The weight loss journey can be both daunting and confusing. With the wealth of information out there, sometimes it may feel like there is just too much to take in.
From Slimfast to Muscle Milk and everything in between, protein shakes have been part of the "diet culture" for some time.
One of the questions you may be wondering is if protein shakes are good for weight loss or if these shakes are actually a waste of time and money.
Let's explore the pros and cons of protein shakes as they relate to weight loss.
What are protein shakes?
Protein shakes are a type of drinkable food that is typically made by adding protein powder to water or milk. These shakes usually contain some type of protein, such as whey, casein, or soy.
Protein shakes can also contain other ingredients, such as carbohydrates, and filler ingredients, like artificial sweeteners and gums. They can also be fortified with vitamins and minerals.
When choosing a protein powder, look for one with a complete protein source (all essential amino acids) and limited fillers, and added sugar.
Whey protein has become somewhat of the gold standard due to its amino acid profile and digestibility, but that's not the only quality option. Casein protein and complete plant-based proteins with a blend like soy, pea, and brown rice can also provide all essential amino acids and enough leucine for protein muscle synthesis.
The main purpose of protein shakes is to help people meet their daily protein needs. Protein is an essential nutrient that plays a role in many bodily functions, such as building and repairing tissues, producing enzymes, and transporting nutrients.
Most people can get the protein they need from their diet, but some people may benefit from protein shakes, such as those who have very high protein needs and are trying to build muscle or lose weight.
These shakes are also sometimes used as meal replacements, particularly for breakfast or lunch. Meal replacement shakes often contain more calories and nutrients than protein shakes, and they are designed to be a complete meal. However, I wouldn't recommend using protein shakes as a meal replacement often as they are not as satisfying as chewing and enjoying real food.
Are protein shakes good for weight loss?
Protein shakes can be beneficial support for weight loss efforts. A protein shake provides a quick and easy way to get in more protein, and they can also help you feel fuller for longer. However, protein shakes alone shouldn't be relied on for weight loss.
This is because protein takes longer to digest than other nutrients, such as carbohydrates. This means that you will likely feel less hungry throughout the day if you drink a protein shake for breakfast or lunch.
Protein shakes can also be a good way to get in more nutrients if you are struggling to eat a balanced diet. For example, if you are trying to lose weight, you may be cutting out certain foods, such as high-calorie snacks or desserts. This can make it difficult to get all the nutrients your body needs. Protein shakes can help fill in the nutrient gaps and ensure you are getting the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients you need, all while tasting good and helping you lose weight.
Let's look at the reasons why protein shakes may help you lose weight.
Drinking protein shakes can help you meet your protein goals
While protein shakes don't inherently cause you to lose weight, they can help you meet your daily protein goals.
Protein is essential for our bodies to function properly. It helps build and repair our cells, tissues, and organs.
Protein is also necessary for our bodies to make hormones, enzymes, and other chemicals.
Some studies indicate that diets higher in protein result in greater weight and fat loss, although further studies need to be done (1).
Protein makes you feel full longer
Protein is the most filling nutrient, and it can help you control your hunger and lose weight, so protein shakes can be an effective way to lose weight by helping you feel full.
Studies have shown that protein can increase feelings of fullness and reduce hunger, and it can also help you eat fewer calories throughout the day. When you feel fuller, you are less likely to overeat or make unhealthy food choices.
Adequate protein helps preserve lean body mass
As we age, we tend to lose muscle mass, and this can lead to weight gain. This is because muscle is more metabolically active than fat, so it burns more calories. One way to combat age-related muscle loss is to make sure you are getting enough protein. Drinking protein shakes can help you meet your protein needs and preserve muscle mass, which can help you burn more calories and lose weight.
Why? Because when you lose weight through dieting, you typically lose a mix of fat and muscle. However, studies have shown that high-protein diets can help minimize muscle loss and preserve lean body mass when you're trying to lose weight.
Protein shakes make portion and calorie control easier
When you're consuming a protein shake, it's easier to measure out one scoop of protein and add it to water or almond milk to keep this calorie and portion controlled.
Counting calories or macros can be a daunting and tedious task. Protein powder usually comes with a portion size scoop which takes the guesswork out of portioning it out yourself.
Calorie and portion control are still entirely possible to do with food, but it takes a little more effort and practice to learn appropriate portion sizing.
High protein diets can help you lose weight
Weight loss is all about calories in vs. calories out. To lose weight, you need to create a calorie deficit, which means you need to burn more calories than you consume.
A high-protein diet can help you do this by supporting your metabolism and reducing your appetite. When you consume more protein, your body has to work harder to break it down, which means you burn more calories. A high-protein diet can also help to reduce your appetite by making you feel fuller for longer.
How many protein shakes should you drink in a day?
Regardless of if you're trying to lose weight or not, you should not be downing a large protein shake every couple of hours.
This could displace other valuable nutrients you need and may actually lead to weight gain if you’re exceeding your calorie needs.
Consuming protein powder or protein shakes once or two times a day, in addition to a balanced diet, can help you meet your goals.
Follow these guidelines when including protein shakes in your diet:
- Choose whole high-protein foods first, as these contain other valuable vitamins and minerals.
- If you're using a protein powder, read the label to make sure it doesn't contain too much sugar or other additives and filler ingredients.
- Don't rely on protein shakes as your main source of protein but use them when you’re trying to add nutrition to a meal or need something quick and easy.
- Protein shakes shouldn’t be used as meal replacements often.
- Drinking a protein shake can be helpful after workouts if you won’t get a meal in within 30-60 minutes.
- When making a protein shake, use skim milk for more protein or water or unsweetened almond milk as your base for a lower calorie option.
- Instead of making a shake, you can add protein to things like oatmeal or smoothies to increase the protein content of your snack or meal.
- Add fresh or frozen fruit and a small handful of nuts or seeds for extra nutrients
- If you don’t enjoy protein shakes or adding protein powder to a meal makes you not enjoy it, either look for another protein powder or skip it together and enjoy a different source of protein.
Claims to be cautious of
Some protein powder or shake companies will make outlandish claims promising you instant and effortless weight loss and/or muscle gain.
When you read claims like these, proceed with caution. We've discussed the ways protein shakes can help you lose weight, but none of these promise instant results.
No protein shake or powder is going to make weight loss or muscle gain super easy. These are goals that require lifestyle changes and consistency over time to produce long-lasting results.
Protein is the building block of muscle, so it's essential to consume enough of it if you're looking to tone up.
For weight loss, protein shakes can help you feel fuller for longer and provide increased satiety so that you eat less and create a calorie deficit.
If you're struggling to get all the nutrients you need from your diet, protein shakes can help fill in the gaps.
Just be sure to choose a shake with quality ingredients and minimal added sugar, and try to limit your intake to one or two per day.