Balancing your macros — protein, carbs and fat — can be tricky. But one way to up your protein intake while keeping your carbs in check is a low-carb protein shake. With many protein powders, you can simply mix it into your favorite low-carb beverage.
Or if you want to shake things up (literally and figuratively), you can get fancy by adding other ingredients into the mix. Here are some options, as well as a few of our favorite protein powder picks.
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Some protein powders have sugar for extra flavor but it also adds empty calories, so make sure you read the labels.
Why Use Protein Shakes?
If you're lifting weights or struggling to get enough protein into your meals, sports supplements may help. A protein shake can deliver 20 to 30 grams of protein, depending on the brand and ingredients. You can mix the powder with water or milk or add it to smoothies and homemade desserts.
Protein recommendations vary depending on your lifestyle. If you're relatively inactive, your protein needs are lower than those of someone who regularly engages in strength or endurance training. This nutrient helps your muscles recover and regenerate, which is why it's important to get enough of it in your diet.
The recommended dietary allowance for protein is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight, according to a March 2018 review published in Nutrients. That's enough to sustain the average person, but someone who lifts weights probably needs more.
As Harvard Health Publishing points out, protein should account for 15 to 25 percent of your daily calories. The optimal intake depends on your age, sex and activity level. The more active you are, the higher your protein requirements. What matters most is where you get this nutrient from. Fish, lean meat, legumes and low-fat dairy are all a good choice.
Shakes can help you achieve your protein goals, but some are high in carbohydrates. If you're looking to keep your carb intake low, opt for a protein shake with few or no carbs.
Pre-Made Low-Carb Protein Shakes
Protein shakes come in a wide range of flavors and contain different types of protein. Whey is one of the most widely used varieties. It's derived from dairy and offers a lot of nutrition per serving. All proteins are made of amino acids, which your body can use to create new proteins and support its daily functions.
Whey contains all of the essential amino acids that your body cannot produce on its own. However, some people have trouble digesting whey protein or would rather consume a vegetarian supplement.
Soy is a popular form of vegetarian protein. You can also try pea or hemp protein. Even though whey is very popular, vegetarian supplements are still helpful.
Atkins has low-carb protein drinks to help you in your weight loss journey. One protein-rich shake from Atkins delivers 15 grams of protein, 1 gram of sugar and 1 gram of fiber per serving. It does contain 2 grams of carbs, but that includes one gram of fiber, which isn't digestible.
There are 160 calories in one serving of the above shake. You'll also get 9 grams of fat, which adds extra calories. If you're on a ketogenic diet, fat will help you meet your calorie goals for the day.
As a nutrition company that caters to low-carb dieters, Zone has ready-to-drink protein shakes as well as protein powders. A single ready-made shake contains 30 grams of protein and 4 grams of net carbohydrates. There are 6 grams of total carbohydrates, which includes 2 grams of fiber and 2 grams of sugar.
The Zone Perfect Shake has only 150 calories. There's only 1 gram of fat, which makes it ideal for those who are trying to avoid excess calories and still get enough protein.
GNC, which is a supplement store, has its own line of products. They sell a ready-to-drink protein shake for low-carb dieters. There are 25 grams of protein and 6 grams of carbs, including 2 grams of sugar and 2 grams of fiber, in each serving.
This beverage boasts 6 grams of fat, which brings the calorie count up to 170. It also contains lactase, an enzyme that breaks down lactose, a natural sugar in milk.
Muscle Milk, a popular supplement brand, features a line of ready-to-drink protein shakes. Muscle Milk Light is low in carbs — with 7 grams total, including 7.3 grams from fiber and none from sugar. There are 28 grams of protein and 150 calories. in this drink. It contains 90 percent less fat and 53 percent fewer calories compared to the regular version.
Famous for its protein bars, Quest Nutrition offers a low-carb ready-to-drink shake. It has only 11 ingredients and is naturally flavored. One bottle provides 30 grams of protein and 4 grams of carbs, including 1 gram of sugar. There's also 1 gram of fiber.
Another ready-to-drink option, called Premier Protein, delivers just 1 gram of sugar per serving. The drink contains 30 grams of protein, 3 grams of fat and 5 grams of carbs, including 2 grams of fiber. The total calorie count is 160.
The Premier Protein shake is best known for its rich flavor. It won the American Master of Taste Gold Medal for ready-to-drink protein beverages in 2015, 2016 and 2017, according to the manufacturer's website.
Low-Carb Protein Powders for Shakes
If you're looking for ingredients to make your low-carb shake, consider using protein in powder form. Isopure, for example, has a line of low-carb products, including whey protein powder.
