My attentions was snagged yesterday by a news item which told us that the market for protein drinks grew by 17.4 per cent over the course of last year. At first glance it strikes one as very much one of those stories that prompts the response “so what?” But 17.4 per cent is quite a large figure for that kind of thing, and my second thought, after “so what?” was “hang on”.
For protein shakes are, 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 like that.
It then turned out 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 from Pret — we need more and this is one way of 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 beyond me. Here, the protein shakes are part of a culture of narcissism that gym membership betokens; they’re about bodybuilding, really.
10 best fitness trackers
10 best fitness trackers
1/10 Jawbone UP24
After a lightweight, sleek-looking band? Then this could be for you. There’s no screen but it counts steps, calories and more and you can track progress on your phone. At night, it clocks your slumbering movements to wake you at the optimum moment in the sleep cycle. Available on iOS and Android. £101, amazon
2/10 Nike+ FuelBand SE
With this band’s bright display, you can always keep track of how far you are to meeting your fitness goals. For some activities like cycling or yoga, the band can compensate for the fact that you’re exercising without moving much, measuring your action so you don’t miss out. Syncs with most iOS or Android devices. £110, amazon
3/10 Samsung Gear Fit
With its vivid 1.8-inch LED display, this is a stylish-looking tracker, if slightly heavier than rivals. It can calculate activity when you’re at the gym or cycling and there’s a heart rate monitor on the back. It works with an app but you’ll need a Samsung Galaxy phone. £169, samsung.com/uk
4/10 Sony SmartBand
The soft rubber wristband on this stylish tracker contains the tiny Sony Core which measures your activity. It links to a slick Android app that lists sleep time and quality, calories burnt, steps taken, and time spent walking and running. Like the Jawbone, it vibrates to wake you at the ideal moment. £54, amazon
5/10 Withings Pulse O2
Here’s another tracker with a heart rate sensor. And this one measures blood oxygen levels too. The Pulse is a tiny pebble that clips into a wrist band. It vibrates to wake you, though it lacks the smart alarm of the Jawbone. £100, amazon
6/10 Garmin Vivofit
Unlike other models here, the Vivofit uses a watch battery instead of a rechargeable one which lasts a year. And this has a continuously visible screen, showing the time. It measures steps, calories and your sleep activity, then you can Sync it wirelessly to see information online. £79, amazon
7/10 Fitbit Flex
Fitbit’s monitors are ruthlessly accurate. This model –compatible with most iOS and Android phones- has a row of lights to show how near you are to your daily goal and it’ll monitor steps, distance travelled and calories burned when you’re awake, and your sleep at night. It’s water-resistant, too. £79.99, johnlewis.com
8/10 Misfit Shine
The tiny Shine comes with a wristband and a magnetic clip. Tap it and the monitor lights up showing you both your progress and the time. You can walk, run, cycle or even swim (for cycling you clip it to your shoe) and track progress on Android and iOS devices. £79.95, johnlewis.com
9/10 Samsung Gear 2 Neo
The latest smart watch from Samsung also focuses on fitness, with the same optical sensor to read heart rate on the back. It also counts steps when you’re walking or running. For cycling and hiking it uses the GPS of a companion Galaxy smartphone. £174, amazon
10/10 TomTom Multi-Sport Cardio
Ideal for running, this uses GPS to track you. If you’re on a running machine it measures distance through movement only. And there’s a top-notch heart rate monitor. When you’re done, sync it to TomTom’s online community and popular running sites to check progress. £244, amazon
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 Pret salad during the fifteen-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 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 with that.
A chink appears in Paxman’s intellectual armour
I love University Challenge. Loads of my friends love University Challenge. We revel in Jeremy Paxman as questioner. Whoever gave him the gig deserves a medal. And yet, every so often the curtain is pulled aside, and we see the great magician of Oz as he really is: that is, not as clever as we think. It’s always about pronunciation.
This time he pronounced the surname of the great biographer of the Renaissance artists, Giorgio Vasari, with the accent on the first syllable; like “pessary”. He’s made the same mistake before; and he once insisted that there is a German word “heues”, meaning “new”, when the word on the card was a misprint for “neues”.
Not everyone, not even Paxo, can be expected to be omniscient. But no one on the set of the show, at least eight of whom at any one time are guaranteed to have been in tertiary education, picked him up on either mistake.
I suppose it is all very well correcting him from the safety of a newspaper column. I did a little thought experiment in which I corrected him in person, eye to eye, and I began to understand why no one piped up. But still.Reuse content