Eating a diet that's high in protein and low in carbs may help you control your weight without any pesky calorie counting. Planning meals is easy, especially if you use protein shakes as meal replacements or snacks. You don't even have to sign up for a regimented plan that requires you to purchase its products. Instead, choose the right foods to successfully follow a diet plan that's high in protein, low in carbs and includes protein shakes.
What Makes a High-Protein, Low-Carb Diet
Protein serves as a building block for the cells in your body. The standard recommendation for protein, according to the Institute of Medicine, is 10 to 35 percent of daily calories. So for a 2,000-calorie diet, a standard amount of protein would be 50 to 175 grams daily -- with a high-protein diet hovering near or above the upper range.
As you increase your protein intake, your carbohydrate decreases. Carbs serve as an energy source for your cells, brain, organs and muscles. A low-carb diet contains about 50 to 150 grams of carbs per day, compared to the 225 to 325 grams recommended on a typical 2,000-calorie diet. Some very-low-carb diets dip below 50 grams to burn stored fat faster.
What to Include in Meals
Protein foods include lean steak, chicken, pork, fish, eggs, seafood and game. Vegetarian proteins, such as beans and tofu, carry a fair number of carbs, so you'll probably want to limit them. Fresh vegetables -- particularly the watery, fibrous type -- will round out your meals. Think broccoli, summer squash, peppers, cabbage, lettuce and cucumbers. Depending on how low-carb you go, you'll eat very small servings of whole grains, fruit, dairy and starchy vegetables such as corn and potatoes.
Typical meals might be eggs and bacon for breakfast, grilled chicken with peppers and onions at lunch and seared flank steak with a Caesar salad for dinner. Snacks include lower-carb fruits such as berries, Greek yogurt, nuts and cheese -- which foods you choose ultimately depends on your daily carb target.
Where Protein Shakes Fit
Whole foods are superior to powdered protein supplements or premixed shakes because they don't contain additives and aren't subject to processing. But whipping up an egg omelet for breakfast, tossing a green salad with chicken breast for lunch or packing a slab of salmon in your bag for a snack isn't always practical. For convenience, sometimes you may want to consume a protein shake instead of a meal, as a snack or after a workout.
Protein shakes make for an easy grab-and-go option. They also add variety to your food choices. You have to be careful, though, because some products contain added sugars and other carbohydrates to improve flavor or mixability.
When you're looking for a protein powder, choose an unflavored whey that has almost no other additives. A serving will add just 3 grams of carbs to your diet but also provides 20 to 25 grams of protein. Plain whey powder may not be tasty, so blend it with 1/2 cup of frozen raspberries and 1 cup of vanilla, unsweetened almond milk to add just 6 grams of net carbs, which are total carbs minus grams of fiber. Other additions, such as bananas, cow's milk or sweeteners, will greatly raise the carb content, so unless your daily carb budget allows, it's best to skip them.
Some flavored powders also mix with water for a palatable snack. Again, read the nutrition label to make sure the flavoring doesn't add too many carbs. For example, some chocolate-flavored protein powders contain 4 grams of net carbs. When mixed with water, this constitutes a low-carb snack, but adding milk and other fruits could push the count up too high for your goals. For example, make a chocolate-peanut butter shake that contains 2 tablespoons of peanut butter and 1 cup of milk for a total of 20 grams of carbs. Use almond milk instead to drop the carb count to 9 grams.
Store-Bought Protein Shakes
If you don't have the time to mix your own shake, prepackaged options exist. Atkins makes a chocolate or strawberry shake with 2 to 3 grams of net carbs. Slim Fast high-protein meal-replacement shakes in flavors including chocolate, strawberry and caramel contain just 1 gram of net carbs and 20 grams of protein.
Prepackaged shakes make a convenient snack or meal, but relying on them too often denies you nutrients found in natural foods. Have just one per day and stick to meat and fish with veggies at most meals to maximize your nutrition intake as you lean out.
- Institute of Medicine: Dietary Reference Intakes for Energy, Carbohydrate, Fiber, Fat, Fatty Acids, Cholesterol, Protein, and Amino Acids
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: Low-Carbohydrate Nutrition and Metabolism
- Healthaliciousness: Whey Protein Powder Isolate, Mixed Whey Drink
- Tera's: Simply Pure Plain Whey Protein
- Atkins: Carb Counter
- Tera's: Simply Pure Fair Trade Certified™ Dark Chocolate Whey Protein
- SlimFast: Meal Replacement