They offer various low-carb flavors. Some are carb-free, while others have 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrates per serving. A scoop of Isopure protein powder provides 110 calories and 25 grams of protein. The calorie count is low because there are almost no carbs or fat.
Idealfit, a supplement company, features a low-carb protein powder that contains whey. It has only 100 calories and 3 grams of carbohydrates, including 1 gram of sugar and 1 gram of fiber. You'll also get 20 grams of protein per serving.
If you buy protein powder to make low-carb shakes, you still have to consider what else you put in. The base of a protein shake is usually some form of liquid. Water is the best option as it has no carbohydrates.
Milk, orange juice and yogurt are typical liquids to add to shakes. However, they contain carbs. You can opt for coconut milk or unsweetened almond milk for a more carb-friendly option.
Other additives you can use to bolster the flavor of your shake are cacao nibs, cocoa powder, unsweetened peanut butter and even heavy cream. You may also add ice cubes to thicken your shake. Stay away from fruits and vegetables because they add extra carbs that you may not want.
Low-Carb vs. Keto
Low-carbohydrate diets are trendy and come in many forms. The Atkins diet, which was developed by a cardiologist named Dr. Atkins, is a low-carb method of eating that can help you lose weight. It's one of the most well-known low-carb diets and shares many similarities with the ketogenic diet.
The Atkins diet is based on the principle that sugar spikes your blood sugar levels, which triggers your body to release insulin. This hormone takes sugar out of the bloodstream and stores it in fat cells. When your blood sugar dips too low, you get hungry. Blood sugar spikes may contribute to weight gain in the long run.
There's a difference between low-carbohydrate and very low-carbohydrate diets, like the ketogenic diet. In a normal diet, you should have about 45 to 65 percent of your total calorie intake for the day from carbs, as noted in a research paper featured in Advances in Nutrition in November 2014. In other words, carbs should make up the bulk of your meals.
Since the normal carbohydrate recommendation is such a large part of your diet, reducing your carb intake to 40 percent of your total calories could be considered a low-carb diet, according to the University of California San Francisco. But you can also switch to a very low-calorie diet for faster weight loss.
The ketogenic diet gets its name from ketones, which are a product of lipid metabolism. When you don't have much blood sugar left to fuel your organs and muscles, your body switches to fat for energy.
When your body burns fat for fuel, ketone bodies are released. These compounds can supply energy to your body and brain. However, once you start eating carbs again, your body will stop using ketone bodies.
The ketogenic diet is strict because it has to keep your body from reverting to using carbohydrates for energy. To do so, you have to almost eliminate carbohydrates from your diet.
While traditional ketogenic diets include less than 5 percent of daily calories from carbs, the Atkins diet allows up to 20 percent in some cases. You should try to eat fewer than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day on a 2,000 calorie ketogenic diet, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
If your goal is to limit carbs, it's important to cut corners wherever you can. You'll have to decide where to eliminate carbs from your diet. Typically, sugar from candy and baked goods is a good place to start.
Sugar is tasty but devoid of most nutrients. Fruits, vegetables and carbohydrate-rich foods like oatmeal and whole wheat bread are a lot more nutritious. Plus, they contain dietary fiber, which slows down sugar absorption into your bloodstream. Processed foods, on the other hand, are high in sugar and contain little or no fiber.
- Premier Protein: "Protein Shakes"
- Quest Nutrition: "Protein Shake Chocolate"
- Muscle Milk: "Muscle Milk Light Protein Shake"
- GNC: "GNC Total Lean Lean Shake 25"
- Zone Perfect: "Zoneperfect Carb Wise Shake"
- Atkins Shakes: "French Vanilla Shake"
- Cleveland Clinic: "7 Tips for Choosing the Best Protein Powder for You"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "How Much Protein Do You Need Every Day?"
- Nutrients: "Protein for Life: Review of Optimal Protein Intake, Sustainable Dietary Sources and the Effect on Appetite in Ageing Adults"
- University of California San Francisco: "Low Carbohydrate Diet"
- American Council on Exercise: "The Truth About Stevia—The So-Called 'Healthy' Alternative Sweetener"
- Advances in Nutrition: "Carbohydrates"
- Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: "Diet Review: Ketogenic Diet for Weight Loss"
- Isopure: "Isopure Zero/Low Carb"
- Idealfit: "Ideallean Protein"
- Atkins: "How Does A Low Carb Diet Work?"
- Joslin Diabetes Center: "How Does Fiber Affect Blood Glucose Levels?"