Fans of protein drinks like Muscle Milk and EAS Myoplex may want to put down their glasses. Consumer Reports found that many of these popular beverages contained low to moderate levels of heavy metals and other harmful contaminants, with three containing higher levels than recommended by the U.S. Pharmacopeia.

"Our main concern is that consumers who are taking these products on a regular basis -- in many cases, the directions recommend multiple servings a day -- can be exposed to heavy metals that exceed USP guidelines," Consumer Reports senior editor Andrea Rock told WalletPop in a telephone interview.

Most at risk are teenagers, pregnant women, diabetics and people who do not have fully functioning kidneys or have some kidney damage, added Rock.
Manufacturers Abbott Nutrition and CytoSport dispute these results, saying their tests found the drinks to be safe.

Consumer Reports sent 15 protein drinks to an independent lab to be tested for contaminants like arsenic, lead, mercury and cadmium. Three contained levels of arsenic, lead and cadmium that proved troubling, according to Consumer Reports. They are EAS Myoplex Original Rich Dark Chocolate Shake (which retails for about $13 for a 4-pack), Muscle Milk chocolate powder (starting at $21 for a 2.47 lb. tub), and Muscle Milk vanilla crème (beginning at $21).

According to Rock, overexposure to cadmium can harm the kidneys. New research has also found possible links to macular degeneration. Lead, meanwhile, "is a known neurotoxin," she explained. "We are exposed to heavy metals in our environment. Anything we can do to avoid additional exposure, especially in products that we don't need anyway, is a wise thing to do."

Harmful contaminants aren't the only problems with these drinks, Keri Gans, national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association and a registered dietitian, told WalletPop in an e-mail interview. "Most provide more protein and calories than the average person requires post workout. You do want to refuel after exercise with protein and carbohydrates but more is not necessarily better."

The International Society for Sports Nutrition (ISSN) recommends that endurance athletes consume about 1 to 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, depending on the intensity and duration of the exercise.

Most of the people buying these drinks are weekend warriors rather than professional athletes. They are already getting more than enough protein through their diet, said Jackie Keller, co-founder of NutriFit and a wellness coach to the stars, in an e-mail interview with WalletPop. Americans consume on average twice the recommended daily dietary intake for protein; for women it's 46 grams, for men 56g. Too much protein can dehydrate your body, eventually straining your kidneys and heart.

For a healthier protein shake alternative, here are two recipes to try out that will run you about $2 to make:

Papaya Smoothie (from Jackie Keller)
2 servings

1 cup fresh papaya cubes
1 cup 0% fat Greek yogurt
10 ice cubes (approximately 2 cups)
1 cup calcium-fortified orange juice
1 small banana

Per serving: 180 calories; 35g carbs; 12g protein; 0g total fat

Blueberry Smoothie (from Keri Gans)
1 serving

½ cup lowfat plain Greek yogurt
½ cup nonfat milk
½ medium banana
½ cup blueberries
1 cup crushed ice

Per serving: 250 calories; 32g carbs; 16g protein; 2.4g total fat

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