Protein is an important nutrient for weight loss (
Getting enough protein may support healthy metabolism and reduce your appetite. It may also help you lose body fat without losing muscle.
Protein shakes are a convenient way to add more protein to your diet and have even been shown to aid weight loss.
This article explains everything you need to know about protein shakes and how they may affect your weight.
Protein has been shown to help decrease hunger and appetite.
Studies also show that higher protein intake may result in less hunger throughout the day (
One meta-analysis of five studies also connected high protein intake and increased fullness. However, the authors cautioned that factors like body weight, eating behavior, and other health issues all play a role in the sensations of fullness (6).
Furthermore, another review reports that ingesting above 35 grams of protein at once appears most effective for effects like less hunger, a reduced desire to eat, and greater feelings of fullness (
Only a few studies have looked at protein shakes and appetite specifically.
One small study in nine young women with obesity found that a whey protein drink actively reduced appetite (
In another, participants given a high protein shake prior to their workout reported feeling less hungry after exercising than when given a lower protein shake with an equal number of calories (
Thus, while results are promising, numerous factors may affect protein shakes’ influence on appetite and hunger.
Protein shakes may decrease your appetite by affecting your hunger hormones and helping you feel full for longer.
A high protein diet — especially when combined with strength training — can help you build muscle.
This is especially true if you follow a calorie restricted diet to lose weight.
That’s because extreme calorie restriction may result in muscle loss in addition to fat loss. This loss of lean muscle may slow your metabolism, making it easier to regain weight once you go off the restrictive diet (
A 13-week study in older adults with obesity found that those who consumed an extra 20 grams of protein weekly (in the form of a shake) gained 2.8 pounds (1.3 kg) more muscle mass than those who ate less protein (
Plus, in a 6-week study, individuals followed either a low or high protein diet, which included shakes. Each diet was calorie-restricted. Notably, those on the higher protein plan gained 2.4 pounds (1.1 kg) more muscle and lost 2.9 pounds (1.3) more fat (
Your body also uses more energy to digest protein than it does fat or carbs, which means that you burn more calories in the process. This effect — called the thermic effect of protein — may provide a slight metabolism boost. (19,
Protein shakes may temporarily increase metabolism. When combined with resistance training, eating more protein may also help you build muscle, especially if you follow a low calorie diet.
A 14-week study gave women with overweight or obesity a resistance exercise program alongside a high carb or high protein, calorie restricted diet. Those in the high protein group lost 1.7 times more body fat than those in the high carb group (
In a 12-week study, women with normal weight but high body fat percentage followed either a high or standard protein diet. Those on the high protein diet lost an additional 3 pounds (1.4 kg) of body fat and around 1 inch (2.2 cm) in waist circumference (
The women in the high protein group also retained significantly more muscle mass than those on the standard protein diet (
A recent review further suggests that you can minimize weight regain by following a high protein diet in the first 3–12 months after losing weight. However, long-term studies are needed to confirm whether this effect lasts beyond the first year (
Because so many lifestyle and ingredient variables are involved in weight loss studies, it’s hard to draw a direct connection between protein shakes and weight loss.
Still, a small study found that when those with excess weight drank low sugar protein shakes as part of a diet program, their weight loss improved (
When consumed as part of a low calorie diet, protein shakes may support fat loss — especially around your waist. However, other variables also play a part.
Protein’s effect on metabolism, appetite, and muscle mass may also keep you from regaining weight once you’ve lost it.
This effect should apply whether you get protein from shakes or whole foods.
One review suggests that higher protein intakes of 25–30 grams per meal appear to improve both weight loss and weight management. Yet, researchers caution that full adherence to a high protein diet, plus other lifestyle factors, are usually necessary (
All the same, more studies are needed.
Additional protein, whether from shakes or whole foods, may help minimize the amount of weight you regain after weight loss.
Protein shakes are made by mixing protein powder with water or another liquid, plus optional other ingredients.
Although most people don’t need protein shakes to meet daily protein requirements, they can be convenient if you have limited access to high protein foods or experience trouble meeting your needs through food alone.
You can buy protein powder and mix it yourself or purchase pre-made liquid shakes.
Types of protein powder
Some of the most popular types of protein powder are:
- Whey protein: quickly absorbed, dairy-based, and contains all nine essential amino acids (
- Casein protein: slowly absorbed, dairy-based, and provides all essential amino acids (
- Soy protein: plant-based and offers all essential amino acids, plus soy isoflavones that may provide some health benefits (
- Hemp protein: plant-based, contains all essential amino acids, rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, and has a high arginine content (
- Rice protein: plant-based but lower in the essential amino acid lysine (
- Pea protein: plant-based and less allergenic alternative to soy and whey protein, though lower in the essential amino acids cysteine and methionine (
Certain protein powders and drinks contain a mix of different types of protein.
