Best and Worst Protein Shakes
I came across this article in “Eat This, Not That” and really liked it. Hope you think it is helpful!
What if I told you there was a magical fairy dust that’d help you lose weight and build muscle—and it tastes great, too? And what if I said you could buy it—by the tub? Would you?
Sure you would. And you wouldn’t be alone. Protein powders have cast a spell on the diet industry, and smart users know that the stuff works by blasting fat in three key ways: 1) Protein boosts satiety by filling you up and by helping to slow digestion of carbs, which stabilizes blood sugar levels; 2) your body burns more calories digesting protein compared to fat or carbs; and 3) protein helps maintain muscle mass tissue, which burns more calories at rest than body fat.
The trouble is that many are made with inflammatory protein sources teeming with artificial additives, tablespoons of added sugar, and nasty chemicals. That’s where Eat This, Not That! fits in. Our report on The Best Protein Powder for Every Goal blew up the Internet, and now we’re back to examine the best (and worst) grab-and-go protein shakes that’ll slim you down faster than you san say abracadabra. Read on—and for maximum weight loss, blend one at home, using a plant-based protein. You’ll find 100+ delicious and nutritious recipes in the latest bestseller from David Zinczenko, Zero Belly Smoothies, on sale now. It’s weight loss at the press of a button!
Our top picks for the best grab-and-go protein shakes contain no artificial sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup, or hydrogenated oils. In addition, each one has at least 12 grams of high-quality proteins that deliver the right blend of amino acids required to build and repair muscle tissues. Unless otherwise mentioned, all products are sweetened with either stevia or stevia and monk fruit extract, two of our favorite non-nutritive sweeteners.
ORGANIC PROTEIN DRINK
Per 15.9 fl oz bottle: 260 calories, 10 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 190 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (5 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 16 g protein
Organic soy milk (and thus, non-GMO soy) is both the source of protein in this resealable shake and the first ingredient, followed by rice syrup and cane sugar (there’s also some stevia added). Rice syrup is being used more often in products because of its high glucose and low fructose content, meaning its sugars are mostly used for energy and fewer (i.e. the fructose) molecules are sent to be processed by the liver, where they could cause fatty liver disease. The high fiber count will help slow digestion and give you sustained energy. This certified gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan, and kosher shake boasts 8 vitamins and minerals, has 35 percent of your daily value of calcium, and 30 percent of your DV of vitamin D (which can not only help strengthen bones, but it can also help you lose belly fat).
Per 11.5 fl oz bottle: 80 calories, 1.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 350 mg sodium, 5 g carbs (1-3 g fiber, 0 g sugar), 12 g protein
If you need something to tide you over until dinner or are planning a long car trip, this shake is for you. With no sugars to spike your blood sugar and incite nagging hunger pangs, this is a great option for those who are looking for just a high-protein snack to curb tummy rumbling. It also contains one of the shortest ingredient lists, including just water, milk protein concentrate, cocoa, natural flavors, cellulose gel and gum, salt, and the sweeteners stevia and monk fruit extract. Don’t rely on this one regularly, though. The combination of milk protein and use of carrageenan can cause bloating in those with sensitive stomachs.
HIGH PROTEIN SHAKE
Per 11 oz bottle, chocolate: 260 calories, 6 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 105 mg sodium, 27 g carbs (1 g fiber, 26 g sugar), 26 g protein
Upgrade your Core Power High Protein Milk Shake with this organic version from Organic Valley. Made with filtered skim milk, cream, and fair-trade unrefined cane sugar, this product is likely safe for those with lactose intolerances due to the addition of lactase enzyme. There’s no carrageenan like there is in Core Power. Instead, the emulsifier is replaced with gellan gum—a water-dwelling-bacterium-derived product hasn’t been studied as well in humans, but the few studies that are out there have found no ill effects from ingestion.
ORGANIC NON DAIRY
Per 12 fl oz bottle: 170 calories, 4 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 180 mg sodium, 14 g carbs (0 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 20 g protein
Unlike traditional Muscle Milk, this shake gets its milk protein concentrate from organic-certified cows, which means they are required to spend at least four months a year grazing in pastures, their feed was grown without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or genetically modified seeds, and the cows are not treated with hormones or antibiotics. All of which are important as milk protein concentrate, which has a lower percentage of protein than whey isolate, contains more bioactive compounds found in the milk fat that positively influence metabolism and immunity. They keep the sugar count low by adding some cane sugar but supplementing the sweetness with non-nutritive stevia as well. Like SkinnyGirl shakes, this product uses carrageenan, which could cause inflammation and gastrointestinal problems when consumed often.
