Back in the day — okay, 1990 — a protein shake contained high-quality amino acids and little else. Then someone got the bright idea to add carbs and flavor. Now protein powders come spiked with everything from creatine to fiber. (Hell, some pro baseball players would have you believe steroids are being secretly dropped into their shakes.) By adding legal supplements to protein powders, manufacturers have decreased the number of products you need to buy. But not everything they’re including is worth drinking. Here are some of the effective additions you should look for in your protein products.

These supplements increase the amount of water a muscle cell can hold, thus boosting its overall size.


Taken preworkout, creatine increases your energy and temporarily increases muscle cell volume, which makes your muscles stronger. Taken postworkout, its antioxidant properties help protect your muscles from further damage. And when taken with whey protein and carbs (like those found in protein powders), creatine increases levels of insulin, the hormone that the supplement relies on to get into muscle cells. Before and after training, take a product that supplies 2–5 grams of creatine. On rest days, take one dose in the morning or at the time you’d usually train.

Try: ABB XXL, Bioplex HyperPlex, BSN Bicreatol XS, Champion Met Max, CytoSport CytoGainer, MuscleTech Nitro-Tech, Optimum After Max, Six Star Advanced Protein, Universal Lava


Glutamine supports the immune system, improves digestion, and enhances recovery and growth. It exists naturally in protein powders, but quantities are often added and listed as glutamine peptides. Before and after workouts, a protein powder with added glutamine can help improve muscle cell volume, recovery and overall growth. Look for a product that supplies at least 1 gram of glutamine per dose and take it up to four times throughout the day, including pre- and postworkout.

Try: ABB XXL, Bill Grant Creatine Cocktail, Bioplex HyperPlex, BSN Bicreatol XS, CytoSport CytoGainer, EAS Mass Factor, MuscleTech Nitro-Tech, Universal Lava, VPX Nitronx Arginine. This amino acid helps the body form nitric oxide (NO), which increases blood flow to the muscles and delivers more water to add volume to muscle cells. Even so, you need more arginine for an effective dose than you get from natural protein sources. (Thus the explosion of NO products.) Look for a protein product that supplies at least 1 gram.

Try: BSN Bicreatol XS, Champion Met Max, EAS Mass Factor, ISS Research Advantage Matrix, MHP Probolic SR + increase Strength

Increase the number of reps you can pump out, and your overall strength, by mixing up a shake containing these supplements.


Because it improves the contractile performance of muscle, including the heart, this amino acid may enhance muscle endurance and strength. Like creatine and glutamine, taurine also has cell-volumizing effects. The amino isn’t abundant in natural protein powders, so look for a product that supplies at least 400 mg of taurine per dose, and take it immediately before and after training.

Try: Bill Grant Creatine Cocktail, Bioplex HyperPlex, CytoSport EvoPro, MuscleTech Nitro-Tech Nighttime, Optimum After Max, Universal Lava


This amino acid dipeptide buffers the fatigue-causing byproducts that develop during a workout, helping muscles contract stronger and longer. This makes it a good additive for your preworkout shake, especially since substantial amounts aren’t found in protein sources. Before and after training, take a product that contains at least 200 mg.

Try: Universal Hard Fast+ healthy


With the exception of weight-gainer and sustained-release products, many protein powders contain little or no fat — that’s part of their appeal. But some powders contain fats that provide numerous health and fitness benefits. Take a product with added fat between meals or immediately before bed.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Essential fats such as the omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) encourage the body to use other dietary and stored fats as energy, helping preserve muscle mass during intense training. Flaxseed powder is an excellent source of another omega-3 fatty acid, alpha-linolenic acid. While product labels may not list the exact amount of omega-3s, you can calculate it by subtracting saturated fat from the total fat. There should be at least 3–4 grams of fat remaining, and the omega-3 fatty acids will represent a decent portion of those.

Try: Dymatize DymaLean, MHP Probolic SR, Next Optibol

Medium-Chain Triglycerides (MCTs)

These saturated triglycerides are metabolized differently than other dietary fats: Instead of being stored in fat cells, they’re used by muscle tissue for fuel during workouts. Protein powders with added MCTs are a great supplement for low-carb dieters, since they offer a non-carb energy source that encourages further fat loss and promotes muscle growth. If a protein product lists MCTs on its label, it should contain a minimum of 2–3 grams of saturated fat per serving.

Try: ABB XXL, Beverly International Ultra Size, Champion Heavyweight Gainer 900, Dymatize Mega Milk, MHP Probolic SR, MRM Massive Muscle Gainer, Nutrabolics IsoGainer, SAN Infusion, Ultimate Nutrition Muscle Juice

Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA)

CLA is a natural group of linoleic acid derivatives. Research suggests that in addition to health benefits such as enhanced immune function, CLA stimulates muscle growth while simultaneously promoting fat loss. If a product has at least 1 gram of unsaturated fats, it indicates more room for healthy fats including CLA.

