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7 Things To Look For In Your Protein Shake

Updated: Aug 27, 2021

#1 Understand the protein source

The first thing to check about the protein source is whether it is vegan or not. Vegan proteins include: Pea, Pumpkin, Flaxseed, Hemp and Broccoli. These are obviously better suited for those following a vegan diet, but can also be good for individuals with lactose issues who can't digest normal whey protein.

Vegan proteins are best used when they come as a blend, providing a multitude of protein types as well as improved bioavailability and absorption. They do need extra sweetener and flavours added to them however, due to their bitter and earthy taste.

#2 Check the protein content

The Recommended Daily Allowance (RDA) for protein is around 50g per day - although this varies form person to person depending on various factors such as height, weight and gender. EFSA recommend 0.66 grams per kg of body weight.

Not having enough protein can result in negative effects such as hair loss, weak bones and mood swings.

#3 See what sweetener is used

To say there are lots of sweeteners on the market would be a massive understatement. Companies use both natural and artificial sweeteners to mask the taste of what would be a pretty weird tasting supplement. Studies have shown that artificial sweeteners can have a negative effect on the gut health in animals.

Using natural sweeteners offers a better alternative to the negative side effects presented by artificial types. At Arena Health we prefer Stevia leaf. With over 50 different glycosides, combinations can be developed to formulate the exact flavour needed for your taste.

#4 Does the spec match your needs?

Unfortunately, one size does not fit all when it comes to protein shakes. Depending on your needs, you need to make sure your protein shake matches and is suited to those needs. Roughly they fall into three categories: Fat loss, protein gains or meal replacement.

Fat Loss

You'll want to choose a powder that has a reduced or no sugar content - if you're still looking for a sweet taste then a natural sweetener is the way to go. You'll also want to find a shake that has a lower BCAA content as these branched chain amino acids promote muscle increase and weight gain.

Muscle Gain

Whey proteins have the highest biological value of the types of protein powders. If you're wanting a low lactose or lactose free version, whey protein is also available to these specifications. Ideally, a protein powder with a high BCAA content is ideal, as amino acids are essential in repairing the microtears in your muscles after exercise, resulting in muscle hypertrophy.

Meal Replacement

The protein in these need to be at least 25-50% of the total content on the protein shake (with total protein per serving not exceeding 125g) - anything outside of these parameters is not compliant with the law. It is important to cover a wide range of amino acids, most importantly the essential amino acids as these cannot be made by the body.

#5 Find what the powder is fortified with

A good protein powder should be fortified with additional nutrients. Plant proteins, due to their processing process, lose most of their fibre, so it needs to be fortified. Good sources of fibre include powdered grains such as oat bran, chicory root, pea and apple pectin. For those with gastrointestinal issues, the addition of prebiotics and probiotics is essential for maintaining good gut health. Whilst research does not point out specific strains for certain ailments, research has shown there is high importance in choosing a supplement covering a large range of bacterial strains.

#6 Are there any 'good' fats

Omega oils do have scientific benefits for certain conditions, although other studies show no significant outcomes. The 2 major classes of polyunsaturated fatty acids are omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids. Look out for sources such as algae oil, coconut oil, flaxseed oil and sunflower oil. They may even be shown as emulsifiers.

#7 What is the main source of energy?

Energy can come from many different sources, however some sources allow for a greater energy dispersion across a longer time period. You'll want to look at the nutritional content and determine the highest input in milligrams or grams. Most energy sources come from either carbohydrates or fats.


One of the macronutrients needed for energy is a carbohydrate. The eatwell guide tells us that around 38% of your daily intake should be carbohydrates. Since protein shakes do not replace meals, it is not necessary for this to be as high. A good protein shake should, however, contain some carbohydrates. It is important before a workout to eat around 60 grams of carbs per hour of workout, through foods like pasta, brown rice or yogurt.


Fat is a concentrated source of energy, providing almost double the amount provided by carbs and proteins. This makes it an invaluable tool in providing that pre-workout burst needed to get you through your workout.

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