Per 11 fl oz bottle: 255 calories, 7 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 260 mg sodium, 32 g carbs (2 g fiber, 12 g sugar), 16 g protein
Besides Organic Valley’s Organic Fuel, this is the only protein shake we could find on the market that isn’t sweetened with non-nutritive sweeteners like monk fruit extract, stevia, or sugar alcohols—just good-old-fashioned sugar and brown rice syrup. So if you’re looking for a real-sugar sweetened drink that doesn’t have as much protein as Organic Fuel, Orgain has you covered with this blend of only 16 grams of protein, 23 vitamins and minerals, as well as 10 fruits and veggies with the perfect 2:1 ratio of carbs to protein optimal for muscle recovery. Grab this shake or take a look at What 20 Trainers Eat After a Workout to see how to refuel after a sweat sesh.
Per 15.2 fl oz bottle: 300 calories, 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 250 mg sodium, 36 g carbs (0 g fiber, 33 g sugar), 25 g protein
This real-fruit-puree-, cane-sugar-, and stevia-sweetened strawberry shake from Odwalla contains about 300 calories and a ratio of carbs to protein that is ideal to refill your fuel tank and to build and repair muscle tissue after a long cardio workout. The protein source is both milk protein concentrate and isolated soy protein—both are organic. If you’re looking for flavors with more carbs, Odwalla’s vanilla and chocolate flavors each come with 46 grams and 53 grams, respectively, but note that these are almost entirely simple sugars—great for after a workout, but not so great if you’re just sipping on this flavor at your desk job.
Per 11 fl oz bottle: 220 calories, 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 160-185 mg sodium, 25 g carbs (2 g fiber, 9 g sugar), 16 g protein
We’re big advocates for using plant protein powders. Unlike whey powders, plant protein won’t lead to bloat are less likely to include nasty artificial sweeteners, and have been found to be just as effective in building muscle and strength, according to a Nutrition Journal study. Sweetened with stevia and monk fruit extract, this nutritional shake gets its protein power from a blend of brown rice, chia seeds, flax seeds, and hemp. This combo is ideal as single plant-based varieties aren’t complete proteins, which means you’d miss out on key muscle-strengthening amino acids. Along with protein, this box comes with an additional 21 vitamins and minerals as well as an organic fruit and veggie blend.
Per 14 fl oz bottle, vanilla: 200 calories, 2.5 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 400 mg sodium, 10 g carbs (2 g fiber, 8 g sugar), 35 g protein
These hormone-free, milk-based drinks are lactose-free due to an ultrafiltration process, which removes most of this naturally occurring sugar (the sugar you see is from added cane sugar, and it’s also sweetened with stevia and monk fruit). FitPro is flavored with natural vanilla and cocoa, emulsified with gellan gum instead of carrageenan, and is an excellent source of 18 vitamins and minerals. This shake stands alone in providing the most protein with the fewest ingredients—all of which are Eat This! approved.
Not available for purchase on Amazon
Per 11 fl oz carton: 140 calories, 1 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 280 mg sodium, 16 g carbs (3 g fiber, 7 g sugar, 7 g erythritol), 15 g protein
Sweetened with a touch of erythritol and stevia, this is a new breed of protein shake; made primarily of electrolyte-rich coconut water, Coco Libre also supplies more protein than three eggs with the addition of organic, grass-fed milk protein concentrate—for a fraction of the morning prep time. The benefits of coconut waterare that its electrolytes will help rehydrate you while the nutrients in milk proteins replenish glycogen stores and help muscles recover. After a particularly strenuous workout, pair it with a piece of fruit to boost healthy carbs available for your body’s recovery.
Per 11 fl oz bottle: 140 calories, 2 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 10 g carbs (3 g fiber, 4 g sugar), 20 g protein
For the whey protein crowd, this choice of grass-fed milk protein concentrate is prime. The cows are free of growth hormone rBST, steroids, antibiotics, and GMOs, it’s free of refined sugars (instead, sweetened with agave, monk fruit extract, and stevia), and it’s free of inflammatory carrageenan. With its low sugar count, this shake is perfect for busy professionals, moms on-the-go, or students who need something to get them through that 3-hour seminar.
