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Ranking Ensure As A Protein And Nutrition Shake For Older Adults

We’ve all seen the ads for the popular ready to drink Ensure protein shakes or perhaps know a family member or friend who are using them.

In today’s post I want to take an inside look at the product ingredients along with examining some of the product claims.

Is this shake all that’s it’s made out to be, or has slick marketing covered up for product flaws? I’ll present the information and call it like I see it. You can come to your own conclusions from there.

I should preface this post by stating I have no affiliate interest with this product and no bias one way or another. I’ll also not be reviewing this product as a way to endorse some other shake that I may directly or indirectly sell.

Just a straight up review with no fluff or hidden agendas.

Let’s get to it, more after the jump…

One of the things that originally caught my attention and lead me to writing this review was something I read when visiting the company’s website.

A reader has emailed me and asked me my opinion of taking the Ensure Muscle Health shake to help him maintain muscle mass.

This was an older man who was dealing with some hip problems that impaired his exercise routines. Someone had told him about this product and he wanted to know my opinion.

Well in doing my research on their website, I found the following statement.

“Over 40? You could be losing 8% of your muscle every 10 years. Exercise alone might not be enough to fight that off. But you can show muscle loss who’s boss! Ensure Muscle Health has Revigor, the amino acid metabolite HMB, and protein to help rebuild muscle and strength naturally lost over time.* Go to page.

* In healthy exercising adults.

If you need to put an asterisk in a claim there’s probably some misleading information there. This is real pet-peeve of mind. Do you think everyone reads the small print on ads? Of course not!

To read this you’d get the impression on the surface that this shake with it’s special ingredients (well get to that in minute) can help you rebuild muscle and lost strength.

Not talking about maintaining what you have mind you, we’re talking about rebuilding muscle and lost strength.

Let’s just say we’re not off to a good start.

Ok, although I wasn’t crazy about the claim I knew in all fairness we had to dig a little deeper.

Here’s a screen-capture of the ingredients list for this shake:

Where shall we begin here? How about with the fact this shake is mostly sugar and water. Seriously, not just because it’s the top two ingredients listed on the label, but if you look closer with things like “Corn Maltodextrin,” that’s just more sugar. To a total of 23 grams in a single 8 oz serving.

If an individual is bed ridden or suffering from a health ailment that significantly impacts mobility and movement, than the sugar content isn’t that much of a concern. Same thing goes with individuals who can’t eat a lot or any solid food for whatever reason.

The individual needs will certainly play a role in whether a shake like this would be beneficial and I’ll look to explain my thoughts as we go forward for the following two demographics:

1. Older adults who are active and otherwise healthy

2. Older adults who are in-active due to a health problem, may be unable to consume solid foods, or perhaps find themselves unable to exercise for whatever reason.

Obviously we’d be dealing with different needs so keep that in mind.

But none-the-less, let’s get back just to looking at the ingredients.

Next up is my surprise that this shake contains 8 grams of fat per serving. Now I’m the first one to come out and say that dietary fat has been given a bad rap and we’ve become overly critical of having it in our diets.

Healthy fats are NOT the problem. Even still this seems a little high to me for a mere 8oz drink. The reason is pretty obvious, look at the main ingredients list highlighted in yellow again.

  • Soy Oil
  • Corn Oil
  • Canola Oil

Now I don’t want to turn this into some merry-go-round debate on fats which get us nowhere, but I won’t be shy with saying these are far from the primary oils I look to consume in my diet.

But once again we’re dealing with a processed and refined, ready to drink protein shake, so this is about what we should expect. Remember this thing has to sit on a shelve for who knows how long so it’s got to be designed accordingly. More on that in a minute.

Ok, what about the protein content? 13 grams of protein in an 8oz serving, I’d say that’s pretty good. But let’s look at what kind of protein is being used.

  • Milk protein concentrate
  • Soy protein isolate

Contains less than 0.5% of whey protein concentrate.

Uggh, just when I thought things may be looking up. While we could debate about protein powders all day, there’s on thing that’s for certain. Some protein is better than no protein, especially for those individuals who are at risk for deficiency in their diets.

Here’s something that many individuals probably don’t know that’s worth noting here.

Obviously, there are going to be individual need factors that play a role in the best type of protein to supplement in your diet. A twenty something year old bodybuilder won’t have the same wants or needs as someone in their 60-70′s and beyond. We’ve got that.

