The Great Protein Shake-Off

Bonus Round: Protein on the Go

Having finished up the protein powder comparison it’s another week until I tell you all about Premier Protein vanilla shakes, right?

Wrong.

Here’s how this ended up happening: PP was the only premixed I purchased and it sat in the fridge, faithfully, for the first week or so.  But then I got hungry, because one or two of the shakes didn’t quite cut it when I was doing a long run, or because I didn’t have time to pack a lunch as nicely for myself as I wanted to, and so I just threw a shake in there.

The smallest batch of PP’s you can get I think is 4 (unless someone breaks up a pack and gives you a one-off) and within a week they were gone. I didn’t think they’d go that fast and I also didn’t think it would be fair to compare a premixed to have-to-drag-the-blender-out powder, so here’s a comparison of 3 premixed proteins (all Vanilla!).

The contenders: Obviously there’s Premier Protein, which is available pretty much everywhere (Safeway, Costco, Amazon) and was the recommendation by my best friend’s hubs. I then tried out Muscle Milk in Vanilla, and there’s the old standby of Labrada Lean Body protein shake in Vanilla Ice Cream.

The flavors:

  • Premier Protein: basic vanilla, not fancy and not too rich.
  • Labrada: my favorite vanilla of the three, slightly lighter flavor (despite advertisement as “ice cream”
  • Muscle Milk: was fine for the first split-second but there’s a medicine-y aftertaste.

The textures: All three were much more watery than anything I did in a blender, although Premier Protein was the least watery. Then again I’m not sure how I’d feel about a thick shake for a shelf-sitting product.

The vitals:

  • Premier Protein offers 30 grams of protein at 160 calories. Somewhere in there there is 3 grams of fat and 25mg of cholesterol (it is a bit on the high side, while the packaging says 8% of my intake it would technically be 13%).
  • Muscle Milk offers 20 grams of protein at 130 calories, with 4 grams of fat and 10mg of cholesterol (so about 5% of my daily intake).
  • Labrada offers 25 grams of protein at 180 calories, with 7 grams of fat and 10mg of cholesterol.

The performance: These all performed equally well – not quite meal “replacement” (I don’t care what the package says) but with leftover veggies from the night before or to cure mid-afternoon drag they worked great!

The cost: I’m going to use Amazon as the great leveler of prices here; your mileage may vary.

  • Premier Protein: $7.46 as an add-on item of one 4-pack, or a 12-pack for $30.  First price would be $1.87/serving, second would be $2.50/serving
  • Muscle Milk: 2-4packs (so 8) for $24. $3/serving
  • Labrada: $31 for a 12 pack (that’s not a type-o!). $2.58/serving.

 

Grade: Premier Protein gets an A- (subtracting points for cholesterol, although it’s still less than my original shake mix by far), Muscle Milk gets a B- (minus points for being the most expensive and medicine-y aftertaste), and Labrada gets a B  (minus points for all of that fat).

 

 

Lean Green: Nutiva Hemp Protein

img_0243Nutiva was another Facebook friend recommendation and I have to say the packaging is different from the bags-o-powder thus far; in fact the packaging lets you know it’s a Non-BPA container and frankly once I’m done with the powder I’ll likely reuse it for other stuff.
One thing to note about Nutiva is it is green. Very very green. And so if you don’t normally mix your shakes with green stuff (the greenest thing in my shake these days is a questionable banana) you get a new color to drink.

img_0246The flavor: Kinda vanilla? Hint-o-vanilla. Hard to get a bead on it, because I was so distracted by…

The texture: I don’t think “mealy” is the right word, but maybe sandy? More time in the blender didn’t help; although blending it with softer textured things did a bit (e.g., the aforementioned banana). It’s very likely this was intended to be blended with many other things, and in fact there’s a recipe on the side that includes coconut and pineapple (and rice milk or almond milk, the latter of which would kill me). (Oh, and blending with psyllium is a *bad* idea for this, namely because it has it’s own fiber content, so you get to gelatinous goo phase much, much faster.)

img_0244The vitals:10 grams of protein per serving, making it the smallest protein provider of the bunch. However that doesn’t actually appear to be its focus as much as fiber, of which it also provides 5 grams. (It thinks each is 20% of my daily diet). 120 calories per serving means it’s bang in the middle of the current offerings, but where’s the 1.5g fat coming from? Still, no cholesterol.

