Taste Test Marathon: The Nutrition Shake Challenge

If there is anything scarier than a nutrition bar supplement, it's a nutritional shake supplement. It really is almost impossible to squeeze actual, delicious flavor into a supplement when the point is to squeeze in as much protein and squeeze out sugar and carbohydrates. Still, some shakes and drinks are better than others, and we had to set out to find which ones could best be described as "drinkable." An investment of $14.99 and four workouts (and some almost-dead-anyway taste buds) yielded some interesting results.

Pure Protein Shake in Frosty Chocolate One 11-ounce can of Pure Protein nets you 35 grams of protein with just 170 calories, 1 gram of fat, 4 grams of carbs and 1 gram of sugar. That is, if you can drink it. Even though "sucralose" is listed almost two-thirds of the way down the list of ingredients, it tastes like number one. The artificial sweetness is absolutely unbearable after the first sip. Further, I was annoyed that it came in a can labeled "shake gently," but it still exploded like a soda would. Tasted bad, and made a mess. No, thanks.

Zico Pure Premium Coconut Water in Tao Mango I am a person who hates coconut (fresh or dried) but enjoys many dishes made with coconut milk, so I was hoping to like coconut water. Unsure how strong the coconut flavor would be, I went with the mango flavor to increase my chances of enjoyment. The flavor is neither coconut nor mango, but it's not bad -- vaguely sweet and fruity. The texture is thicker and more viscous than tap water, and not unpleasant, although it did take some getting used to. You get 14 ounces that pack in only 60 calories, zero fat, and 12 grams of sugar. The downside is definitely no protein, so while there is quite a bit of potassium -- 569 mg -- for post-workout muscle repair, this is a nice option for before a workout or to hydrate after. If you are lifting a lot of weight, you are definitely going to need to supplement this drink with a protein source post-workout.

Oh Yeah! Nutritional Shake in Cookies & Cream Fourteen ounces of Oh Yeah! has 220 calories, 9 grams fat, 4 grams of carbs, 3 grams of sugar, and 32 grams of protein -- and it's lactose-free and gluten-free. Not that I am free of either of those things, but some of you are and that might matter to you. On the plus side, there is a definite hint of cookies and cream flavor in this shake, and unlike the Pure Protein shake, Oh Yeah! doesn't knock you over with the artificial sweetener. The texture is very frothy, but you have to shake the shit out of this thing to make sure it's mixed well, otherwise there are little floaty bits in there. While there is definitely a "supplement shake flavor" going on here, this is one of the more successful attempts at making a nutritional supplement taste like the advertised flavor.

Muscle Milk in Vanilla Crème Also gluten- and lactose-free, Muscle Milk warns that it does contain ingredients derived from milk and soy. A 14-ounce serving has 220 calories, 9 grams fat, 9 grams carbs, 3 grams sugar, and 25 grams protein. There is a strong vanilla flavor but also an almost medicinal undertone that is off-putting. Perhaps vanilla isn't a strong enough flavor to mask all the stuff supplement shakes have going on. I threw this in the blender with half a banana and some strawberries and it was much better, so as a base for a quick smoothie this is a winner, but to drink straight out of the bottle? Not so much.

Spiru-Tein High Protein Energy Meal in Vanilla Spiru-tein is a vegetarian and yeast-free powder mix. The packet's nutrition label recommends mixing with milk -- sorry, vegans. (In the direction area they also recommend juice as a mixer.) When the packet is mixed with one cup of skim milk the drink offers 179 calories, 11 grams of carbs, 8 grams of sugar, and 14 grams of protein. The packet also specifies "no blender required," so I tossed this all into a Nalgene and shook away. Just one sip, and I was filled with wonder -- wonder at how on earth a yeast-free product could smell and taste exactly like liquid bread dough. No. Nononononononononono. NO. Do not buy this, do not drink this, do not look at this when you walk by the shelf.

Winner: Tie between Oh Yeah! Nutritional Shake in Cookies & Cream and Zico Pure Premium Coconut water. The former is great for post-workout recovery, the latter is best before or during a workout when you're looking to rehydrate.

Loser: Spiru-Tein High Protein Energy Meal in Vanilla. If there were a category worse than loser, this would qualify. Sweet, yeast-free, yeasty Jesus.

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Christina Uticone