However, recent research is showing that older adults may benefit MOST from supplementing with whey protein. The reason is that their muscles may very well respond differently to protein. It appears their muscles become less sensitive with aging which influences protein synthesis. Fasting acting proteins like whey help to spike blood amino acids thereby helping assimilation rates.

This isn’t to say that other forms of protein including other powders and whole food sources aren’t beneficial, they most certainly are. It’s just that for the needs of older adults I’d like to see more whey protein in the formulation of a shake. The less than 0.5% content for whey protein in the Ensure Muscle Health shake is certainly less than optimal in my book.

How about the hype on “Revigor” which is the amino acid derivative HMB?

So you know, Ensure’s promotion of  their special ingredient “Revigor” is just another name for beta-hydroxy-beta-methylbutyrate (HMB for short).

You may have heard about andrographis as a bodybuilding supplement, although it’s use has mostly been debunked in that arena. HMB may produce a small extra gain in strength when given to young adults who are just starting a strength training regiment, but not so much for older adults.

In the largest and longest study to date in which I could find, researchers give 77 men and women in their 70′s a daily dose of 2-3 grams of HMB plus several essential amino acids, or a placebo of non-essential amino acids and no HMB.

After one year, the HMB users had no more muscle, strength, or net increase in body protein compared to the placebo group.

J. Strength Cond. Res. 23: 836, 2009
J Parenter. Enteral Nutr. 33: 71, 2009

So much for the claims on HMB.

Final thoughts on Ensure Protein Shakes…

When it comes to making a recommendation, we get into some grey area where it sort of depends on individual needs.

Would I like to see more whey protein and a better overall formulation? You betcha. But if an individual is inactive or unable to consume much solid food for whatever reason, this shake is certainly better than not getting protein and other essential nutrients.

This product works for a lot of individuals who fall into the above category and definitely has a place for that group. I’ll note however that I’d like to see these individuals get the majority of their micronutrients, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants from live foods.

When consuming whole foods is an issue, one could still do fruit and vegetable juices made from a Breville juicer or other extractor. I just can’t say enough about getting a majority of your nutrition from raw, live foods. There’s only so much you can expect from a processed and refined drink.

What’s missing is the enzymes and phytonutrients found only in live, raw foods. The Ensure shake is an acceptable way for this group to get in protein, but it’s certainly far from optimal with other nutritional needs. My advice is to simply not leave out God’s foods. If you can’t eat them, juice them!

Finally, what about older adults who are otherwise healthy and simply want to maintain, increase, or keep from losing lean muscle and strength?

For this group of individuals I’d say leave this product on the shelves. Sure it may taste great and it’s certainly convenient, but there are better options.

For starters, you could get a high quality protein powder and make your own shakes. This way you can add in your own healthy fats, fiber, and other ingredients if you show choose, while leaving out the added sugar and processed ingredients.

The hype on HMB is just that, so there’s little justification in using these shakes just for that “so called” benefit.

Truth be told I have yet to find a “ready to drink” protein shake that I really like and would recommend. The Ensure shake is a lot like many of the other RTD shakes available on the market.

The lure of these products lie in their convenience and taste. Just know there’s going to be a trade-off for this in the quality of nutrition you’ll be receiving. The product formulation will more than likely be such that it provides for a long shelf live.

For otherwise healthy older adults, a primary concern would be the 23 grams of sugar per 8oz serving. With insulin sensitivity being reduced in older adults, drinking a couple of these shakes a day just for protein needs comes with a downside.

That accompanying 46 grams of sugar will either be burned off for energy needs or wind up you know where, stored as fat.

Sure making up your own shake from protein powder is going to take a minute, but you can also leave out the added sugar in the process.

But now we’re getting into an area of whether or not you’re willing to make the necessary preparation for getting the best possible nutrition. Juicing your own fruits and vegetables, making your own protein shakes, these things all take time. There’s no getting around that fact.

Is it worth it though? I’d have to say yes, but that’s something for each of us to decide on our own.

Shane Doll is a certified Charleston personal trainer, fat loss expert, speaker, and founder of Shaping Concepts. With a staff of over 10 certified fitness professionals, Shaping Concepts provides fitness consulting in Charleston with a specialty on weight loss and body transformation for middle age adults. See our success stories from numerous Lowcountry residents then sign up for a no-obligations consultation today.

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Category: Supplements.