The performance: Okay. And by okay I mean that I didn’t feel the need to eat until lunch (unless I ran that morning, which is 5 mornings a week) and it didn’t cause any reverse-broom or broom effects, as it were.

The cost: The container I purchased holds 15 servings (about — you can do 2-4tbsp, they don’t give you a scoop and they don’t tell you if those are heaping or not; they do nutrition based on 3 tbsp), and can be got at Amazon for about $14 (Prime free shipping) so it’s probably the least expensive of the lot by “serving” (e.g., slightly under a dollar). However if you were trying to match protein with the original (so, 18 grams) or with Vega (the other vegan offering, which offered up 15 grams) you’d have to use considerably more.

Grade: B-.  The texture doesn’t work for my application but may for yours; and I already get my fiber from the psyllium powder. Bump it up to a B+ if you need fiber and mix with smoother textured items (e.g., peanut butter and the like).

 

 

Gold Standard Whey – Good, but…

Gold Standard Whey was recommended by one of my friends (I have like, four) who is a true badass.  Like get up in the morning at 4am, run 10 miles, then kick butt at work, do eleven billion hobbies, in bed by midnight people. He’s in data so he’s aware there is a curve that most people fall on and is completely ambivalent that he’s ruining it.

gswhey_labelHe posted this before and I’ve heard his recipe — he mixes with peanut butter and kale (he actually likes kale) and chocolate and I have no idea what else.  I put this stuff to the test plain, with psyllium, and with a banana.

The flavor: standard, regular, vanilla. Not to sweet, not too plain; not too fancy.  Very vanilla vanilla.

The texture: PERFECT texture. Truly. Not gritty, not mealy, not slurry, just a great texture. NB: like every other shake thus far (except my original), if you leave it alone in the blender it will seize up and make an impressive gelatinous goo.

gswhey_nutritionThe vitals: 24 grams of protein per serving, which this agrees should be 50 grams per day. 35mg of Cholesterol making it less than my original powder but still an impressive fifth of what I should intake per day (a little more). Only one gram of sugars and 120 calories.

The performance: I felt full, although here’s an unpleasant side effect: remember that “Nature’s Broom” effect some protein shakes give? Let’s call this one “Nature’s Cork”. What this did after standing in my blender it did to me, and while I gave it a legitimate week’s try there is no way I’m doing that again. No.

The cost: a one-pound bag of 14 servings can be got at Amazon for about $19 (free shipping with Prime) making the cost about $1.36 — not the most spendy but close to. But even if it was 50 cents the stoppage in my system is enough of a sign.

Grade: C-. I’m sorry, I just can’t get over the grinding halt of my gears. BUT! Protein shakes hit everyone differently, if I were to remove the gastrointestinal seizure I’d give it a B+ based on the other criteria.

Decibel – No Thanks Turkish, I’m Sweet Enough

I really wanted to like Decibel because I could tell they really wanted me to like it. The website is clearly meant to show professional, serious people doing extremely fit things. The packaging is black, white, and gold (in that order) and there’s a whole booklet on how awesome the product is, that is shipped with said product. Also, my trainer recommended it.

Quick break for this: one thing my trainer pointed out is protein shakes aren’t the same for everyone, and one thing to consider is how likely they are to act as (shall we say) Nature’s Broom. It never occurred to me that that would be a consideration.

So Decibel shipped from the UK and arrived while I was out of town, but I gave it a good week. This review is for Decibel Whey Protein Concentrate in Madagascan Vanilla.

img_0236The flavor: If I were making a shake that would be for dessert — you know, like the kind you get at a Dairy Queen or a Fatburger — then this is the shake to use. If you have a chronic sweet tooth and need your breakfast shakes to be dessert-level sweet, use this. I cannot stress enough how sweet this is. Unfortunately I tend to cut my shakes with things like banana or strawberries, which only serve to make the shake *more* sweet.

