Protein shakes are used for so many reasons, and by everyone from elite athletes to your average gym goer. A common misconception is that drinking protein shakes will make you bulk up or gain weight, as they’re often used by bodybuilders. But in actual fact, the opposite can be true if they’re used correctly. Here, you’ll discover how protein works to help with weight loss, as well as ideas for how to make them work for you and your diet.
- What are protein shakes?
- Do protein shakes help weight loss?
- How does grhelin affect hunger?
- Is protein helpful for dieting?
- Can protein shakes be used as a meal replacement?
- Can protein shakes change body composition?
- Best protein shakes for weight loss
- How much protein do you need for weight loss?
- When should you drink a protein shake for weight loss?
- Protein shake recipes
- Do protein shakes work for women’s weight loss?
What are protein shakes?
Protein shakes are typically made from protein powder and water. However, you can combine protein powder with endless combinations, like milk for example, and other ingredients to customise your own shake.
Protein powder is a convenient protein source that can be used to help meet your workout goals, or to ensure that you consume enough protein each day. Alternatively, you can purchase high-protein, pre-packaged shakes in the supermarket, and supplement, or health food stores. While you might think of protein shakes as being just for after a weight training session, they can be used throughout the day, in a variety of ways, to supplement your diet.
Do protein shakes help weight loss?
Research has shown that high-protein diets can be an effective approach to weight loss.1 However, too much protein from animal sources can contribute to extra saturated fat and cholesterol, which is not heart-healthy. Protein powders provide a low-fat, low-cholesterol alternative to eating additional, larger portions of animal-based protein products.
When trying to lose weight, the bottom line is that you need to consume fewer calories than your body burns throughout the day. Everyone’s calorie needs vary depending on body size, body composition, health conditions, activity levels and goals. Protein shakes can help with weight loss in several different ways, as they can be used:
- as a dieting tool
- as a meal replacement
- to help change body composition
How does ghrelin affect hunger?
When it comes to feeling hungry, your hormones are what signal the brain to think that you need to eat. Ghrelin is the hormone in your body that controls your appetite — it’s often called “the hunger hormone”. Higher levels of ghrelin make us feel hungry, while lower levels keep us feeling satisfied.2
When you consume an adequate amount of protein (like 20 grams in a protein shake), the body responds by lowering the level of ghrelin in the body.2
When ghrelin levels are low, the brain stops telling us to feel hungry and seek out food. Research has shown that, the greater the protein in the diet, the lower the levels of ghrelin.3 The lower the level of ghrelin, the more satisfied you’ll feel.
Is protein helpful for dieting?
Protein, carbs, and fat are all digested slightly differently. Protein is one of the nutrients that actually slows down the digestive process, keeping food in the stomach for longer, which signals the brain to make you feel full and satisfied.2
This slow digestion rate also means that protein doesn’t cause significant changes in blood sugar levels like high-carbohydrate foods do.
A low-sugar and low-fat protein shake can also be a great low-calorie snack alternative. It can keep you feeling more satisfied than a high-carb snack, like a handful of pretzels or a cookie. Additionally, there’s no evidence of any potential side effects of protein supplements in healthy individuals.4
High-protein food sources can also be more satisfying in terms of volume – because protein foods can be lower in calories per gram than foods high in fat and carbs, you can consume larger quantities for fewer calories. This “volumetric” approach to eating is more satisfying when you don’t feel like your portions are limited and this helps keep you feeling fuller for longer.
Can protein shakes be used as a meal replacement?
Protein shakes aren’t designed to be meal replacements, but if you are looking to swap out your meal for a more convenient shake, you’ll need to bulk it up with other ingredients rather than just protein powder and water!
You want to make sure that your shake contains other macro and micronutrients like carbohydrates, fat, vitamins and minerals. Then you can be confident you’re getting a similar nutritive value to eating a full meal. Adding things like a scoop of peanut butter, swapping water for milk, or adding oats and fruit to your shake is a great option.
Can protein shakes change body composition?
Shakes may also be used primarily to increase protein intake when trying to lose fat and gain lean mass. When you exercise and burn calories, but are also consuming less from your diet, the body starts to break down stored fat – as long as it has enough protein.4
It may sound confusing that gaining mass can lead to weight loss, but the more muscle (lean mass) your body has, the more energy (calories) it burns. Plus, when you’re burning calories during intense workouts, protein shakes not only help your muscles to repair, but also prevent their breakdown. This helps your body to burn fat instead.3
Using protein powder in addition to exercise that builds muscle can help lead to these long-term body composition changes.5
Best Protein Shakes for Weight Loss
While there’s so many options for protein shakes, the best for weight loss are the ones that help you meet your protein goals without going overboard on calories. Here are some great options to consider as options for the best protein shakes for weight loss.
