Belfast Telegraph

Let's be crystal clear... protein shake is a drug for narcissists

By Nicholas Lezard

My attention was snagged this week by a news item that told us the market for protein drinks grew by 17.4% over the course of 2014.

At first glance it strikes me as very much one of those stories that prompts the response: "So what?" But 17.4% is quite a large figure for that kind of thing and my second thought after "So what?" was: "Hang on a minute."

For protein shakes are, or so I gather, the kind of product that is consumed by people who have been on a three-day crystal meth binge and yet who retain enough common sense to realise that they are going to have to consume some nutrition, but do not feel quite up to solids. So, the explanation was surely that the nation had been turned on to the drug by watching the hit American series Breaking Bad, which, my children tell me, features crystal meth quite heavily; certainly more than my preferred law and order TV series, Heartbeat.

Although something of a libertarian in social matters, not even I can see the benefit to a society in which half the members are off their heads on methamphetamine.

A rigid free-marketer, who could direct the energy of methamphetamine addicts towards a productive activity, like delivering packages from Amazon, might see some good in this, but I suspect that it doesn't work quite like that.

It then turned out that I was barking up the wrong tree: this increased use of protein shakes has got nothing to do with prolonged drug use and everything to do with increased gym use, decreased free time and the perverse human propensity to find a quicker, nastier way to do absolutely anything.

One shopper - interviewed in a branch of a well-known "health" food store - was quoted as saying: "None of us has enough protein, because we mostly eat salads and sandwiches. We need more and this is one way of us getting it." I'll deal with these issues in order.

First, the gym. Like Homer Simpson, I pronounce this with a hard "g" and to rhyme with "time", to indicate mild derision.

Why anyone would shell out good money to run on a treadmill, or pump weights while exposed to the scorn of others, when paved surfaces, stairs and floors (for push-ups) are not really that hard to find is entirely beyond me.

Here, the protein shakes are part of a culture of narcissism that gym membership betokens; they're all about bodybuilding, really.

But it's the way that people also drink these drinks as an actual food substitute that really is sad.

The undernourished worker picking at her takeaway salad during the 15-minute interval that now passes for a lunch-break has my every sympathy.

That she - or he - has to supplement their miserable diet by drinking something that, for all most of us know, is made from dried and ground-up worms, makes me weep.

I know we don't all want, or can't all have, oysters fresh from the sea if we feel the need of a protein hit.

But isn't there something grimly utilitarian about the protein drink?

I considered trying one of these protein shakes (although don't let that "shakes" fool you into thinking they're fun, or somehow indulgent) for the purposes of research for this article.

Maybe they're delicious. But I doubt it, rather (that gag about dried, ground earthworms didn't come from nowhere).

Also, I don't know what I'd be putting inside me if I drank one. I'd feel happier, I realise, with a nice plate of crystal meth. At least you know what you're getting.

Belfast Telegraph


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