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So, you’ve done the hard part: you’ve gotten to the gym. You’ve laced up your ASICS, rocked your favorite NIKE shorts and UNDER ARMOUR HEAT GEAR shirt, and got your sweat on. The endorphin rush is a great feeling but, just before your post that side-by-side picture of you and Arnold, you realize… man, I’m hungry. Now, for some sadistic reason, every gym is located across from or next to a pizza place that smells so good, you’re seriously considering giving up on being healthy forever in exchange for a slice of deep dish.

Don’t do that. Just so we’re clear.

So, knowing that you don’t want to waste the (calorie) losses and (muscle) gains you just worked so hard for, what’s an aspiring gym rat to do? Protein, that’s what. The right protein shake can slide seamlessly into any diet you might be trying to stick to, or replace a meal altogether, because they are totally customizeable and take less time to make than frying an egg. In addition, protein can:

• Support weight loss and healthy metabolism

• Support detox diets

• Support nutritional needs during pregnancy

• Support digestive health

• Repair and maintain healthy skin and hair

• Keep blood sugars stable

• Curb appetite

• Maintain a healthy Immune system

• Sustain lean muscle

• Prevent muscle wastage

• Assist in hormone production

• Assist recovery from sport or illness

The next questions, whether you are new to supplementing your workouts or getting a refresher on nutritional studies, are what kind of protein, when, and how much? Let’s break that down.

The primary objective of a supplement is exactly that, to make up the difference between how much you get from food and the recommended daily amount. Lose weight in the kitchen, gain muscle at the gym, and let this be the bridge between the two. Let’s take a normal day, for example. You’re runnin’ late and you know that there’s no time for cooking breakfast, not that you want to try eating an omelet or oatmeal while navigating rush hour, anyway. Get out the blender or the unstoppable NUTRiBULLET and throw in the following with a few ice cubes (ladies can do half proportions for each):

pittsburgh gym protein shake

2 scoops of protein powder

1-2 cups of vegetables (like spinach, which doesn’t affect the taste)

2 handfuls of fruit (fresh or frozen)

2 tablespoons of healthy fat (a nut butter or seed for example)

Mixer (almond milk, regular milk, water — your choice)

As an example, this blogger’s personal go-to is chocolate powder, one diced up banana, peanut butter, and almond milk. Thought I’d miss regular skim, but you really can’t tell the difference, plus I’m not great about veggies so I need all of the bonus points I can get.

Perhaps your day got off smoothly with something containing egg whites, leafy greens and tarragon for flavor… good for you. That same shake, coupled with a mid-morning snack, could also suffice as lunch and get you to quittin’ time, and chances are that Janice from Accounting won’t help herself to it from the employee fridge. But, what if happy hour for you means the gym and you can already feel your someday-six pack rumbling? You don’t want to eat big and be sluggish for leg day (you ARE doing leg day, right?) but you do need something to feed the beast. Take a tip from Brian St. Pierre, sports dietitian and nutrition coach at Precision Nutrition, “Eat a small, but protein rich meal just before the workout.” Think half of a turkey sandwich on whole-grain bread. There’ll be just about the right amount of fuel without weighing you down.

Which brings us to the “post-workout window”, that period of time when your metabolism is still churnin’ and burnin’. Nutritionists have estimated the window to be somewhere between 5 minutes and 9 months, but one thing is for sure: your body is running like a freight train and, if you don’t give it something to chew on, it will go after the proteins/amino acids that you want to keep for muscle growth. This is where you’ll see the majority of folks cracking open a Muscle Milk or their personal shaker bottle. One trainer we spoke to recommends that you keep your schedule in mind. If you can go right home and have a real meal, then do so. White rice (in moderation) and steamed veggies will give you a shot of insulin that the body will convert to energy first, followed by a 6 oz. cut of grilled seasoned chicken should leave you full and get the recovery period off on the right note. There are plenty of combinations that will do the trick, so mix it up if you get bored easily. But, if you have errands to run or a long ride home, that shake is there for you, again to substitute. Finally, some people swear by a dessert shake before bed, generally switching in a slower-processing protein like casein instead of the more common whey, as it will keep you full all night.

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So, now knowing how many different ways we can get a protein supplement in, how much is the right amount? St. Pierre says the rule of thumb is around a gram per pound of your body weight. But there are lots of different kinds, each with pros and cons. Fitness Factory carries NVIE Nutrition’s AR-15 and Giant Sports Delicious Protein® Elite.

Types of Protein Powders:

The major proteins in milk are casein and whey. These two milk proteins are both excellent sources of all the essential amino acids, but they differ in one important aspect—whey is a fast-digesting protein and casein is a slow-digesting protein.

1). Whey Protein

The most popular & affordable, particularly if not hydrolyzed or isolate, and contains the full scope of vitamins/minerals at an estimated 24 g protein per 30 g scoop.

The cons: it's a dairy based product, meaning whey contains additional lactose sugars that can cause indigestion & bloating.

Look for one with BCAAs (Amino Acids) Leucine, Isoleucine & Valine (Reduce Fatigue, increase recovery, & muscle build). We have to get them in our diet, because our bodies do not build these three).

