - isolate being the purer protein of the two.

What's the benefit of unflavoured protein shakes?

The benefit of unflavoured protein shakes is that they contain fewer sweeteners, colourings and flavourings, which some people believe make them a purer protein source than a flavoured shake. Unflavoured protein shakes are also commonly cheaper in price.

Studies have found that the lack of additives makes these shakes slightly higher in protein, but this is only by a small amount. Unflavoured protein shakes are a beneficial option for those who are looking to cut costs and reduce the amount additives they consume.

What is the benefit of whey protein shakes?

Whey protein shakes are invaluable to many athletic diets across all different sports and training programmes. It is the most popular protein shake on the market to date.

Whey protein is used in several biochemical processes to assist the body and provides the most efficient protein source post-workout for muscle repair, recovery and growth.

It is an important member of any athlete's diet as it is easy to digest and contains glutamine and branched chain amino acids (BCAAs), which enables them to stock up on essential nutrients quickly during key periods where protein intake is required.

What is the benefit of soy protein shakes?

Soy protein shakes are generally very low in fat or fat free. They are also low in cholesterol and lactose, so they're a good choice if you have a lactose intolerance. Soy contains anabolic isoflavones (genistein and daidzein), which act as powerful antioxidants and have been proven to hold health benefits.

Soy protein shakes are ideal for aiding weight loss while building muscle and assisting with recovery, making them a key choice for bodybuilders and athletes looking to cut fat. Soy also helps to reduce cholesterol, the risk of heart disease and some cancers. The minor drawback is that they are less readily utilised by the body, which is one reason why many prefer to buy whey.

What are the benefits off egg protein shakes?

Eggs and egg whites are an essential food within any bodybuilder/athlete diet. Egg protein shakes contain all essential amino acids and can be used for synthesis.

Egg protein shakes provide an alternative for athletes who want the benefits of egg protein without having to drink raw egg whites or load on the food. They simply make egg whites quicker and easier to consume.

Egg protein shakes are also lower in cholesterol and fat than whole eggs, which is good for athletes concerned about these specific health risks.

What are the benefits of casein protein shakes?

Casein protein shakes have a unique set of benefits that differ to whey protein shakes. Casein makes up to 80% of the protein present in cow's milk and is packed with amino acids.

It is absorbed in the body at a slow and consistent rate, releasing essential amino acids. This allows the protein to be continually absorbed into the body for a long period of time.

These protein shakes are often consumed before going to sleep, in order to keep protein circulating throughout the body over several hours. They are also ideal for other periods where someone may have to go a long time without consuming any protein.

Using protein

Should I take protein shakes every day?

If you train regularly and are looking to achieve lean muscle mass and improved strength and performance, you will benefit from drinking protein shakes daily. Daily consumption will increase your protein intake and potential for lean muscle gains.

It is thought that bodybuilders and athletes need at least one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day. The process of protein synthesis can only sufficiently repair and rebuild muscle following a workout if an adequate amount of protein in consumed to support it.

Should I use milk with protein shakes?

Some experts would argue that you do not need milk with protein shakes, however it is down to personal preference. Anyone looking to cut calories and lose weight should avoid the use of milk as it increases the sugar, fat and calorie content of your protein shake. Use milk with your shakes if you want to achieve a creamier consistency.

How should I mix my protein shakes?

The best way to mix your protein shakes is by using a blender bottle with a screw-top lid and stainless steel whisk. Add the correct serving size of your protein shake to your bottle and the correct amount of water and shake well. Make sure that the shake has a smooth consistency before consumption.

25g of protein usually requires 150ml – 200ml of water. For a creamier and thicker consistency use milk instead of water or reduce the amount of water you add.

Is there any benefit to taking protein shakes during workouts?

The main benefit of consuming protein shakes during your workouts is generally that your energy levels may increase, enabling you to workout harder and for longer.

While it is more common for bodybuilders and athletes to take their protein shakes pre-workout or post-workout (or both), some may find that they benefit from the energy boost half way through their session.

If you are new to taking protein shakes during a workout, you should be aware that it may cause you to feel nauseous or dehydrated, especially if you substitute water with a shake. However, once you have developed a routine involving protein intake during a workout, your body will be able to handle it more easily.

When should I drink my protein shakes?

Protein shakes are commonly consumed straight after a workout, because protein immediately helps the muscles to heal and grow following a training session. Another key time is at least 30 minutes before a workout, because protein can help fuel a workout and speed up the recovery process.

Other beneficial times to drink protein shakes include just before going to bed and first thing in the morning to re-nourish the body and avoid depletion.

Can I mix protein shakes with fruit?

Yes. There are a wide range of recipes that tell you how to mix protein shakes with fruit. The best fruit to mix with protein shakes is juice, frozen fruit and coconut.

Juice mixes easily with protein powder and provides a thicker consistency than you would get with water. Coconut is compatible with protein powder in almost any form and best for those who are not looking to lose weight.

Some bodybuilders/athletes avoid fruit due to extra calorie intake and high levels of fructose. However fruits are OK to consume with protein as they are high in nutrient power and naturally curb sugar cravings.

What is the best way to build muscle using protein shakes?

Whey protein shakes are arguably the best protein shakes to use for muscle building due to its high protein and nutrient content. It is known as an essential supplement for stimulating protein synthesis.

You should consume whey protein around 15-30 minutes before your workout and within 30 minutes after your workouts as it will digest quicker than any other protein shake. The quicker your body loads up on protein during these times, the better it is for your muscle building goals.

On average before weight training you should take about 10 - 20 grams of whey and 20 – 40 grams after a workout to enhance recovery and boost protein synthesis. Other key periods where you should look to consume protein include after you wake up in the morning and before you go to sleep. This will help you to increase you daily protein intake.

Do different flavoured protein shakes have different effects?

Although they may contain slightly different flavourings, colourings and additives, protein shakes that are made with the same type of protein but in different flavours will all serve the same purpose. Different flavour options are solely created to offer customers different taste options for them to enjoy when consuming their shake.

How much whey protein should I use in my protein shakes?

The amount of whey protein you should use in your protein shakes would depend on your body weight and personal goals.

You should bear in mind that the minimum amount of protein you should take for muscle building is 1 gram for every pound of body weight.

You should exceed this amount when doing intense training sessions in order to speed up the recovery process. A typical protein powder serving is 25g mixed with 150ml - 200ml of water. On average athletes and bodybuilders will consume 2 – 5 servings daily, but this can be increased if needed.