Protein shakes are big business. In the last 10 years, the market value of sports related protein products in the UK has quadrupled, from sales of £73 million in 2007 to £358 million in 2017.

These days you’re unlikely to set foot in a gym without seeing a few dozen gymrats sloshing muddy-looking whey in their shakers. But are these products really the key to maximising muscle or just another moneymaking placebo for the fitness obsessed?

The core ingredients for muscle gain are progressive weight training and a protein-rich diet. We need 0.6 to 1.5 grams of protein per pound of body weight per day. Those looking to build muscle or lose fat while retaining muscle mass should aim for the upper end of the scale. Protein should make up at least 30% of our diets.

Ideally we should try to get the majority of our protein from real food. Cheese, soybeans, eggs, beef, chicken, pork, fish, nuts and seeds are great sources of protein and the amino acid leucine, which stimulates muscle growth. However, it can be tough to hit our protein targets entirely with real food, particularly if you’re vegetarian or watching your calorie intake. And that’s where protein shakes come in.

Whey protein powder, made from a by-product of cheese production, is the most popular option. Whey protein is low in calories and fat and contains a range of amino acids that are quickly absorbed by the body. Soy and hemp protein are good alternatives for vegans and vegetarians. Protein powders can be mixed with milk, water or yoghurt and adding fruits or greens helps towards our seven a day.

The main advantage of protein powder is convenience. If you’re looking to build muscle, dividing your protein intake into four smaller meals will optimise protein absorption. With an average scoop of whey powder containing 25 grams of protein, a shake can make a nutritious snack. Whey protein can also be a useful sweetener in low sugar dessert recipes. Click for my banana and almond protein muffins and caramel whey protein bars

Many weight lifters like to consume a shake within an hour of training to maximise muscle protein synthesis. However, studies show there is no magic window in which protein should be consumed. Muscles’ elevated sensitivity to protein lasts at least 24-hours post workout so, as long as you’re getting regular hits of protein throughout the day, it isn’t necessary to down a shake straight away. Total protein consumption is what counts.

When buying whey protein you should always check the label as products vary in quality. Look out for mystery ingredients, as well as a high sugar and fat content. A decent protein powder might contain 1 gram or less of fat per scoop and no added sugar. Protein processed at low temperatures (raw or cold pressed) will retain more nutrients.

Protein shakes alone will not build muscle. Consistent training, progressive overload, sufficient rest and a high protein diet are the key drivers of strength. The isolated nutrients in protein powder are no substitute for the biologically active nutrients in real food, but shakes can be a convenient supplement.

Here are a few protein shake recipes for you to try:

Peppermint Oatmeal Shake

1 scoop chocolate protein powder
70g oats
200ml of water or milk
½ tsp of peppermint extract

Strawberry Cheesecake Shake

1 scoop vanilla protein powder
1 heaped tbsp Greek yoghurt
7 strawberries
200ml water
1 tbsp ground flaxseed

Carrot Cake Shake

1 scoop vanilla protein powder
1 banana
150ml almond milk
75ml carrot juice
Dash of cinnamon
5 ice cubes