Here are 7 protein shakes to consider. They each have their pros and cons: price, sugar content, artificial sweetener content, quality of protein, effectiveness at gaining weight, and the inclusion of other ingredients like creatine, vitamins & minerals.
Maximuscle Progain Extreme
Maximuscle has a good reputation for quality, but it’s one of the most expensive products on the market. This product has (per serving) 42g whey protein, 51g complex carbs (of which sugars 14g which is fairly low but not as low as the carb-free high protein powders), and 3.5g creatine. Great for bulking up, and billed as the choice of professional bodybuilders. 480 calories per serving.
For a low carb version try MaxiRaw Protein Complex, if you don’t want to bulk up.
Weider Giant Mega Mass 4000
Many reviews say this is very effective at helping you gain size and significant weight-gain, but at what cost? The high carb content (131g per serving) includes a whopping 102g of sugar in the form of dextrose and fructose, which can easily convert to body-fat and cause radical insulin spikes. I would only take this straight after a heavy workout, not on a non-workout day or at night.
The upside is that it’s one of the least expensive products on the market, and the largest box, which is 7kg, gives you 46 servings. Each serving is 825 calories, with 48g protein, and 131g carbs.
If you’re on a tight budget, this is an option, but if you choose it I recommend you only take half a serving at a time, and only straight after a hard workout.
iSupp Accumulate Lean Muscle Mass
Ideal for mass gain, with 34 grams of protein and 78g carbs. But the carbs include sugars like maltodextrin, dextrose, and fructose, which is not ideal if you want to avoid insulin spikes and body-fat accumulation.
For a low-sugar version there’s iSupp Pure Elite Whey Protein, with high levels of BCAA (branch chain amino acids – good for muscle repair and growth), and very low in carbs, but not so good for serious bulking.
LA Muscle LA Whey Gold
LA Muscle has a reputation for high quality products, and this protein powder won the Best For Hard Gainers category in the Men’s Health Awards. It’s lactose-free, with no artificial colours or sweetners. Each serving contains 49g of whey protein (the best quality protein and fast absorbed).
256 calories per serving, with just 7g of carbs (of which sugars, a very low 3.6g).
As well as being one of the highest quality products on the market, it is also one of the most expensive, but you get what you pay for.
Monkey Nutrition Primal26 Whey Protein Isolate
This is a lean muscle builder, not a bulking up powder. It’s sugar-free, and sweetened with stevia (a natural plant extract). For pure quality it won Men’s Health Best Protein Shake 2012.
Monkey Nutrition has a mass gainer called M-Fusion Recovery Powder which contains maltodextrin and sucralose, but the sugar content is just 3g per serving (total carbs 26g per serving).
Gaspari Nutrition Real Mass Probiotic Series
Good quality weight-gainer with no added sugars. Total carbs 250g per serving, of which natural sugars just 10g. The carbs include maltodextrin, which divides opinion in terms of its health effects.
A whopping 50g protein per serving, but not 100% whey protein. Total calories 1230, so it may be worth having just half a serving each time, unless you’re a serious advanced bodybuilder.
Dolphin Fitness sells this at a great discount, but at time of writing they’re currently out of stock. Dynamic Sports Nutrition has this product in stock at a good discount.
Optimum Nutrition Serious Mass
At 1250 calories per serving, it’s a serious bulking up mass builder, but like all these high calorie shakes, you’d need to train hard to ensure it converts to muscle not fat.
250g carbs per serving, of which sugars 30g. Protein per serving: 50g. This product is sweetened with the artificial sweetener sucralose, which is not ideal if you want to avoid artificial sweeteners. There is also maltodextrin, an artificially manufactured polysaccharide, included to bulk and sweeten the shake.
For a pure whey protein without any carbs, there’s Optimum Nutrition Gold Standard 100% Whey.
My Protein Hurricane XS
This is possibly the best of the lot, combining good quality ingredients with a reasonable price. Each serving gives you 30g of protein (a combination of whey protein isolate and whey protein concentrate, which are the best sources of protein you can get), and 20g of good quality carbs (a combination of dextrose and instant oats). The low sugar content is a major plus health-wise.
For fast recovery you also get added creatine and HMB.
The total calorie intake per serving is just 219 calories, much less than some of the competitor shakes above, so if you want to bulk up I recommend you eat a bowl of oats as soon as possible after your workout to top up the carbohydrate intake.
The flavoured options include the artificial sweetener Sucralose, but if you can bear the unflavoured version (which tastes plain and functional) it’s Sucralose-free.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London.