by Jody Kerzman

Life is busy. And it seems the more active we are, the busier our lives become. That can leave us scrambling at mealtime, and sometimes, what we think is a healthy choice might not be so good for us after all. Experts say some of the most common mistakes people make are protein shakes and sports drinks. Both sound healthy, but NDSU Extension Agents say there are better choices that will help you eat smart and play hard.


file1551263187339Many people have begun turning to protein drinks for a quick lunch or supper on the run. “I fully support fast meals,” says Peggy Netzer, M.Ed Extension Agent, Family Nutrition Program. “Believe me, I don’t always have time to cook, but I can make a smoothie with protein powder, frozen or fresh fruit, spinach, and make a protein shake into a balanced meal in a cup.”

Protein is essential for building and repairing muscle, plus it takes longer for your body to process protein, which means it keeps you full a little longer than other foods. That’s why a protein shake for lunch can keep you going all afternoon. But your body needs more than just protein to function correctly.

“Protein drinks are a supplement,” says Netzer. “It’s okay to supplement and you can even use protein shakes as a meal replacement periodically. But if you’re doing a protein shake, I suggest adding fruits and vegetables to the shake. If you look at MyPlate, the federal health guidelines (learn more at, you’ll see that a portion of each meal should be protein, but your body also needs fruits and vegetables, as well as grains, oils, and dairy.

Translation: man cannot live on protein shakes alone. In fact, too many protein shakes may not be good for your health.

“A protein shake is a supplement and a supplement is not something you use on a daily basis. It is something to have if you’re not able to get in a balanced meal,” explains NDSU Extension Family and Consumer Science Agent Shaundra Ziemann-Bolinske. “You’ll feel better and have more energy if you incorporate fruits and vegetables into your meals, even if that meal is a protein shake.”

Turns out, the amount of protein you get in a protein shake can easily be consumed in actual food. Some foods that are good sources of protein include eggs, cottage cheese, beans, turkey, nut butters, almonds, string cheese, and milk.


SPORTS DRINKSWe know water is always the best choice when it comes to beverages, still, sports drinks can be tempting. But are they a good choice? Ziemann-Bolinske says probably not.

“Sports drinks are recommended only to increase your physical performance if you are physically active for 60-90 minutes. Anything less than that, you should stick with water,” she explains. “Water is best for hydration. Make sure you drink enough before, during, and after you work out. In fact, don’t wait until you feel thirsty to drink water because if you’re thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.”

Another concern of sports drinks: the hidden calories.

“Sports drinks are empty calories,” says Netzer. “They contain a lot of sodium and sugar or artificial sweeteners. They just aren’t a healthy choice.”

Still, she says, drinking plain water can get boring. Milk and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice are good alternatives.

“Another option is to buy a water bottle with an infuser – place fresh or frozen fruit in the infuser, add water, and you’ve got naturally flavored water without adding any calories or sugar,” says Netzer.

If you really crave a sports drink, consider making your own. It costs less, tastes great,

Bottom line, when it comes to fueling our bodies, even when youre busy, it’s a good idea to take time to do your homework so you can be sure the choices you’re making are the best ones for your active lifestyle.

For more information to eat smart and play hard, visit


Homemade Sports Drink

4 Tbsp sugar  / ¼ tsp. salt /  ¼ cup boiling water /  ¼ cup orange juice or 2 Tbsp lemon juice / 3 ¾ cups cold water

In the bottom of a pitcher, dissolve the sugar and salt in the boiling water. Add the juice and cold water. Chill. Makes one quart.


Fruit for the Day Smoothie

1 7-ounce can mandarin oranges (in light syrup) /  2 frozen bananas, peeled and sliced /       2 cups frozen unsweetened strawberries /  1 ½ cup fat-free milk

Add all ingredients to the blender in the order listed above. Be sure to hold down the lid and blend on low speed for 30 seconds. Then blend on high speed for one minute. Makes four servings. Each serving has 140 calories, 31 grams (g) carbohydrate, 0 g fat and 3 g fiber.