When trying to lose weight, we are told it is essential to eat enough protein so as to not lose muscle mass or slow our metabolism. Seeing how important protein is, it is no surprise that protein shakes have taken the weight loss industry by storm over the last few years. Its appeal is especially strong among fitness buffs and weight lifters alike. People following high-protein diets will often swear by their favorite protein shakes, claiming it is the key to their weight loss and ability to maintain existing lean muscles. But does science support the idea that protein shakes help with weight loss? If so, how do these shakes help?
- Protein Shakes Reduce Appetite
- Protein Shakes Boost Metabolic Rate
- The Real Benefit of Protein
- Can Protein Shakes Make You Gain Weight?
- Do You Need a Lot of Protein Shakes to Lose Weight?
- Can You Lose Weight if Your Diet Consisted Solely of Protein Shakes?
- Is There a Particular Time to Drink Protein Shakes for Weight Loss?
- The Bottom Line
Protein Shakes Reduce Appetite
While this might be true, this effect is not just limited to shakes as you get similar benefits from eating high-protein foods such as steaks or, better yet, eggs. There is no need to gulp down a shake if you prefer to chow down a steak or eat a nice piece of grilled chicken. That said, protein does suppress appetite and keeps you full longer by stimulating the peptides that reduce the appetite. A high protein diet, in general, is linked with increased satiety and increased sleeping metabolic rate—all good things for weight loss.
Bottom Line: While protein shakes can aid weight loss, this effect is not unique to the drink.
Protein Shakes Boost Metabolic Rate
This claim is accurate, as ingesting protein has a subtle effect on metabolic rate since your body has to expend more energy to digest it. This effect gives a slight boost to the metabolic rate. In fact, in one study, subjects who doubled their protein intake from 0.5 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight to 1.1 grams of protein per pound of body weight lost almost three more pounds over six weeks relative to the subjects who got less protein. They also gained more muscle mass. This result was with exercise being controlled as both groups did the same high-intensity exercise and strength training.
Bottom Line: Although not a phenomenon unique to protein shakes, protein slightly increases the body’s metabolic rate as it takes more energy to process it.
The Real Benefit of Protein
Although drinking protein shakes might give you a weight-loss advantage by curbing appetite and slightly boosting metabolism, the real benefit of protein lies in its effect on body composition. If you consume enough protein during weight loss, the weight you lose will be more body fat and less muscle. If you also work your muscles against resistance, you’ll gain muscle and lose even more body fat.
But you don’t need to get your protein only from a protein shake. Protein is found in plenty of animal and plant-based foods. Choosing the right option would most likely be preferable as it would lack the sugar, artificial sweeteners, and fillers that protein shakes often contain.
Additionally, when independent firms tested protein powders, many had impurities, including heavy metals like lead and mercury. Again another reason why getting your protein from food sources is a better idea. That said, protein powders contain other nutrients, including vitamins and minerals that are good for the body. Be discerning with the protein powder you use because of the risk of contamination. Also, be mindful of the quantity you use. When possible, patronize brands that have their products tested by accredited organizations.
It is, however, worth mentioning that most adults who perform mild to moderate workouts may not even need protein shake at all, as typical dietary protein in a diet rich in whole food is most likely enough. Extra protein should only be a consideration if your focus is on building muscle mass.
Can Protein Shakes Make You Gain Weight?
Yes, and that can happen for a couple of reasons:
- Muscle Growth: If you are coupling your intense workout regime with a higher intake of protein in the form of a shake, it will promote muscle repair and growth. As your muscle mass increases, your weight will increase as well. This increase is a good thing as muscle weight is not bad for your health–fat is.
- Too Many Calories: You can overdo protein intake as well. If you are consuming a very high amount of protein but are not active, the extra protein that your body gets will be stored as fat in your body and result in weight gain.
- Insulin Resistance: If your protein shake contains too much added sugar and you drink many often enough, this extra sugar can start to affect insulin sensitivity in the long term. If blood sugar is continuously spiked, the body needs to send higher and higher insulin to stabilize it. If there is no immediate need for that sugar to be absorbed for immediate energy by the muscles, the sugars just hang out in the bloodstream till the insulin brings them back down. As you get into this cycle, with time, the body builds insulin resistance, requiring even more insulin to stabilize the system- this, by the way, is the definition of type 2 diabetes. A side effect of having insulin resistance is that the body refuses to lose fat and is even more likely to store the food eaten as even more fat.
Choosing a good protein shake is very important. Always check for the label of your protein shake before buying to check what added sugar and other preservatives are there in the shake.
Try to find a brand that accredited organizations like NSF international test. This will ensure the authenticity of the product.
Do You Need a Lot of Protein Shakes to Lose Weight?
If you consume too much protein shakes, your body will store this excess in the form of fat, which will be counterproductive. Balance is what you always need, as drinking more protein will not yield higher or faster results.
Generally, around 1-2 scoops of protein powder per day will be enough for most people. Do read the instruction regarding the consumption as brands have varied recommended intake. As a general rule, you should eat 1.2 to 1.7 gms of protein per kg per day with an active workout. This protein can entirely come from your meals or protein shakes, or a combination of both.
Remember, if you do a mild to moderate amount of workouts and eat a lot of protein through your diet, you may not even need to add a protein shake to your diet.
It might be worth mentioning that too much protein can be harmful to people with moderate to severe kidney disease. Limiting protein will slow down the progression of kidney disease. This is not the case in healthy individuals so be mindful of your situation.
Can You Lose Weight if Your Diet Consisted Solely of Protein Shakes?
You can lose weight by only consuming protein shakes and nothing else because you are most likely limiting your calorie intake. But the following question to ask will be if it is the healthiest way to lose weight? The answer to that is a no.
While protein shakes are more effective when coupled with exercise because they provide the necessary building blocks to help grow muscles post-workout and help repair them, there’s a reason why experts push a balanced diet. If consuming only protein was sustainable and well studied, then that is what every health expert would suggest to you. But it isn’t.
Fats keep you full for a longer duration of time, and unlike carbs, the utilization of fat happens in a very steady way. This means minimal spikes in blood sugar levels, keeping insulin resistance at bay. Therefore, it would make sense that having a healthy amount of healthy fats would help you reach your weight loss goals in the long term and would most likely be easier to sustain than an only-protein diet.
It is worth mentioning that many vitamins need fats to get absorbed correctly in our bodies. This means, if you don’t consume fat at all, in the long run, you might develop a deficiency of these vitamins (vitamin A, D, E, K).
Is There a Particular Time to Drink Protein Shakes for Weight Loss?
Consuming a protein shake a couple of hours before a substantial meal would be a good time as it might help prevent overeating. Again this phenomenon is because protein increases satiety and reduces appetite.
Studies suggest that a pre-workout protein consumption increases resting energy expenditure up to 48 hours after the workout routine.
Consumption of protein after a workout session helps with muscle hypertrophy up to 3 hours after the workout. A pre and post-workout protein will help you gain muscle mass and burn more fat. Note that the more muscle mass you have, the higher your energy expenditure while working out. So, adjusting your macros to ones that support muscle growth could indirectly help weight loss as more muscles burn more calories.
The Bottom Line
Drinking protein shakes can be a good thing – or the worst thing you could do for your weight loss goals. It depends on how you use them. If you’re eating three meals a day and drinking protein drinks in between, you’re probably getting too many calories. But if you’re using one as a meal replacement, it’s a way to get protein quickly and conveniently.
Protein shakes are beneficial if you exercise and don’t have time to eat a meal afterward as they send protein to your muscles to help them repair, decreasing recovery time.