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The Absolutely Cursed Legend of the Muscle-Building Tuna Shake

Bodybuilding websites love to promote tuna shakes for otherworldly gains, but is there any truth to this nauseating (and fishy) recommendation?

Bodybuilders will do just about anything to gain muscle mass. They’ll spend Christmas in the gym. They’ll eat nothing but chicken and rice (and choke it down with a gallon of cold breast milk). They’ll even shoot steroids. But worst of all, they’ll drink tuna protein shakes.

Bodybuilding websites like Muscle & Strength, Bulkbites, WeBeFit and Deepsquatter all feature recipes for tuna shakes. They’re similar in makeup: Some combination of canned tuna, milk, peanut butter, bananas and honey, blended until creamy and (probably not) delicious. The tuna is advertised as a replacement for protein powder, and many of the recipes claim that the shake “tastes a lot better than it sounds.” (We’ll see about that.)

I was already aghast, but my deep senses of curiosity and consternation propelled me to learn more — namely, could tuna protein shakes transform me into a strapping hunk? The professionals I spoke with were skeptical.

“There’s always an impetus to find the next best thing in the world of muscle growth, be it bee pollen, beef-based protein powders, rebranded bone broths or collagen,” says Ben Natan, a bodybuilder, powerlifter, self-proclaimed “meathead” and former supplement salesman. “Of course, it’s always bullshit.”

According to Natan, the same goes for tuna protein shakes. “Tuna is nutritious with a great protein-to-calorie ratio, and it’s rich in healthy fats and omegas,” he says. “But that doesn’t make it uniquely beneficial to muscle building. This is just another chapter in the long book of these meatheads confusing causation and correlation, all in the name of marginal muscle growth.” 

Not to mention, it’s not like opting for tuna saves you cash: You can buy a massive tub of whey protein for $30, which will almost certainly make you more shakes than 30 $1 cans of tuna.

From a nutritional perspective, tuna protein shakes (and protein shakes in general) are also unnecessarily high in protein. “Not only is this disgusting-sounding, but it’s absolutely pointless,” says Dana Hunnes, dietitian at UCLA Medical Center and author of Recipe for Survival: What You Can Do to Live a Healthier and More Environmentally Friendly Life. “Our bodies can’t absorb more than 30 grams of protein at a time, so these shakes with 52-plus grams of protein in them are a waste, and your kidneys need to work that much harder to process all of it.”

Instead of gulping tuna protein shakes, Hunnes says my body (and yours) would be better served by peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which have a more reasonable amount of protein (about 15 grams per serving) as well as energizing carbs. “Our muscles rely on small amounts of protein to replenish the breakdown that occurs during a workout, but the true powerhouse of cells and cellular metabolism is glucose (carbs),” she explains. “Also, from an environmental perspective, we need to be eating less fish, not more.”

Perhaps the most obvious downside of a tuna protein shake, however, is the taste. “If anyone busted out tuna — much less a tuna shake — in the gym, I’d probably throw up on them,” says decorated personal trainer Jonathan Jordan, who begs me to make a regular smoothie or just eat the canned tuna by itself. “Unless you really love the taste of a tuna shake, there’s no benefit you can’t get from a normal smoothie or food.”

The only question left was, do I love the taste of a tuna shake? There was only one way to find out:

Once prepared, my disappointment with the tuna shake was immeasurable. My kitchen reeked of blended tuna, and a single sip immediately filled my body with rage. I had to plug my nose to have a drink, and yet, the fishy oomph of tuna remained. Worse yet, the pudgy texture of blended tuna, peanut butter, honey and banana was one that my throat won’t soon forget. 

As predicted by my sources, I’m also no stronger than before — beyond, I guess, being able to suppress my gag reflex. In the end, then, there really is nothing to be gained from tuna protein shakes — gains most of all.