I'm going to talk about 4 categories of "liquid" supplements today.  I have written about all this individually, but thought because I am constantly getting questions about these types of things, I'd put it all in one email.  By the end, you should know that protein drinks and recovery drinks aren't the same thing.  Maybe carbohydrates are the best pre-workout supplement?  Will protein powder make you gain weight?  How do you use a meal replacement shake and why do many not work?

 


Whey Protein Powder
Protein powder is probably the no. 1 supplement used, and recommended, for people who exercise.  We all know protein is the building block of muscle, and it delivers essential amino acids to the body, which the body otherwise couldn't manufacture itself.  That being said, there are ways to ingest an adequate amount of protein from a basic diet of whole foods, so why do we use protein powder?  First of all, whey protein isolate is about the purest form of protein from milk and it absorbs into your body quicker than just about any other protein source.  In fact, many people who are lactose intolerant are able to have whey protein isolate even though it is technically a dairy product.  

However, the catch with whey protein is that it doesn't really provide any other form of nutrition besides calories that are rich in protein.  Because of this, it isn't really a "meal" and is meant to either be added to meals (prot-meal for example, added to a shake) or to be used a "weight gainer" by taking a shake on top of a balanced meal, before bed, or some other time during the day.  The thing with protein is that the "when" doesn't matter as much as with carbohydrates.  For athletic performance, protein has little effect on how you perform, while carbs are the body's main source of immediate energy.  Likewise, protein only has a small part to play in recovery, only about 10g of protein are needed in the post-workout event. 

So that eliminates the two things that most people think they need the protein for: 1) meal replacement and 2) recovery drink and/or pre-workout supplement.  It is neither of those things.  I would therefore only recommend using protein powder daily if you are trying to gain mass as muscle or if you are in a bulking phase.  If you use it, it's possible to take it right before bed to feed your muscles all night, however if you want to use it that way, I would suggest buying Casein Protein Powder, which is also a milk product, but takes WAY longer to absorb and will take hours to digest, providing a steady release of nutrients to your muscles!

So for weight lifters trying to add mass, use the protein powder!  If that isn't you and you are trying to lean up, there is no need for it!

Brands: I recommend 100% Whey Gold Standard as a brand.  Beachbody also makes a nice protein shake here, which is a little cheaper.

Meal Replacement Shakes
Trying to lose weight?  You need a meal replacement shake.  These often have a similar amount of protein as protein shakes (15-20g), but also have healthy carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals so it will fill you up and provide the nutrients your body needs.  By filling you up and delivering these nutrients in a low calorie punch (usually under 200 calories), you will reduce your daily caloric intake.

Now here is the caveat - many meal replacements don't fill you up, so like protein powder they will just "add" calories to your day.  Also, many meal replacement shakes use artificial sweeteners like sucralose and other chemicals.  So you have to be very "label-smart" when choosing a shake.

The reason Shakeology is superior to other meal replacement shakes is because 1) It is made from 100% natural ingredients and has no artificial sweeteners and/or chemicals, and 2) It actually WILL fill you up because of the borderline ridiculous amount of nutrition it provides.  If you've ever watched Dr. Oz, he usually recommends products for your "medicine cabinet" at the end of his show.  Well, just about everything he has ever recommended - cordyceps, astragulus root, vitamin B complex, ashuganda powder, acai and goji berries, sacha inchi - is in this product.  These ingredients provide antioxidants, and phytonutrients as well as the vitamins and minerals that you really can't even get from whole foods anymore.  Lastly, this product is one of the only meal replacements that includes pro and pre-biotics to help with your digestion and GI tract.

So why take Shakeology daily?  To reduce cravings and lower your daily caloric intake like most meal replacements promise, but also to live a healthier lifestyle.  The food we eat, even fruits and vegetables, have all lost nutrient value over time because of the use of fertilizers and pesticides.  In fact, an apple today only has about 25% the nutrient value of an apple 20-30 years ago because of this.  So we used to be able to say you'd get all the nutrition you need from whole foods, but that just isn't the case anymore.

So again - meal replacement shakes are meant to reduce daily caloric intake while providing nutrients you might not be able to get from a whole food meal.  In my mind, there is only one choice of product for this!

