Protein shakes have an image problem. Historically, their marketing has focused on images of pumped up men trying to emulate charismatic Austrians (we love you Arnie!), instantly alienating half of the population in one fell swoop.
The common misconception among women was that taking protein shakes would mean being lumped with a load of muscle. But the protein world has had a bit of a shake up this decade, with products specifically targeting the female demographic as the health and fitness benefits of supplementing your diet with protein (besides the muscle building) are becoming more widely known and promoted.
"Protein shakes are really useful for anyone who is doing a form of exercise and struggles to get it from their diet," reveals James Exton, co-founder of fitness company LDNM. "It isn’t necessarily for muscle building and is quite an important element to have in your diet for weight loss as well. Our whole ethos is that it’s not going to make you into a monster like the giant men on the tubs. That is just a marketing tool a lot of companies use. If you’re a woman, it’s not going to make you a man."
If you weigh 11 stone, it is recommended you eat about 52.5g of protein a day but you will need more than that if you are planning on exercising regularly. "It is quite difficult getting it from your diet alone," says Exton. "If you work busy jobs or you are on the move, than it is hard to get to the requirement. But if you are hitting the mark, don’t buy protein shakes. Most people are deficient to protein to some extent and could use a little help to bolster it."
So if you have decided to go the whey of the protein shake, what are the main things to consider?
"If you are on a weight loss journey, all you're looking for is a high protein content, low carbohydrate content and low fat content. Some do have higher sugar content so bear that in mind. Some brands are selling at £80 to £90, but I can tell you now, that will not change the way a person looks over and above a protein powder that is £30 for the same size."
To help you decide which protein shake to make, we tried as many as we could get our sweaty hands on, and as if we were protein shake sommeliers, judged them on flavour, texture and how they made us feel after consumption – though unfortunately they didn't make us tipsy.
Here are our humble opinions:
1. Form performance protein 520g
One of the main reasons why some people are turned off protein shakes is the high dairy and milk content in some powders, while vegan alternatives have a reputation for unappetizing flavours and smells (unflavoured pea protein will make you never want to eat a vegetable ever again).
Form are changing the game as far as this point is concerned. Their vanilla flavoured hemp, pea and algae protein mix will have you wondering how on earth they did it, while the chocolate caramel superblend tastes exactly like millionaire's shortbread - complete with that malty biscuit flavour.
They also mange to fit in 30 grams of protein per 40g serving along with probiotics and BCAA's to help synthesise and digest your protein intake. With it's cool, mindful packaging (no images of beach hunks and babes vying for attention here), Form is a market disruptor – and a welcome one at that.
Nutritional information per 40g serving: protein - 30 g, carbohydrates - 0.4 g, calories - 149 kcal
2. Protein World The Slender Blend 1.2kg
The champion of the protein world. Having reached a level of notoriety in 2015 with a series of adverts that campaigners slamed for promoting "body shaming", Protein World still retains a monster following, with over 700,000 followers on Instagram.
Trying to ignore the marketing and prior conceptions of the brand, we found Protein World to exceed our expectations of what a protein powder could be. It tastes better than many vanilla milkshakes you get in restaurants, and it contains a shopping list of added vitamins and minerals.
As someone who has had issues with protein shake digestion in the past, I was particularly pleased to see the inclusion of a genius probiotic blend, designed to help your gut handle the lactose that's usually found in milky protein shakes.
This is not so much a health supplement as a lifestyle one. I felt oddly revitalised and refreshed after an early morning gym session that usually sees me in a floppy heap on the doormat. However, there is some debate around Protein World's carb count.
Nutritional information per 40g serving (vanilla): protein - 22.9 g, carbohydrates - 7.9 g
3. Whey box 300g
With it's cheesy tag-line ("It's the only whey") and fascinating range of weird and wonderful flavours (gingerbread anyone?), Whey Box is bringing some welcome fun into the protein game. They offer a monthly subscription service, with ten sachets per pack – useful, as you can just chuck them in your shaker without the need for faffing around with scoops or measurements.
The powder is low on calories compared to other products on this list, but high on carbohydrate percentage. Without offering the robust range of extra vitamins and probiotics of the previous two on our list, it was all down to taste with the Whey Box and we have no complaints on that front. Our favourites are strawberry and a surprisingly yummy cookies and cream.
Nutritional information per 30g: protein - 22 g, carbohydrates - 3 g, calories - 120
4. Neat Nutrition lean protein 1 kg
Neat Nutrition follow Form's vibe of 'hipster' protein, with it's parcel like packaging and emphasis on organic ingredients. The vanilla might not be a match for the mighty form, but this is still a pleasant tasting protein shake (although we weren't so much a fan of their berry flavour).
It also has the added benefit of having matcha green tea blended in with the powder, so we decided to take this protein shake as a breakfast replacement, and found it kept us going all the way until lunch without the need for a coffee.