For example, many plant-based brands combine types to diversify the amino acid profile. Some dairy-based protein powders combine whey and casein to provide both immediate and longer-lasting effects on muscle synthesis.
Which type of protein is best?
Different types of protein may affect your body in distinct ways.
For instance, whey is typically absorbed more quickly than casein. This makes it optimal for promoting muscle protein synthesis after exercise. It may also help you feel less hungry in the short term (
While some small studies have shown whey protein to be more effective for weight loss than soy and other plant-based proteins, other small studies show no real difference.
As such, individual lifestyle factors may be more important than the type of protein when it comes to weight loss or other desired outcomes (
One key factor to consider is the quality of protein you purchase.
Whey, casein, and soy are considered complete proteins. This means they contain sufficient amounts of all the essential amino acids your body needs
All the same, these three may induce an allergic reaction in some people. Rice and pea protein are often considered less allergenic, though rice protein is low in the essential amino acid lysine while pea protein is low in the essential amino acids cysteine and methionine (
As long as you regularly consume a variety of protein sources, opting for incomplete proteins in your protein shake is unlikely to be a problem. That said, it’s always best to talk to a doctor or registered dietitian before adding new supplements to your diet.
Protein shakes may contain different types of protein, each with their own nutrient profiles and potential benefits. It’s best to pick one based on your individual needs and dietary preferences.
Protein powders aren’t the only way to add additional protein to your shakes. Here are a few whole foods that you can use in place of protein powder:
- Greek or plant-based yogurt. Greek yogurt is naturally rich in protein, as are plant-based alternatives made from soy. Each provides around 6–10 grams of complete protein per 3.5 ounces (100 grams) (
- Nuts and seeds. Most nuts and seeds pack around 5–7 grams of protein per 1 ounce (28 grams). Combine with soy or hemp milk for a complete source of plant-based protein (
39, 40, 41, 42, 43).
- Spirulina. This blue-green algae offers around 8 grams of complete protein per 2 tablespoons (14 grams). This serving also covers 95% of the Daily Value (DV) for copper and 22% of the DV for iron (
- Tofu. This popular soy food contains 5–13 grams of complete protein per 3.5 ounces (100 grams), depending on the variety. It has a naturally mild flavor, so you can blend it with frozen fruit and liquid to yield a protein-rich shake (
- Puffed quinoa. This pseudocereal provides 10 grams of complete protein per 2.5 ounces (70 grams). Expect it to thicken and add a slightly nutty flavor to your shake (
- Oats. This grain offers around 5 grams of protein per 1.5 ounces (40 grams). Combine with oat or hemp milk to get a complete source of protein (
These protein-rich ingredients are an easy addition to homemade shakes. Simply combine them with your choice of dairy or plant-based milk, fruit, and leafy greens for a nutrient-rich, whole food alternative to protein powder-based shakes.
Protein powders aren’t the only way to add protein to your shakes. Tofu, Greek yogurt, nuts, seeds, and other whole foods are good options as well.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t typically review supplements for safety and effectiveness before they hit the shelves.
Safe supplement guides
Check out the following articles to find a safe, effective protein powder:
Additionally, suggestions for serving sizes also vary by brand. Make sure to check nutrient labels to be sure you’re getting the amount of protein you desire.
If you’re lactose intolerant, drinking protein shakes made with whey or casein may cause you to experience side effects, such as:
You can avoid these symptoms by switching to protein powders not derived from dairy, such as those made with protein from (
While most research suggests that high protein diets are safe, individuals with underlying kidney issues may need to avoid them. If you have kidney complications, talk with your doctor before increasing your protein intake (
For reference, recommended daily protein intakes are as follows (
- adult aged 65 or younger, assigned male at birth: 56 grams
- adult over age 65, assigned male at birth: 67 grams
- adult aged 65 or younger, assigned female at birth: 48 grams
- adult over age 65, assigned female at birth: 57 grams
You should consider such factors as third-party verification, nutrition labels, your dietary preferences, and individual health factors when supplementing your diet with protein shakes.
Most adults can easily get enough protein through food sources without drinking protein shakes. That said, protein shakes are an easy, safe, and delicious way to add extra protein in your diet.
If you’re trying to lose weight or manage your weight, extra protein from shakes may help you feel less hungry.
It may also help you maintain muscle and metabolism and lower the likelihood of regaining lost fat, especially when combined with an exercise routine.
Just one thing
Try this today: While protein powders are a convenient way to add protein to your shakes, I prefer using protein-rich whole foods. These provide an array of nutrients and beneficial plant compounds often absent from protein powders.
For the most benefits, make your own whole food-based protein shakes whenever possible.