The Best Protein Drinks for Workouts

Whole-food smoothies provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidant.

Whole-food smoothies provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidant.

Everyone says, "Don't drink your calories." But what do they know? Sure, sitting down for a meal is nice if you have the time. Many women don't have that luxury, so protein drinks provide just the right fuel to get through a workout and off to work in no time. Plus, protein helps keep your appetite in check, so you’re less likely to erase your exercise with extra helpings at the next meal. Whether you purchase prepared protein drinks or make them yourself, avoid refined or artificial sugars, both of which make you gain weight.

Expert Insight

Certified personal trainer and figure competitor Joanne Giannini encourages her clients to consume about 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight daily. She says protein should be eaten at each meal and snack and spread throughout the day, because the body has a harder time processing protein. This ensures a constant supply to the muscles. Protein drinks make these goals more achievable, because, let’s face it, no one wants to eat chicken breast or hard-boiled eggs all day long.

Protein Powders

The best protein drinks combine a variety of plant and animal sources, such as whey, egg white, soy, brown rice, pea protein, chlorella and hemp. Whey protein is the easiest source for your body to use, but concerns about excessive intake of animal protein should moderate its use. Plus, research published in August 2012 in the “Journal of Nutrition” indicated no body-shaping benefits from supplementing with whey protein.

Whole-Food Drinks

Protein powders make preparation a breeze, but a protein drink made from whole foods gives you several advantages: fiber, additional vitamins and minerals and antioxidants. Green smoothies combine leafy greens with citrus fruit, pineapple, apple or banana for a delicious protein drink -- though the color might look a bit unsavory. Though they don’t contain as much protein as a drink made with a powder, calorie-for-calorie, dark green vegetables hold their own. For other whole-food varieties, combine natural peanut butter, banana and skim milk or frozen berries, soy milk and almond butter.

Happy Hour

Most personal trainers these days say that protein drinks should be consumed immediately following a workout to help your muscles recover. But, scientists have mixed reviews. An article published by researchers in the Netherlands in 2011 encourages eating or drinking 20 grams of protein immediately after exercise to increase muscle protein synthesis. However, another study conducted in 2010 by Australian researchers found that the time protein was consumed relative to exercise had no effect on body composition or strength. Ultimately, whatever works for you is the best time to down your protein drink.

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About the Author

Pamela Ellgen began writing in 2000 for "The Asian Reporter" newspaper. She is an award-winning journalist and writes on religion, culture, health and fitness. Ellgen graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in writing from Washington State University and is a certified personal trainer with the National Academy of Sports Medicine.

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