Nutritional information per 30 g: protein - 23.1 g, carbohydrates - 2 g, calories - 117kcal
5. Multipower pure whey protein 900g
The banana mango flavoured Multipower whey protein tastes like those little marshmallow bananas you get at the pic 'n' mix (albeit in liquidised form), which is a lot nicer than it sounds. And the coffee and caramel reminds me of an iced coffee that I mistakenly order on a hot day from Costa. It's not the same as a piping hot coffee, but at least it tastes like what it proposes to be, which in the world of protein shakes is not to be sniffed at.
However the powder does cling to the side of the shaker, leaving some residue – and me wondering whether I've utilised the full amount of powder from the sachet.
They've also added vitamin B6 and Branched-Chain Amino Acids which helps stimulate protein synthesis and could explain the welcome extra kick on the pull-up bar.
Nutritional information per 30 g (banana mango): protein - 24 g, carbohydrates - 1.4 g, calories - 116 kcal
6. Bulk Powders Whey Protein 1 kg
This protein powder mixes very well without going bubbly, and tastes rather pleasant at the price point (albeit a little disappointing when compared to the gourmet options on this list). It also contains those very handy BCAAs (but no vitamin B6) which aid workouts – albeit not to the extent of Multipower's product. However it is nearly half the price so out of the cheaper options on the market, we crown Bulk Powders king.
Nutritional information per 30g (vanilla): protein - 24.2 g, carbohydrates - 1.5 g, calories - 122 kcal
7. Precision Complete Whey Protein Powder 908 g
We're starting to get away from the artisan options, and into the more traditional looking tubs. To my surprise, Precision Complete doesn't taste as synthetic as the ingredients might hint.
While at first it feels like it is going to have a bitter aftertaste, much to my surprise it never reaches this place and instead carries on tasting like a slightly trashy kids party chocolate ice cream or something you'd drink by the litre in order to get over a painful break up. It settles well in the stomach – a lot better than other dairy products in it's price range - all of which makes Precision Complete a good 'cheap and cheerful' option for those none too bothered about flashy branding or marketing ploys.
Nutritional information per 34 g serving: protein - 24.5 g, carbohydrates - 3 g, calories - 129
8. Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard Whey 908 g
Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard, like Precision Complete before it, promises us whey protein isolates - apparently the purest form of whey protein that exists. In truth, this powder does provide a very good workout indeed (I was going at that rowing machine like a madman for a whole hour). However, at the price point, I am left wondering if there is any thing more to this powder.
In terms of taste, Optimum Nutrition is a very middle of the road option. It is not as sweet as Precision Complete, nor as creamy as Protein World or Form. However, it doesn't stick to the top of your mouth, the powder dissolves well, and it is relatively low on calories. There are better options out there, but you can still do a whole lot worse.
Nutritional information per 50 g serving: protein - 34 g, carbohydrates - 5.5 g, calories - 182 kcal
9. Puriton original 500g
Having found favour among the likes of opera singer Katherine Jenkins and sports presenter Kirsty Gallacher, Puriton is flying the flag on this list for the new trend of wholefood protein ready to shake up the scene this year. Rather than a straight up powder, Puriton is a flavoured blend of seeds (including our favourites, chia and kernal), nuts, whey and hemp protein and real flavourings (vanilla pods for examples as opposed to a vanilla flavoured construction from a lab).
With it all looking this uber-healthy it is with a little disappointment that we found the flavour a touch bland and in need of sugar. The directions also tell you to blend it up with milk or yoghurt, which obviously requires a blender. Now, I don't know about you, but I couldn't take a blender into the weights room while keeping a straight face, meaning you'll have to go home before you can take the protein, thus missing the golden 20 minute window after a workout where your protein intake is being optimised.
However we would highly recommend Puriton for those terrified of long lists of odd sounding ingredients on the back of protein powders, and those wishing to take their protein with a meal (it works great sprinkled on muesli).
Nutritional information per 40 g (macadamia and vanilla): protein - 15.6 g, carbohydrates - 3.4 g, calories - 198 kcal
10. MyProtein Total Protein 1 kg
Since its founding in 2004, MyProtein has risen to the top of the protein game to become the largest sports nutrition retailer in Europe. We tried their total protein protein product, which scores very highly on the low calorie, low carbohydrate, high protein content scale.
The packaging can some across as a little low-end, and the powder, even when shaking it like a wet dog, doesn't blend very well in a shaker; you might be left with gloopy chunks of protein powder at the bottom. The chocolate initially tastes lovely, but has a clingy aftertaste, like something faintly nuclear is deploying on your taste buds. However with near daily discounts making their products the cheapest on the market (along with Bulk Powders), MyProtein is surely the go-to option for anyone who's primary concern is saving pennies.
Nutritional information per 30g: protein - 25 g, carbohydrates - 1.2 g, calories - 118 kcal
It definitely feels like a changing of the old guard in the protein world. Brands like Form are promoting more mindful imagery and selling their products almost like lifestyle supplements, with a host of vitamins and minerals to keep your health in check past building muscle.
Elsewhere, Whey Box are trying to flip the traditional, rather 'serious' feel of protein tubs and making it tasty and fun. Both are offering that something extra which we can't help but get behind.