Try: Dymatize Mega Milk, MHP Probolic SR, Next Optibol, SAN Infusion

Gamma linolenic acid (GLA)

GLA is a precursor for many prostaglandins (hormonelike substances) that are important for promoting muscle growth and fat metabolism as well as many critical processes in the body like cardiovascular, skin and joint health. The body derives GLA from linoleic acid, although many oils containing linoleic acid are hydrogenated, often hindering the conversion to GLA. Protein products with added GLA may list borage oil or evening primrose oil on the label.

Try: ISS Research Advantage Matrix, MHP Probolic SR, Nutrabolics IsoGainer


This brand-name oil consists of diglycerides, specialized fats that have only two fatty acid components as compared to the three fatty acids in most dietary fats (triglycerides). Research shows that diglycerides are more often burned for energy than stored as fat. Adding Enova oil to protein powder provides texture and enhances flavor. It can also help spare muscle glycogen, which provides long-lasting energy for tough workouts.

Try: ErgoPharm Mass Meal (ALA, chromium picolinate, Aminogen) + FAT- burners

High-protein diets supplemented with whey protein enhance fat loss. This finding prompted many protein manufacturers to market their whey protein as a fat-loss aid, but some have taken the next step — adding fat-burners to their products.

Hydroxycitrate (HCA)

HCA is a fruit extract that decreases hunger and increases the amount of fat burned. Research on humans indicates that HCA increases fat use during exercise and prolongs time to exhaustion. According to animal research, HCA increases the activity of genes involved with fat and carb metabolism, as well as appetite control. Look for a product that supplies at least 50 mg of HCA and consume it several times per day.

Try: ISS Research Advantage Matrix, Universal Hard Fast Carnitine

This amino acid-like ingredient helps burn fat for fuel, particularly during exercise. It also helps increase muscle recovery and enhances the activity of testosterone in muscle cells. Take a protein powder with at least 200 mg of added carnitine before and after workouts.

Try: Champion Met Max, Dymatize Mega Milk, Next Optibol + HEALTH ProMOTERS

If these ingredients are in your protein powder, there’s no need to down extra pills…like that daily multivitamin you keep forgetting.

Vitamins and Minerals

These micronutrients are key dietary nutrients, and it’s not easy to meet minimum daily requirements for them solely from whole foods. Some protein products, particularly meal-replacement products (MRPs) and those with caseinates, provide added vitamins and minerals. If you’re using a powder as an MRP, it should have 50% or more of the recommended daily requirement for most vitamins and minerals.

Try: ABB MRP Force, ABB XXL, Nature’s Best Zero Carb Isopure


Fiber slows digestion, helping your body absorb more of the protein you consume and making it a good preworkout supplement.

A product with added fiber is also beneficial at other times of day, especially before bed, since it helps decelerate the release of amino acids. Look for products that supply close to 5 grams of fiber per dose.

Try: ABB MRP Force, Dymatize DymaLean + enhance growth

Manufacturers are now adding high-protein ingredients to their products that influence growth and health at the molecular level. Products containing these two ingredients can be taken any time, including pre- and postworkout.


Produced by mammals during the first few days after giving birth, colostrum contains insulinlike growth factor-1 (IGF-1). It’s important for stimulating muscle growth and immunoglobulins, which are involved in immune functions.

Try: Bioplex HyperPlex, CytoSport EvoPro, SAN Infusion, Syntrax Essence Blood Protein


Processed from the blood of animals such as cows, these isolates preserve the functional characteristics of proteins, including biologically active peptides such as albumin and immunoglobulins. They’re more slowly digested than smaller-molecule proteins, allowing the amino acids to stay in the bloodstream for a longer period and reducing the body’s need to break down muscle mass for physiological processes. Consuming immunoglobulin-rich materials increases lean body mass by supporting immune function and reducing inflammation.

Try: Bioplex Muscle Power Powder, Cyto- Sport EvoPro + digestive enzymeS

Proteolytic enzymes break down protein in your stomach, helping your body absorb more of the protein you consume on a daily basis.

Digestive Enzymes

In addition to helping your body absorb protein, enzymes such as bromelain, papain, pancreatin and trypsin assist in controlling joint pain and inflammatory-related diseases. Many protein makers are adding the digestible enzyme Aminogen — a research-proven formula that has been shown to break down protein quickly in the digestive tract. This allows you to digest protein faster, which means faster delivery to your muscles. Take protein products with added enzymes before and after training.

Try: Dymatize DymaLean, ErgoPharm Mass Meal, ISS Research Advantage Matrix, NOW Pro-Gainer, Optimum After Max, Syntrax Essence, Universal Hard Fast M&F