Protein shakes can be a convenient way for you to get your protein needs met. But do you really need to drink a protein shake every day? Learn more about the positives and negatives of protein shakes to best tailor your diet plan.
Protein shakes can be effective in helping you reach your fitness goals — whether that’s losing weight or gaining muscle — but drinking a protein shake every day can be unnecessary. Whether you choose to consume protein powder daily depends on your activity level, your protein requirements and the importance of balancing your diet with nutritious whole foods.
Meeting Your Protein Needs
Protein is a building block of life. There are some 10,000 different proteins that work throughout your body, and they're responsible for various bodily functions, from restoring muscle to growing skin and nails.
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Proteins also create enzymes and hemoglobin and contribute to multiple other aspects of the body. Every cell in the human body contains protein, according to MedlinePlus. In addition to protein being essential for muscle growth, it may also make your bones stronger, according to a June 2017 article published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
In order to get enough protein, you will likely rely on animal sources like meat, dairy, fish and eggs. While most protein with the full spectrum of amino acids come from animal products, you can get enough protein from plant-based options — like soy, beans, legumes and whole grains like quinoa as well if you eat enough.
A high-protein breakfast has also been shown to help curb hunger later in the day so you don't overeat, according to Harvard Health. Protein, thus, helps you lose weight, avoid overeating and maintain body weight into the future. This is one good reason why adding workout shakes into your daily diet can help you reach your fitness goals.
To make sure you're getting enough protein, be aware that the Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for protein is about 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight, according to Harvard Health. Using this USDA protein intake calculator, you can estimate how much protein you need every day depending on your body weight and level of activity.
Based on the calculator, a 30-year-old male would need to eat about 69 grams of protein per day. Once you know how much protein you need to eat daily, you can incorporate workout shakes into your day.
Best Fitness Shakes
The average person who's sedentary or moderately active may not need extra protein beyond the daily recommended amount. An August 2018 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that most of the U.S. population exceeds the minimum recommendations for protein intake, which means they're getting more than enough protein.
But drinking a protein shake every day could be helpful for certain groups of people. If you're a bodybuilder, for instance, you'll likely need more protein than the average person. A September 2018 study published in Frontiers in Nutrition found that protein supplementation helps athletes maintain endurance and recover from resistance exercising.
If you're a vegan or vegetarian, drinking daily workout shakes may also be helpful in boosting your protein intake. Because most plant-based products don't contain all nine essential amino acids, you'll need to mix and match them with other types of plant proteins to get all the nutrition you need. Drinking some pea protein or chickpea protein shakes can help you achieve this.
Finally, protein shakes may be a good supplement for people who struggle to gain weight, or have other conditions that prevent them from getting enough nutrition. Fitness shakes may even help older adults with obesity in building stronger muscle as they lose weight, according to a January 2016 study published in the Journals of Gerontology.
Protein shakes for weight loss may also be effective. Occasionally substituting meals with low-calorie protein shakes can assist in lowering your carb and fat intake, while keeping your protein consumption at a healthy level.
The Negatives of Protein Shakes
Unless you're a bodybuilder, intensive athlete, vegan or requiring extra protein for illness- or age-related reasons, you may not need a workout shake every day. While protein shakes for weight loss can help you shed some pounds, you'll have to be careful with how you consume them, and when.
Some of the negative effects of fitness shakes include the fact that they may not aid in weight loss, they are not a full replacement for meals and they may contain unwanted ingredients.
In some cases, consuming too many fitness shakes may actually make it harder to lose weight. According to Mayo Clinic, drinking protein shakes in addition to your regular full diet may increase your protein intake, but also cause you to consume too many calories, making your weight loss goals more difficult.
In addition to some protein powders being high in calories, some also contain high levels of sugar. Too many sugary protein shakes means you're adding too much sugar to your diet in general. A diet high in sugar has been linked to a myriad of health problems, including an increased risk of heart disease, according to Harvard Health.
Finally, it's important to be aware of unwanted additions or chemicals that may be contained in protein powders. Under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn't regulate the safety or efficacy of dietary supplements like protein powders.
This means you may not be aware of what you're consuming, and some protein powders may contain harmful chemicals, according to Harvard Health. A 2018 report released by the Clean Label Project examined 134 products for 130 toxins and found that protein powder products contained traces of heavy metals, including lead, cadmium and bisphenol A (BPA).
Read more: How to Lose Weight with Whey Protein Shakes
Crafting a Well-Balanced Diet
While protein powders may be a great way to get that extra boost of protein you need to refuel your body and build muscle, replacing well-balanced meals with a protein shake instead each time will prevent you from getting the full amount of nutrients your body needs. Protein shakes may also often be less satiating than whole proteins and meals.
It's important to balance post-workout shakes with full meals, because getting all your protein from one particular source, or from a few narrow options, isn't ideal. That was the finding of an April 2019 animal study published in Nature Metabolism.
The study found that eating only certain protein powders that contain high levels of branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) but not others, in particular, showed an association with reduced lifespan. The results also found this narrow protein diet could influence mood and overeating.
Eating a varied, balanced diet means eating plenty of dark, leafy vegetables, whole grains, fruits, lean meats, seafood and low-fat dairy products, according to Mayo Clinic. If you're incorporating a protein shake every day into your meal plan, or using protein shakes for weight loss, you'll want to blend your protein powder with other nutritious whole foods — like bananas, blueberries and kale — and continue to plan out full lunches and dinners.
- Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health: "Protein"
- MedlinePlus: "Protein in Diet"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Dietary Protein and Bone Health: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis From the National Osteoporosis Foundation"
- Harvard Health: "Extra Protein at Breakfast Helps Control Hunger"
- Harvard Health: "How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day?"
- United States Department of Agriculture: "DRI Calculator for Healthcare Professionals"
- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: "Protein Intake Trends and Conformity With the Dietary Reference Intakes in the United States: Analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2001-2014"
- Frontiers in Nutrition: "Effects of Protein Supplementation on Performance and Recovery in Resistance and Endurance Training"
- Journals of Gerontology: "Improved Function With Enhanced Protein Intake per Meal: A Pilot Study of Weight Reduction in Frail, Obese Older Adults"
- Mayo Clinic: "I'm Trying to Lose Weight. Could Protein Shakes Help?"
- Harvard Health: "Eating Too Much Added Sugar Increases the Risk of Dying With Heart Disease"
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration: "FDA 101: Dietary Supplements"
- Harvard Health: "The Hidden Dangers of Protein Powders"
- Clean Label Project: "Protein Powder Study Results 2018"
- Nature Metabolism: "Branched-Chain Amino Acids Impact Health and Lifespan Indirectly via Amino Acid Balance and Appetite Control"
- Mayo Clinic: "Nutrition and Healthy Eating"