The OG. A great all-around protein supplement, Impact Whey comes in delicious flavours and is low in sugar with 21g of protein per serving. It’s very versatile and can be used on its own or as part of a meal replacement.
A great option for weight loss because it’s a more concentrated protein source (with less carbs and fat), containing up to 90% protein. This way you know you’re getting mostly protein and little else for the calories you’re consuming.
This type of protein is broken down to help your body absorb it more easily. Check the labels to see if it is a lower calorie option than other forms of protein powders, but many offer very refined protein that cuts out other components.
These are not only void of extra calories from sugars and fats, but can also contain other compounds to boost your energy (like caffeine or green tea extract) and support metabolism.
Options of vegan protein vary in their calorie content but can also offer low carb and low-calorie options to support weight loss and help you meet your goals.
How much protein do you need for weight loss?
If you’re looking to lose weight and preserve muscle, then you’ll definitely be looking to eat a diet that’s higher in protein. When you’re in a calorie deficit, your body can break down your muscles for energy when it runs out of other sources. To prevent this, consuming 1.4 – 2.0 g/kg body weight has been shown to be sufficient in those who regularly exercise.6
When should you drink a protein shake for weight loss?
The timing of your protein shake depends on where it fits in with your goals and your planned meals for the day. If the protein shake is designed to replace a meal, you would simply have it at that mealtime.
If you’re consuming protein to help you gain muscle, it’s best to have after your workout, and for up to 24 hours after.5 If you’re using low-calorie shakes to feel full and satisfied, it might be most useful to have them between meals. You can tailor this depending on when you usually feel the hungriest.
Shakes are also high in liquid content. Liquids reach your stomach faster than food, and a shake is typically comprised of at least 8-12 ounces of liquid. The volume of this fills your stomach and can help you to feel satisfied quickly.
What are some protein shake recipes?
If you’re replacing a meal with a shake, try including a good balance of macro- and micronutrients by adding some healthy fats and carbohydrates too.
Here are a few ideas to get you started — two bulkier smoothies, a post-workout shake, and a diet shake, designed to be used as a snack.
- Green Protein Smoothie: Add spinach, berries, and avocado to a blender cup with your favourite protein powder. Mix with water, milk (for more protein), or non-dairy milk and blend for a refreshing smoothie.
- Banana Nut Smoothie: Add frozen banana, a spoonful of peanut or almond butter and your favourite protein powder flavour (we love chocolate for this). Then add your choice of milk and blend until smooth. For an extra boost of protein, add some Greek yoghurt.
- Post-workout shake: If you’ve had a very intense workout and need to refuel, mix the protein powder with water and consume within 30 minutes of your training. Based on how hard you worked, you might want to choose a protein powder with some carbohydrates to help rebuild your muscle’s energy stores while they repair and grow.
- Diet shake: Mix a low-carb, low-calorie protein powder with a low-calorie liquid, keeping the fat and carbohydrate counts low. This is a filling snack to get you through those afternoon slumps! As simple as adding a scoop of protein powder to water and mixing it in a blender bottle, or adding some flavoured protein powder to leftover coffee and blending with ice for a satisfying frozen coffee treat.
- Clear Whey/Clear Vegan Slushies: Recipe Here
What are good protein sources?
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Do protein shakes work for women’s weight loss?
While many research studies focus on protein shake supplements for men, the benefits can also apply to women. Protein will similarly affect ghrelin levels and slow digestion in women, just like the studies on male subjects have displayed.
For women with a lower body mass than the average man, to lose weight and remain in a calorie deficit a low-calorie option may be best. Remember that your protein powder should only be part of your overall healthy diet pattern.
Take Home Message
Protein shakes can help with weight loss in a variety of ways. From helping to replace high-calorie meals, to keep you full between meals and preventing overeating. Plus, they can help to build muscle and burn fat from your workouts.4
Protein also lowers the levels of the hunger hormone ghrelin, telling the brain that you’re less hungry.
Protein powders can help anyone to maximise the results of a healthy diet and exercise habits, as well as see the weight loss results you’re hoping for. While some pre-made protein shakes are on the market, be careful to read the labels and check what other ingredients are included. To have the most control over what goes into your protein shakes, make them yourself at home.