Over the years of writing about fitness, I still have several Great Fitness Questions that I have never gotten a satisfactory answer for:

  • Why does eating one pound of chocolates make me gain more than one pound of weight? How is that even mathematically possible – doesn’t this violate the law of conservation of mass or something??
  • Which is the correct way to put on a bra: Do you put it on front-ways and then clasp it in the back or do you put it on backwards around your waist, clasp it in the front, spin it around and then pull it up? (Seriously, settle an on-going Gym Buddy dispute for me! We’re split 50/50 on this one!)
  • Why does no one in the fitness industry seem to consider protein powder a “processed food” even though it is so far removed from its original source that it wouldn’t recognize a cow if it moo’ed? (Or a soy bean if it squeaked. Or a hemp seed if it … smoked?)

It’s this last one that’s got me scratching my head lately. Unless you just fell off a (locally sourced, organic) turnip truck then you know that every fitness guru these days is all about “whole foods” – the comestibles, not the store chain. And I love this! I think eating foods as close to the form they come in is great advice. And delish. But what always gets me is how many of these same experts will recommend protein shakes in the very same breath. Since when is protein powder a whole food?? The last fit pro I asked that to changed the topic by yelling “Ooh shiny!” and running the other direction.

So: What I’m about to tell you may make me the most reviled person in the fit-o-spere: I don’t love smoothies (if you’re a girl). Or protein shakes (if you’re a dude). Or recovery drinks (if you’re in AA). (Kidding!). Or even drinkable yogurt. The only exception to this rule are milkshakes but even then I only like the kind that are basically candy chunks with ice cream and milk poured in the cracks (helloooo Dairy Queen Girl Scout Blizzards! (Made with Girl Scout cookies, not Girl Scouts themselves. (Specifically the Samoa cookies, coconutty caramel devils they are.))) Triple parentheses! See, I get so worked up about smoothies that I must resort to bad grammar to get my point across.

Now that you are recoiling from your screens in horror – For the love of little green apples, what serious worker-outer doesn’t love a good protein shake?! – allow me to back pedal a bit. I don’t hate smoothies. And my kids adore them (Popeye is so passe, a “Shrek” smoothie is the only way I can get the 5-year-old to eat his spinach) so I do make them with some frequency. And I even kind of learned to see the point in having one after a weight workout when I did my fave Rachel Cosgrove Female Body Breakthrough Experiment.

But …

around the web


  1. You don’t need protein powders. I have many food allergies. I have yet to meet the protein powder I can eat. I eat meat. I eat beans. When I exercise heavily I crave more of those things, so I have an extra serving of chicken or beef or whatever protein source is in front of me. I know I don’t need all of the chemicals they load the powders with. I don’t need another excuse to add more sweeteners into my food. Keep avoiding protein powder. You’ll be just fine.

  2. I don’t like protein powders and like you, I don’t get why they are so highly touted by those in the health and fitness industry—actually, I do get it; it probably has something to do with the all mighty dollar. People who are always talking about clean healthy eating, whole foods and the dangers of processed foods from one side of their mouth, are always promoting the “benefits” of protein powders out of the other. Last I checked protein powder isn’t a whole or clean food, and you can find better sources in nature. I’d rather add chia seeds or flax to my shakes then stomach the chalky “food stuff” that is protein powder.

  3. Average workout folks don’t need protein powder and can get adequate amounts of protein via everyday food intake. It is only when you enter the realm of more extreme forms of exercise that require larger amounts of calories in general, not just protein that protein powders start to make sense. I use them for convenience and because for my specific situation I can’t always eat a meal. I’m a natural bodybuilder (as in no steroids or hormones used) who eats 6-8x per day. At least 3-4 of those times are at work. I can’t always eat a meal if I’m sitting in a meeting, but I certainly can suck down a protein shake. I have no delusions about them being “clean” or unprocessed but they serve a purpose and I use them for that purpose. On weekends I’m far less likely to use them because I can sit down and eat in most cases. I’m also really picky about which companies’ products I use. Lots of research and reading goes into my choices about any supplements I use. All that said, real, whole foods should come first when building a diet no matter what your health/workout goals are.

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