Protein shakes are convenient-but often unnecessary.
Since you can get all the protein—and other nutrients—you need from foods, protein powders are usually unnecessary, according to MedlinePlus. However, they can be convenient when you’re on-the-go. Anytime you eat more calories than you burn, you’ll likely gain weight, whether or not you consume protein powder. But, too much protein powder can definitely lead to weight gain.
Protein powder can help you reach your protein needs if you’re not consuming enough. According to McKinley Health Center at the University of Illinois, daily protein recommendations for adults range from 0.8 to 2.0 grams per kilogram of body weight, which is about 0.36 to 0.91 grams of protein per pound of body weight. Protein requirements are also influenced by level of activity. For example, a 200-pound weightlifter may need up to 182 grams of protein each day to maintain or build lean muscle mass.
Considerations for Weight Gain
Athletes often use protein powder supplements to increase their protein intake, especially those who are trying to build muscle. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eating an additional 200 calories each day will help you build muscle and gain weight. Many brands of protein powder provide 100 to 200 calories, and 20 to 30 grams of protein per scoop; if you mix protein powder with milk, you’ll further increase your calorie intake. Therefore, if you add a protein shake without changing the caloric content of your daily diet, you’ll likely gain weight-unless you increase your calorie expenditure exercising.
Considerations for Weight Loss
Some people use protein shakes made with protein powder for weight loss by replacing some of their meals with the shakes. Since your total calorie intake is most important for weight loss, you can lose weight consuming protein powder if you stick to your calorie guidelines. Most successful weight loss diets call for 1, 000 to 1, 600 calories per day depending on current weight and sex, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Although it’s best to get your nutrients from foods, you will likely lose weight if replacing one of your meals with a protein shake reduces your total calorie intake.
In addition to being fairly expensive, protein powder and other dietary supplements aren’t regulated by the Food and Drug Administration as tightly as food or drugs; therefore, safety may be an issue. The FDA pulls supplements from shelves only after adverse side effects have been reported by consumers. Many types of protein powders have other ingredients besides protein added to them-such as herbs—that may not be appropriate for pregnant women, breast-feeding women and children. Medical nutrition shakes are available for underweight-or undernourished-adults and children who need the additional nutrients and calories.
Even if you’re a strength-trained athlete—such as a powerlifter or bodybuilder—you can get all the protein you need from a carefully planned diet, regardless of your weight management goals. For example, 3 ounces of chicken breast provide about 27 grams of protein, 3 ounces lean ground beef contain about 21 grams, 1 cup of cottage cheese provides 28 grams and three large eggs contain about 18 grams of protein, according to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.