2012-07-19

In Praise of Protein Shakes

In a past life, I did not have type 1 diabetes. Those days were full of exciting, carefree excursions into the mountains (or the desert) with nothing but my running shoes and a snack. Sometimes, there wasn't even a snack. At a gruelling pace, I'd push myself to lengths of which I hardly thought myself capable. As my body would start to succumb to the punishment, I would silently admonish myself, scolding myself for feeling pain where other runners felt nothing. No adventure was too intense, or too stupid, to subject myself to.

When the workout was finished, I'd hurry home to drink an isotonic beverage. Truthfully, I'd buy the powder and mix it myself. It was delicious - salty enough to replenish my electrolytes, sweet enough to go down easy, and always so refreshing!

Of course, all of that changed when I was diagnosed with diabetes. With a little extra attention, the exercise has proved to be no problem. The isotonic beverages, though, are a thing of the past.

What to do? How can I recapture the experience of having a nice, cold, delicious, flavored beverage after a difficult workout?

My first stop was Diabetic Boost. This is reasonably tasty stuff that contains limited carbohydrates, but it comes in small bottles and is pretty expensive.

Next, I tried Glucerna. As it turns out, I love this stuff. It is nutritionally balanced, and more importantly, it has a slow-release technology that prevents the sugar from hitting the diabetic bloodstream all in one go. It is a wonderful snack. As a post-workout drink, though, it falls a little flat. For one thing, it comes in small bottles and is pretty expensive. For another thing, I usually eat shortly after working out, and so it actually ends up being too many carbohydrates for me to take so close to a meal. For a third thing, I like it so much as a snack that I would rather just save it for snacking, rather than for after a workout.

In the interest of telling a complete story, I can admit to having tried vitamin water. No thanks.

But what was I experimenting for? The post-workout beverage I had been seeking all this time was right under my nose, developed decades ago by body-builders. I'm talking about protein shakes.

Now, body-builders drink protein shakes for weight gain. They're trying to build muscle, so they increase their protein intake and, as they engage in a variety of strength training, their muscles grow and grow. It really works, too. We distance runners don't want to build muscle, though. We want to stay lean. Have no fear, though. Eating more protein won't make you bulk up - you have to lift a lot of weights to do that.

What this means is that protein shakes offer diabetic runners like myself a nutrionally balanced, low-carbohydrate post-workout beverage that is healthy and delicious. Why didn't I think of this before?

So far, my protein shake of choice has been Costco's Kirkland brand chocolate protein shake. It hits the spot after a tough workout, and with only two net grams of carbohydrate and 25% or more of a dozen or more micronutrients, I get a good dose of nutrition without an adverse impact on my blood sugar.

The packaging indicates that this stuff can be used as a milk replacement. While I don't really want to replace milk in my diet, I am glad that I can incorporate a new source of vital-to-life calcium into my diet plan. This stuff is also lower in fat than cheese, which means it's a better source of calcium than my previous "second-best" choice.

What's your favorite protein shake?