It's rare to find a smoothie joint these days that doesn't offer protein powder as a supplement to your usual blend. Whether you're plant-based, dairy-free or open to everything, there's a protein powder on the market for you. But will a protein shake actually help you lose weight? And do you really need to down one right after your workout?
What Exactly Is a Protein Shake?
There are several popular forms of protein shakes that you can buy pre-made or blend right at home. Most commonly, protein supplements come in powder form and can be added to smoothies, dessert recipes or simply mixed with water.
Plant-based protein shakes made from soy or pea protein are popular among vegetarians and vegans. Although plant sources often provide fewer grams of protein per serving, these picks provide similar benefits to powders made from animal products, according to a January 2019 study published in Sports.
Drinking Protein Shakes After Exercise for Weight Loss
Most commonly, people consume protein after their workouts in an effort to replenish their depleted muscles. There's a short period of time after exercise, known as the post-exercise anabolic window, during which it's thought that consuming the right ratio of nutrients can lead to more impressive fitness gains.
However, research on the concept is inconsistent, according to a 2013 article published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition. Every body is different, and the timeframe for fueling tired muscles with protein may be larger than previously thought. There is little evidence to suggest that post-exercise is the optimal time to drink your shake.
Still, getting the right amount of protein can affect weight loss. Protein is a powerful nutrient for appetite suppression. According to a 2014 study published in Nutrition & Metabolism, a diet high in protein can suppress the hormone ghrelin, which plays a role in making you hungry.
While protein can help tamp down hunger, powders themselves don't cause weight loss. If you're replacing meals with shakes, you might lose weight due to the calorie deficit created, according to the Mayo Clinic. But relying on shakes is not without risk: Protein supplements don't provide all the nutrients your body needs and could lead to malnutrition.
On the other hand, if you overdo it on shakes in addition to your regular diet, you might actually experience weight gain due to those added calories. After all, protein supplements are intended to help build lean muscle mass. Make sure you're factoring those calories — roughly 100 calories per scoop of protein powder — into your daily meal plan.
- Mayo Clinic: "Whey Protein"
- Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition: "Nutrient timing revisited: is there a post-exercise anabolic window?"
- Nutrition & Metabolism: "A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats"
- Mayo Clinic: "I'm trying to lose weight. Could protein shakes help?"
- USDA: "Whey Protein Concentrate"
- Sports: "The Effects of Whey vs. Pea Protein on Physical Adaptations Following 8-Weeks of High-Intensity Functional Training (HIFT): A Pilot Study"