2. Casein Protein Powder

Casein is interchangeable for whey and may be better before bed, because slow release amino acids digests slower keep you full longer overnight and a 34% reduction in protein breakdown. The downside remains that it's dairy based., however, mixing a whey protein powder with milk (which is 80% casein) gives you the benefits of both whey & casein.

3. Pea Protein Powder

(30 g scoop = 30 g = 25 g protein)

This 100 percent plant-based protein is typically made from yellow peas and towers above common protein powders in a few regards. First, it is naturally fat- and cholesterol-free (it comes from a plant after all). Second, pea protein isn’t derived from dairy, making it appropriate for those who are lactose-intolerant. Lastly, it’s completely gluten-free, which can help individuals avoid gastric distress when supplementing frequently.

While pea protein is affordable and contains similar levels of protein per same-sized serving as whey and casein, it has been shown to be deficient in one amino acid (cystine). If you’re having stomach trouble with your current protein powder, it might make sense to give pea protein a try. Otherwise, you could try rotating it into your supplement schedule to avoid boredom and mix up your nutritional routine.

4. Soy Protein Powder

(1 Tbls = 5 grams protein)

This plant-based protein that still contains all of your essential amino acids also performs comparably to whey protein in terms of stimulating muscle growth after a tough strength training session. However, the benefits of soy extend beyond the gym. According to some research, isoflavones, organic compounds present in soy, have been shown to potentially reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The isoflavones can interact with hormones like estrogen and potentially skew hormone levels when taken in excess. For men, specifically, the fear is that increased soy intake could reduce testosterone levels.

“If you are having a lot of soy-based foods in addition to your soy proteins then, yes [you may want to cut back]. If you are having the occasional shake with soy protein in it, it’s probably not anything to be concerned about,” St. Pierre says. For those still wary of any ill effects, soy protein concentrate is always an option. Due to the way this protein variation is processed, it has a lower amount of the potentially-negative isoflavones.

5. Hemp Protein Powder

(1 Tbls = 5.3 g protein)

Hemp protein is actually a derivative of another “supplement” altogether: cannabis, although it contains very little THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you feel high, so it’s safe to consume without any side effects. Often thought of as a superfood due to high content of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, hemp protein is also 100 percent plant-based and highly-digestible, meaning less GI distress for some users. On the downside, high fat content results in a higher calorie count, making this protein powder a less-optimal choice if the goal is purely weight loss, and it can get pricey because growing hemp is illegal in the US, making it the most expensive protein powder on the market.

6. Brown Rice Protein Powder

Both whey and rice protein offered nearly the same benefit. Rice protein is also gluten-free, making it a safe (and economical) choice for those with gluten allergies. However, it tends to be low in certain amino acids — namely, lysine. This means that relying on rice protein powder as your sole source of protein likely isn’t a good idea.

7. Vegan Protein Powder Blends

Harnessing the power of hemp, peas, rice, quinoa and more — all in the same bottle. It's gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-free supplement that can nutritionally stand up against animal-based products, without users having to worry about amino acid deficiencies (or an upset stomach).

Here’s what you DON'T want in a protein powder: 1. Casein + WPC

These are also known as whey protein concentrate and caseinate. WPC’s and casein protein sources are high in lactose, which can often cause bloating, flatulence, and gastrointestinal distress in some people.

2. Gluten

Food sensitivities to gluten can elevate inflammation in some people and cause a range of health problems including hormonal imbalances, skin conditions, fatigue, mood swings, and headaches.

3. Dextrin/Glucose

These ingredients can raise glycemic load, which may contribute to fat storage. They can also cause gastrointestinal distress in some people.

4. Artificial sweeteners

Common artificial sweeteners used are sucralose, splenda (955), aspartamine, equal, NutraSweet (951), or saccharin (954). Several negative side effects can come from ingesting these unnatural ingredients, including headaches, migraines, gastric distress, depression, and weight gain.

5. Skim milk powders/milk solids

Skim milk powders and milk solids are often used as a cheap bulking agent in less quality powders. They are high in lactose sugars, which can cause bloating, gastrointestinal distress, constipation, and loose stools. The protein is poorly absorbed into the body, making it harder for you to reap all of its benefits.

6. Soy protein

Most soy proteins come from genetically-modified sources with high pesticide use, and contain the chemical compound phyto-oestrogen, which may cause hormonal disturbances and suppressed thyroid function in some people.

7. Vegetable oils and fats

These ingredients are often added to many weight loss and protein supplements to increase richness. However, these fats are often derived from hydrogenated sources that contain trans fats, which are thought to be more harmful than saturated fats.

Trans fats raise levels of bad cholesterol and lower levels of good cholesterol.

8. Thickeners and gums

Thickeners and gums, including xanthan gum, are manufactured from soy or corn and can cause bloating and gas.

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9. Fillers

Fillers are often added to bulk up the protein and save money for the manufacturer. Some fillers include ingredients such as coconut flour or psyllium, which can cause gastric distress in women who are susceptible to digestive issues, such as constipation or bloating.

Consider this your starting how-to on “shaking” up your diet. (Terrible joke, I know.) Congrats on caring enough about your looks, your health, and your happiness to make it a priority.

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