The gym is a popular pastime offshore, but as working life itself can be physically demanding on an oil rig, many workers are turning to protein shakes to up their calorie and protein intake.

Although it would be possible to do this by consuming more protein and carbs in the canteen, we know from talking to you that shakes offer a convenient and hassle free method of getting the extra calories you need in a healthy way.

But its not just about extra calories. For many of the guys (and girls) taking protein shakes offshore its about hitting the gym and building muscle.

Protein shakes have long been reported to aid muscle formation and recovery and as such the industry is continuing to grow.

Last year in the UK we spent around £170m on sports related protein products and, according to Euromonitor, it is estimated that by 2017 we will be spending around £358m on these products. (Collectively, not each – you salaries aren’t that good mates!)

But with so many types of shake on the market, and with super scientific sounding ingredients how do you know which one is right for you?

Well, Gym Buddy has done the hard reading for you and below is our beginners guide to protein shakes!

What is a protein shake?

A protein shake is a powdered form of protein that is added to milk, water or juice to make a drink that supplements your normal diet. They may also contain amino acids which are the smaller building blocks of protein used by the body to build and repair muscle tissue.

Why take a protein shake?

Protein is used by the body for growth and maintenance. It is the main component of muscle and many athletes take extra protein in their diet to try to aid muscle formation.

Protein shakes that contain amino acids (such as whey protein shakes) are taken as amino acids are used by the body to build and repair tissue. When working out muscle is torn and damaged and taking certain protein shakes after a workout may help to aid the muscle recover.

Does protein contain calories?

Gram for gram protein and carbohydrates contain the same amount of calories. Calories are a measure of the energy found in food and drinks. The human body cannot store protein, so be warned that if you consume more protein than you require your body will look to use this as an energy source. If you do not burn off that energy then your body will store it as fat.

What are the different types of protein shakes?

There are many different types of protein shake on the market, but the most common are whey protein shakes and casein protein shakes. Both whey and casein protein come from milk and both are excellent sources of amino acids.

Whey protein

Whey protein is derived from whey. Whey is a bi-product of cheese production. During cheese production milk is curdled and the solid curds removed. Liquid whey is what is left over.

There are several types of whey protein used in protein shakes. The different types are produced by using different processing technologies to give different end products. The most common are shown below:

Whey Concentrates
Whey Isolates
Whey Hydrolysates

Each of the different types of protein products shown above vary in the amount (and type) of protein, as well as carbohydrate, minerals and fat present.

Whey Concentrates v’s Whey Isolates v’s Hydrolysates

Ok, I’ll try and keep this simple. Whey isolates contain the most protein with a typical protein make up of around 90 – 95%. They contain very little fat or other minerals and are lactose free and generally more expensive.

Protein concentrates contain between 25 – 89% protein (but most of the shakes made using them will contain at least 80%) and will have slightly more fat and other minerals present.

Protein hydrolysates have been treated to mimic the digestive process and make them easier for your body to absorb. When taken after your workout (or before strength training workouts) they can increase the amount of amino acids in your blood which aid the body in making new muscle and help to prevent muscle breakdown. (Protein hydrolysates also won’t leave you feeling bloated and wont clog up your shaker, but they are the priciest of the whey supplements available.)

Casein protein

Casein protein makes up around 80% of the protein found in cow’s milk. It is slowly absorbed by the body so will not give you a rapid blood amino acid peak in the same way that whey protein does, but it will give you a slow but steady increase in amino acids which will last a lot longer. It has been shown to prevent protein breakdown post work out by 34%.

Studies have shown that taking a combination of casein and whey protein post workout has a positive effect on muscle formation.

What type should I buy?

If you’re looking for value for money buy a protein concentrate powder with at least 80 – 85% protein. If you’re willing to splash out a little more, then opt for one with protein hydrolysates included as this will increase the amount of amino acids and insulin available to your muscles post workout. If you’re looking for a good all round product to build muscle then try to find one with a mix of casein and whey protein.

If in doubt don’t be afraid to ask your local protein shop for advice. Tell them the type of activity you are doing (and the work environment if necessary) and what end result you would like. Most shops have staff that are pretty clued up and able to offer you sound advice!