Pre-workout supplements
Pre-workout supplements are usually some kind of ergogenic aid that will help you get more reps and perform better dring the workout.  There are several NO (nitrous-oxide) boosters like Super Pump and Jack3d which help deliver oxygen to the muscles during the workouts and may increase the ability to get those few extra reps.  Likewise, creatine is a natural compound in the body that you can get from some meats, but is often ingested as a supplement known as creatine monohydrate.  Creatine helps the muscles use ATP as energy, helps hydrate the muscles, and, again, might be able to help you get those few last reps when weight lifting or performing anaerobic exercise.  One side effect of creatine is a bulking effect, as it may cause your muscles to retain water.  In general you shouldn't use creatine for extended period of time, only for a week or 2 and then go off it for another week or 2.

Some potential side effects include GI problems and headaches, so always listen to your body.

Last thing I'll say about these supplements - I have never used them!  But, I did recently read in a book about sports nutrition that in a recent study, athletes were given straight carbohydrates an hour before working out and other athletes were not given carbs, but were given creatine, and consistently the athletes given carbs out-performed the athletes given creatine!  So let's go back to basics here - carbs are your body's number one source of immediate energy, if you want to perform better, being on "full" with the carbs is way more important than any supplement.  However, it is possible that legal ergogenic aids like these might give you a slight edge.

Recovery Drinks
Recovery drinks usually follow the 4:1 carb:protein rule and contain a handful of other supplements that will help your muscles recover.  After an intense workout, particularly an anaerobic workout, your body's glycogen stores will be depleted.  Glycogen, the stored form of glucose found in the muscles and the liver, is the primary source of energy for anaerobic exercise.  It is limited, and after an hour of hard exercise, many of us will almost be completely depleted.  Therefore, a simple sugar is necessary to ingest to absorb quickly and replenish these glycogen stores.  Dextrose and maltodextrin are typically the best sources of sugar, while fructose and sucrose (bonded glucose-fructose) may actually take too long to fuel the muscles since fructose needs to be processed in the liver before being absorbed.  Research has showed about 10g of protein will help protein synthesis and glyocgen replacement immediately after a workout, so in general recovery drinks are 0% fat, 40g of carbs, 10g of protein per serving.

The two best recovery drinks on the market are the P90X recovery formula and Accelerade Endurox.  Both use dextrose and maltodextrin as their sugars.  The P90X formula also contains tons of Vitamin C and l-glutamine which are proven to reduce the production of cortisol, which is the "stress hormone" that can lead to fat storage and muscle catabolism.  Additionally, P90X formula has a trace amount of creatine, which when taken after a workout can aid in recovery.  One thing to be careful with with Endurox is that some of the "fruity" flavors use fructose as their sugar - so make sure you read the label first.  Also, the serving size is a little bigger with Endurox, and may actually be too big.  A container of Endurox is more expensive, but when you compare servings sizes, the two are about the same price.

The reason glycogen replenishment is necessary is that it will allow your muscles to heal quicker, rebuild, and get stronger.  It will also make your body feel "full" again and you will likely not crash later in the day, or get ravenously hungry at night because your body feels like it's missing something.  It may also reduce in soreness the next day by clearing out lactic acid.  The 30 or so minutes after a workout, your body is most primed to store any food you eat as stored carbs instead of stored fat, so it really is important to get the "window of opportunity" fix from any type of meal; a recovery drink is just a "smart" way to fill that window.

Conclusion
If you want to know what I use, I use Shakeology daily and the P90X recovery drink every day I do an anaerobic workout, so not after yoga, stretching, or aerobic runs but always after interval workouts, speed run days, and weight lifting.  Of all the supplements, I think a recovery drink is the most important for anyone performing anaerobic exercise (interval cardio, weight training, plyometrics, etc.).  Recovery drinks are for everyone - people who need to lose weight, people who are at their ideal weight, casual exercisers, and professional athletes.  Shakeology has many health benefits and can help control your appetitie and curb cravings, so if you are in need of losing weight, it will definitely help you by replacing one meal a day with the shake, and being conscious of what you eat for the rest of the day.  Even if you don't exercise, Shakeology can help you.

For the really intense weight lifters out there, protein powders are great if you are trying to gain weight as muscle.  Additionally, ergogenic aids like NO boosters and creatine monohydrate may have marginal effects in adding reps to your daily workouts, however realize that ingesting enough carbohydrates is equally, if not more important, for athletic performance.