The 10 Best Protein Shakes
This wiki has been updated 32 times since it was first published in April of 2016. Ready-to-drink protein shakes are a quick and convenient way to get nutrition on the go. They're available in a wide range of flavors, and most don't require refrigeration. Some shakes cut out carbohydrates and fats, while others have a rounded macronutrient profile to act as meal replacements. Our list covers conventional formulas as well as plant-based options for vegans. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
September 25, 2020:
Unlike their cousin the protein powder, shakes are ready to drink straight out of the box. That makes them easy to throw in a gym bag, grab on the way out the door, or use as a replacement for creamer.
Most shakes derive their protein from some form of milk, which contains all nine essential amino acids. Products like Orgain Grass-Fed Clean and Iconic Low-Carb source their milk from grass-fed cows, which generally require fewer antibiotics and produce more omega-3 fatty acids.
Vegan formulas like Owyn Vegan get their protein from plant-based ingredients like peas or brown rice. These blends often include nutrient-rich foods like kale or maca for an additional health boost.
Sweeteners are another major difference between formulas. Some products, including Core Power Elite, avoid added sugars by substituting sugar alcohols or artificial sweeteners like acesulfame potassium or stevia. The FDA has approved these ingredients, but some researchers claim they can cause harm in the long term. Other formulas, like the one in Koia Ready to Drink, use honey, cane sugar, or monk fruit extract to sweeten naturally.
Nutrient needs vary by lifestyle — a bodybuilder will likely want a shake with high protein and low fat like Pure Protein Complete, while others might prefer a rounded formula like Kate Farms Standard 1.0 for meal replacement or tube feeding. If you're considering swapping in shakes for more than the occasional meal or two, it may be worth consulting a doctor or nutritionist.
Gainful Protein For those who aren't satisfied with off-the-shelf options, a subscription to Gainful allows complete customizability. The company connects customers with trained dieticians to create a nutrient blend that works for their body, lifestyle, and fitness goals. gainful.com
The Benefits Of Protein Shakes
That first hour after athletic activity is when the body is primed to absorb protein and convert it into energy and grist for muscle growth.
Protein and the amino acids that constitute it are among the most vital building blocks for life as we know it. Our bodies produce some of these amino acids on their own as a result of their natural processes when metabolizing food and maintaining homeostasis. Others, however, we have to take in from without.
The average person’s diet is usually sufficient to provide the majority of these amino acids, especially if they don’t engage in a lot of athletic activity. Many of our foods are also fortified with additional protein and vitamins to help keep us healthy. There are times, however, when we need a healthy snack or when we seek to evolve our bodies into something even more capable — whether that’s by increasing our muscle mass or our cardiovascular endurance. For those times, a good protein shake is indispensable.
Note before we go on that these are not protein shake mixes; they are premixed protein shakes that you simply shake up in your hand, pop open, and enjoy. That makes them exceedingly convenient and portable, so you can toss one in your gym bag or the fridge at work for a quick protein fix.
Quite possibly the biggest benefit of these handy protein shakes affects anyone trying to curb hunger. Whether you’re dieting or just trying to make it to your next meal without eating garbage from the vending machine, a snack high in protein will make you feel fuller longer. That results in more focus on the task at hand, and less clock watching. You’ll get more done and you’ll feel better doing it.
These shakes are also very useful for anyone who hits the gym on a regular basis. That first hour after athletic activity is when the body is primed to absorb protein and convert it into energy and grist for muscle growth. If you have to wait until you get home to make a protein shake in your blender, you might miss out on this vital window, negating a lot of the work you did on the day.
How To Choose The Best Shake For You
There’s no shortage of options in the protein shake department, so you shouldn’t blame yourself if you’ve contracted a little bit of indecision paralysis. If we take it one feature at a time, however, we can get a pretty clear sense of what type of shake you should buy, and that’ll whittle the field down considerably.
That source question is the next one you should ask yourself.
For starters, we can cut the market in half by considering whether you’re going to use your shake as a snack replacer or as a workout supplement. It’s not a bad idea to err on the side of more protein, but too much protein can pose a small problem — especially if your favorite shake turns out to contain genetically modified soy protein isolate or another, not so healthy ingredient.
With that in mind, it should be clear that snack replacement shakes don’t need much more than 10 to 20 grams of protein in them to be effective. If, on the other hand, you plan to use your protein shake as a source of immediate post-workout recovery, you should look for the option with the most possible protein from whatever source you prefer, at least in upwards of 30 grams or more.
That source question is the next one you should ask yourself. Some people prefer to avoid animal products in their protein intake, while others turn their noses up at soy. Fortunately, there are safe and healthy options for every source, including pea protein and organic, non-GMO soy, which is far less harmful to the system than the soy that’s gotten a bad rap recently.
A Bit About Protein Types
With all the different possible sources of protein on the market, it can be difficult to know which one is best. The omnivorous among you may rejoice, as access to every kind of protein will give your body an edge in muscle growth. You also have the luxury of focusing on the flavor of your drink above all else, without having to worry about an ingredient violating your religious beliefs or causing an allergic reaction. For the rest of us, it would be helpful to have a quick primer on the different types of protein and their benefits.
There are a lot of negative talking points surrounding soy these days, particularly with respect to its effect on estrogen levels.
Whey protein is actually a byproduct of the cheese making process. It’s found in the watery bit of milk that separates from the curd. Remember Little Miss Muffett? She sat on her tuffet, if you recall, eating her curds and whey. Presumably, after that spider sat down beside her and scare her away, he made off with the food. Long before the fitness industry gravitated toward whey for its nutritional benefits, it was eaten as a kind of treat.
The good thing about whey is that it’s a complete protein, meaning that it contains all 20 of the essential amino acids. It’s also rather easy to digest, with a quick uptake that makes it ideal for hitting your precious post-workout window. Overdoing it with whey can have many of the negative affects associated with too much dairy consumption, however, such as high cholesterol.
Soy protein is probably the most common protein ingredient added to inexpensive shakes and bars, primarily because soy is so prevalent in the industry. Any refined soy product is liable to have some runoff that can be recycled and treated to become isolated soy protein. This creates an aftermarket income stream for a lot of industries in the production of everything from tofu to soy milk.
There are a lot of negative talking points surrounding soy these days, particularly with respect to its effect on estrogen levels. These studies haven’t been recreated and verified enough to cause real alarm yet, but it might be wise to stick to organic and non-GMO soy products whenever possible.
Pea and rice protein are among the more expensive proteins that you’re liable to see in products targeted at vegan and vegetarian consumers who’ve been spooked by soy studies, but who still need a good helping of protein. These products are usually a little more expensive, both because the process is more intensive and less ubiquitous, and because the manufacturers know they have a more affluent demographic on their hands.