Per 11.5 fl oz bottle: 130 calories, 2 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 8 g carbs (4 g fiber, 3 g sugar), 20 g protein
Made with natural ingredients like grass-fed milk protein isolate, cocoa powder, sea salt, and real Colombian Coffee (yes, there are 180 mg of caffeine—about what’s in two 8-ounce cups of coffee—in this bottle!) this is one of the better bottles in the supplement store. “It’s very rich in protein, and it’s perfect for muscle building and maintenance because it also contains calcium and vitamin B12,” says Ilyse Schapiro, MS, RD, CDN. Check it out in our roundup of the 25 Best New Clean Eats You Can Buy Online.
MILK PROTEIN SHAKE
Per 11 oz bottle: 190 calories, 3.5 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 160-210 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (1 g fiber, 23 g sugar), 16 g protein
When you’re drinking milk products, ultrafiltered milk products, or protein products with “milk protein concentrate (not necessarily isolate)” you want to see words like grass-fed or pasture-raised, and organic. This means that the cows aren’t fed a conventional diet of corn and soy products that for starters, can sicken cows enough to require the use of antibiotics, and two, cause high levels of unhealthy fat build-ups, like bad saturated fats and inflammatory omega-6s—which all get passed on to you. Sweetened with unrefined cane sugar and a touch of stevia, this Organic Balance is a great option after a workout, but may be a little high on the sugar front for a meal replacement or snack.
Per 11 fl oz bottle: 190 calories, 2 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 170 mg sodium, 26 g carbs (1 g fiber, 15 g sugar), 15 g protein
Exactly what we want to see in any product made with yogurt: “live active cultures!” Which means this shake is full of healthy-gut-promoting probiotics. Made with Orgain’s Organic Milk Protein Concentrate along with cultured low-fat milk, two natural prebiotics (pectin and inulin), and 9 vitamins and minerals, this shake is a great pick for your daily dose of protein. Although the milk and cane sugar (it’s also sweetened with erythritol) drive both the protein and sugar content, we can’t scoff at the 1:1 protein to sugar ratio when most companies struggle to get close to 1:2.
Not available for purchase on Amazon
Like protein powders, many of the labels of these shakes read like the stock list of a chemistry lab and are made with obscure protein sources, artificial sweeteners, too much sugar, chemical additives, and trans fat.
Per 8 fl oz bottle: 350 calories, 11 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 220 mg sodium, 50 g carbs (0 g fiber, 20 g sugar), 13 g protein
Don’t be fooled by Ensure’s claims that this is “complete, balanced nutrition.” With more sugar than protein, this shake won’t be of much help when it comes to weight loss. That’s not even mentioning the fact that the product is full of artificial flavors, conventional nonfat milk, inflammatory vegetable oils, and carrageenan.
Per 10 fl oz bottle: 180 calories, 6 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 210 mg sodium, 24 g carbs (5 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 10 g protein
On top of its poor protein showing—there’s almost double the amount of sugar than there is protein—SlimFast’s downfall is also their addition of mono and diglycerides as well as hydrogenated soybean oil, which all often are sources of the artery-clogging trans fats that are linked to cardiovascular disease. Plus, the drink contains milk protein concentrate from conventional cows, which contains as many risks as it does benefits, artificial flavors, carrageenan, and artificial sweeteners Sucralose and Acesulfame Potassium.
Per 15.2 fl oz bottle: 350 calories, 0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 330 mg sodium, 62 g carbs (1 g fiber, 56 g sugar), 19 g protein
It does have a 3:1 ratio of carbs to protein, which experts recommend for post workout recovery, but that doesn’t mean gobbling down 56 grams of sugar with only a gram of digestion-slowing fiber is good for you. The odds are stacked against your favor when it comes to minimizing hunger strikes.
