Packaged Magic: Shakes & Whey

Choosing Shakes and Whey Protein

You walk into a supplement store, hoping to find that one pill, powder, or drink everyone is talking about that is going to boost performance, increase muscle mass, decrease weight, or whatever your sport specific goal may be.  Suddenly you find yourself overwhelmed by the wall-to-wall choices, and the guy behind the counter who swears by every product in the store.   With all of the shakes, bars, pills, and powders how do you find something that will help without harming?


  1. Let me start by saying that most supplements are not regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration), therefore it is important to remain cautious when you are deciding on what supplements to add to your daily regime.
  2. As a Registered Dietitian food always comes first.  You can almost always meet your needs by the foods you eat.  But check out this go-to guide for choosing a shake or protein to maximize your workouts.

Shakes:  From high protein to low carbohydrates to increasing energy or decreasing weight, there are so many shakes on the market, promoting magic in a carton or powder form.  Start by figuring out what your goals are; this can help gear you in the right direction.   View shakes and smoothies more as an easy meal or snack when you are on the go, and don’t fall into the gimmick on the box promising unrealistic results from the product alone.

  • Goal: Fuel Before Your Workout: You are looking for something that will supply you with long lasting energy, without sitting in your stomach like a rock.  Liquids digest quickly in the gut, and can be a great pre-workout treat.  Look for a shake with carbohydrates, moderate protein, and low in fat.  Experiment to make sure it gives you a good workout without creating an upset stomach.  And remember, you can find similar benefits from something like a low fat yogurt and fruit.
  • Goal: Post-Workout Recovery: Shakes can be great for convenience or something cool after a long hard workout.  Remember you are looking for a 4:1 carb to protein ratio when choosing that post workout shake, so choosing one high in protein with little to no carbohydrates is not going to cut it.
  • Money Saver!: If you are hoping to save a buck – supplement shakes can be pricy – a glass of low fat chocolate milk can serve the same purpose for that post workout snack.

Whey Protein: Whey protein is a natural protein derived from cow’s milk.  Whey protein has been shown to assist with muscle growth and recovery, and typically can be purchased in powder form and added to foods and shakes for additional protein.

  • Caution: More protein does NOT mean more muscle.  An endurance athlete typically needs ~1.2-1.4 grams per kilogram of their body weight in protein daily.  Adding additional protein to your day if you are already consuming plenty in the foods you eat, will not contribute to additional muscle growth.

Always remember that a balanced diet should be your first dietary step to assist in reaching your goals.  If you decide to add any type of supplement to your day, seek the advice of a registered dietitian to make sure you are doing so safely and in a way that will improve, not hinder your performance.

Written by Lauren Scott, MS, RD, LD



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