The texture: Not as moist in powder form as the Vega was, more of a ‘traditional’ powder. Blended with the usuals (or even stand-alone) it is *extremely* smooth; it even found a way to grind out some of the impact of the psyllium husks I use. Just like other shakes it will congeal if left and you want to rinse out your blender well.

img_0237The vitals: This has 23.6 grams of protein per serving, so more than  my comparison point and quite a bit more than Vega. However the nutritional panel, while including things like fat, does *not* include cholesterol. Also I noticed something else — this said my daily intake of protein would be 50 grams (backward-calculated form 23.6 being 47% of my daily according to them), while Vega declined to opine just how much protein I need, and my original Designer Whey agreed that 50 grams was it. What I find interesting here is technically it depends on what kind of diet you’re on, but some calculators tell me I should aim for as much as 1 gram/pound. I weigh  more than 50 pounds.

The performance: I stayed full, but the cloying sweetness would drive me to drink a bunch of coffee to kill the sweet; this resulted in a couple of over-caffeinated days and some dehydration (remember to drink water!). Also, that “nature’s broom” effect? Let’s just say it worked in reverse. You’d think the coffee would’ve helped with that.

The cost: Here’s where I’m glad I included cost per serving — I thought the bag was a bit large and I was right, this bag has 31 servings. It’s 18.99 british pounds per package not including shipping, and that was another 13 pounds. Just shy of 32 pounds translates to about $44,  which in turn means this is about $1.42/serving and the most expensive one so far.

Grade: B-.  More expensive, too sweet. If you are into sweet and you find your protein shake is not sweet enough, and/or if you don’t mind the extra expense, you can bump that up to an A or A-.

Next up: Gold Standard Whey in Vanilla.

Better than Expected: Vega Protein Smoothie

In my quest to find a protein shake that won’t make my cholesterol go up and will leave me full for the morning (and actually provide, you know, protein) I have taken on a challenge to compare a variety of shake mixes. You can read about that here.

This review is for Vega Protein Smoothie in Viva Vanilla.  This is the *only* shake mix that got 3 or more thumbs-ups from the Facebook/Twitter request for recommendations, and I have to say I’m pleasantly surprised.

vegaThe flavor: undeniably vanilla with no pretensions and no aftertaste.  For the most part I blended it with soy milk (hey, extra protein!) but the instructions say it can be mixed with water and I tried that today — again, not bad.  I can definitely taste the flavor difference from my original shake but I’d be happy to substitute this permanently.

The texture: this is where things get interesting. I know the internet hates this word but here we go: moist. The protein powder itself is incredibly fine but also moist, and as a result if you are, say, working with a borrowed blender, be prepared to blend longer than a granular powder. Also, when mixed with psyllium husks if you don’t get the proportions just right you end up with an incredibly thick shake once it’s stood for a bit.  I’m a sip-while-puttering person myself, so that was an unpleasant surprise.  I fooled with the ratios and discovered the following: mixed with 8oz water and 2tbsp husks, it’s fairly watery and holds its consistency.  Mixed with 8oz of soy milk and 1tbsp husks, it’s a decent smooth shake (not watery but not stuck solid, either). Mixed with 8oz soy and 2tbsp husks, get ready for a spoon.  If not thoroughly blended you get pockets of pasty goo, I’d say it took about 1.5-2 minutes of solid blending to get the right consistency.

nutritionfactsThe vitals: This has 15 grams of protein (so about 3 less than my comparison point) but zero cholesterol and only 80 calories. Ingredients include broccoli and pea protein but the powder itself is a bland looking ecru and you’d never know you were eating vegetables (for those of you who like to be healthy but have an aversion to green things). (I have no such aversion). No fat, and 4 grams of carbs, not bad.