Per 10 fl oz bottle: 180 calories, 5 g fat (0.5 g saturated fat), 220 mg sodium, 28 g carbs (5 g fiber, 18 g sugar), 10 g protein
If you recently read about these 20 Worst “Good-For-You” Cereals, you know that Special K isn’t all that great. That should’ve primed you for their line of breakfast shakes as well. They’re made with conventional nonfat milk, whey protein concentrate, and GMO soy protein concentrate as well as 18 grams of sugar along with sucralose and acesulfame potassium. Besides the artificial flavors and colors and trans fats, Kellogg’s also adds an ingredient called “polydextrose.” It’s allowed to count in those 5 grams of fiber, but this functional fiber is unlike natural dietary fiber. While it is fermented into anti-inflammatory compounds, a Nutrition Reviewstudy found that polydextrose cannot help slow the rate at which food is broken down and nutrients like glucose are absorbed, meaning it won’t help you feel full.
Per 8 fl oz bottle, vanilla: 240 calories, 6 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 200 mg sodium, 33 g carbs (0 g fiber, 23 g sugar), 15 g protein
Before milk protein concentrate is even listed, both sugar and corn syrup are the first ingredients behind water. This shake is also made with artificial flavors and inflammatory vegetable oils which have a high omega 6:omega 3 ratios and can cause weight gain over time.
Per 15.2 fl oz bottle, mango: 380 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 495 mg sodium, 63 g carbs (4 g fiber, 51 g sugar), 30 g protein
Per 15.2 fl oz bottle, chocolate: 400 calories, 5.5 g fat (4 g saturated fat), 265 mg sodium, 55 g carbs (6 g fiber, 49 g sugar), 30 g protein
They might be naturally sweetened, but that doesn’t justify gulping down 50 grams of sugar in a bottle. It’ll give you a solid dose of protein along with at least 9 vitamins and minerals, but you’ll most likely start to feel hungry soon after guzzling down the 400-calorie bottle—which isn’t great news if you’re on a calorie-restricted diet.
Per 11 fl oz bottle: 110-120 calories, 0-0.5 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 230-240 mg sodium, 7-8 g carbs (5 g fiber, 1 g sugar), 23 g protein
It’s low fat and low carb, but Pure Protein is sweetened with artificial sugar, sucralose, artificially colored with carcinogen-containing caramel color, and artificially flavored with who knows what.
Per 15.2 fl oz bottle: 310 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), 340 mg sodium, 54 g carbs (<1 g fiber, 47 g sugar), 19 g protein
It may be a mango protein shake, but mango puree isn’t even the first ingredient. That spot belongs to sugar-heavy apple and orange juice concentrates, one of the main reasons why this shake contains a whopping 47 grams of the sweet stuff. Speaking of sugary fruits, have you seen our exclusive report, 25 Popular Fruits—Ranked By Sugar Content?
Per 11.5 fl oz bottle: 180 calories, 8 g fat (1.5 g saturated fat), 300 mg sodium, 16 g carbs (5 g fiber, 6 g sugar), 15 g protein
We understand that diabetics would be drawn to this product, as it’s targeted to their audience—but that doesn’t mean Glucerna should be filling their customers up with fructose. This sugar molecule doesn’t spike blood glucose levels like glucose does, but experts speculate that it’s Americans’ increased intake of fructose—which our body turns into fat and inflammatory compounds more easily than it does with glucose—that is to blame for the equivalent increase in rates of metabolic disorders and obesity, not just “sugar.”
Per 16 fl oz bottle: 260 calories, 4.5 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 135 mg sodium, 29 g carbs (1 g fiber, 21 g sugar), 25 g protein
Don’t be fooled by our favorite word “smoothie.” Although protein powders and smoothies go together like Brad and Angelina, we’re only talking about the homemade versions which use real yogurt. Muscle Milk claims to use Greek yogurt, but they also note that the drink is heat treated after culturing, which kills off any live cultures that may have had probiotic benefits.
Per 15.2 fl oz bottle: 400 calories, 3 g fat (1 g saturated fat), 290 mg sodium, 61 g carbs (0 g fiber, 53 g sugar), 30 g protein
Just because experts recommend a carb to protein ratio of 2:1 for optimal muscle recovery doesn’t mean if a drink has a 2:1 ratio it’s good to drink. For example, this Protein & Greens by Naked, which satisfies the 2:1 ratio, but contains an astounding 53 grams of sugar in one bottle. They might not be added sugars, but all are from fruit juice concentrates, which means that most of the sugars are fructose—a sugar compound that can’t even be used by your body to replenish its glucose-based energy stores.
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