Protein shakes are popularly associated with bodybuilders, and some women may avoid them because they don’t want to “bulk up" or gain body mass. High-quality, low-calorie protein shakes are easy to make, however, and for women who want to try them, they may facilitate healthy weight loss, weight maintenance, muscle gain and improved body composition.
Protein Shake Benefits
Protein is a more satiating nutrient than either carbohydrates or fats. That means if you regularly drink low-calorie protein shakes, you may eat fewer total calories and experience fewer cravings. In one study, published in 2013 in “Nutrition Research,” drinking shakes that contained 25 grams of protein reduced hunger at a following meal for both normal-weight and overweight women. Protein shakes also provide the nutrients necessary to mitigate the risks of losing bone and muscle mass, to which women are particularly susceptible.
Using Shakes for Weight Loss
One way to lose weight is to occasionally substitute protein shakes for full meals. Because a low-calorie shake has fewer calories than you'd eat at the meal, you'll lose weight over time by consistently drinking the meal replacements. Try substituting one meal every day with a shake. Registered dietitian Emily Rubin and endocrinologist Dr. Michael Tamber recommend using shakes that have fewer than 200 calories and at least 10 grams of protein.
In some cases, diets that include low-calorie protein shakes produce better results for weight loss and body composition than eating whole foods. In 2010, “Nutrition Journal” published the results of a study in which overweight women and men followed either a protein shake-based diet or a food-based diet for 40 weeks. After the trial period, subjects who used shakes as meal replacements had lost significantly more weight and body fat than subjects who reduced calories but ate food-based meals instead.
Protein powder is one convenient way to get 10-plus grams of protein in a low-calorie shake, but it's not your only option. For shakes that are under 200 calories, try mixing one scoop of whey protein powder with 1 cup of skim milk, or 1 cup of crushed ice blended with 6 ounces of nonfat Greek yogurt and a small frozen banana. Another option is 1 cup of unsweetened soy milk, 1 tablespoon of smooth peanut butter and 1 tablespoon of unsweetened cocoa powder blended with a handful of crushed ice.