The performance: I stayed full each morning to lunchtime, which was the requirement, and that included morning runs for the most part.

The cost: you can get this off of Amazon for slightly under $13, for 12 servings; so slightly more than $1/serving.

Grade: A-.  Negative points for slightly less protein per serving and for texture toying. Would use again, but I’m on to the next blend. Stay tuned!

 

The Great Protein Shake-Off

After discovering my favorite protein shake was accounting for 20-30% of my cholesterol intake for the day*, I did what anyone else would do these days: I publicly whined about it on Facebook and Twitter. This promptly got me two pieces of information:one, that my initial feelings that I should get off of Facebook because I wasn’t sure it was useful were incorrect, and two, a ton of my friends have a favorite protein shake.

The Great Protein Shake-Off is simple: all of the protein shakes must have LESS cholesterol per serving than my current (reviewed below). They must be vanilla flavored (chocolates vary too easily and anyone on the receiving end of a caroby chocolate smoothie knows the gall bitter disappointment of said variance). They will be mixed with my usual ingredients: mixed berries (frozen, available at Trader Joes), Psyllium husks (a fiber additive, let’s not get into it), and unsweetened/unflavored soy milk.

Before we get into it: NO, I can’t use your favorite Almond milk or nut-based proteins. I’m allergic to tree nuts in a very go-to-the-Hospital, stop-breathing kind of way. Hence soy milk.

IMG_0135The Current: Designer Whey

With that, let’s look at the point of comparison, my protein shake for the last 3 months: Designer Whey in Vanilla. I can get this at my local Trader Joes for $11.99/container and each container has 12 servings so call it $1/serving.  It has a pretty basic vanilla-y flavor, not too rich and not too sweet; no aftertaste (which I like). It doesn’t tend to clump in the blender (which some do). I know we said we wouldn’t talk chocolate but if you don’t have to worry about your cholesterol they do have a good chocolate flavor.

 

IMG_0136Nutrition-wise, we are looking at 18 grams of protein per serving, 2 grams of fat, 6 grams of carbs, and a whopping 60mg of cholesterol (*it says this is 20% of my diet. AHA recommended cholesterol intake for someone with cardiovascular issues is 200mg/day. So no, this is more like 30% of my daily allowance).

I was thinking I’d just go back to Labrada — they have Labrada vanilla shakes at my gym — only to discover Labrada has MORE cholesterol, not less, so I will be gifting my recent Labrada purchase to David the Awesome Trainer who makes me bring my crying towel to the gym.

Maybe he will let me get away with less than 100 push ups.

The Contenders

Here are the contenders, as recommended from Facebook and by direct message. (HEY – if you’re reading this and you have a favorite and it’s not here, please dm me — I’ll try it. I even ordered some stuff from the UK). I will review each one for texture, flavor, cost, aftertaste, and anything else that occurs to me is potentially useful for someone considering these.

  1. Vega Protein Smoothie in Viva Vanilla flavor: I’m about to go on a trip and this will be my protein shake for the duration. Review to come in roughly a week. Recommended by friend from high school (it’s a measure of my trust in her that I am not taking a back up). Purchased from Amazon.
  2. Gold Standard Whey in Vanilla Ice Cream. Recommended from friend at work who thinks 10 mile runs are nbd. Reminds me a little of you, Tolga. Purchased from Amazon.
  3. Nutiva Hemp Protein in vanilla. Also recommended from friend from high school (different friend).  (Remember, I reached out on Facebook).  Purchased from Amazon.
  4. Premier Protein Vanilla shakes. Recommended from best friend’s hubs (also very good friend), purchasable from Amazon and Costco. Couldn’t find powder so going with premixed.
  5. Decibel Nutrition Madagascan Vanilla. Recommended from David the Trainer. Purchased from Decibel directly (not available via Amazon) and shipping currently from the UK.

Next post in roughly a week: Vega Protein Smoothie. DM any recommendations to me via Facebook or on Twitter (handle: bobbie.conti).