Protein shakes seem like the go-to supplement for fitness fanatics and people looking to lose weight. Protein can help you build muscle and keep you full; research shows that protein can help you lose weight and keep it off. You should aim to consume about 0.54 to 0.68 grams of protein per pound of bodyweight a day for weight loss, so about 86.4 to 108.8 grams for a 160-pound woman.
Drinking the right kind of protein shake can help you meet your goals, but if you're not careful, it could totally derail your progress. We talked to dietitians, who explained just how to add protein shakes to your diet to actually lose weight.
How to Pick the Right Protein Powder
With so many protein powders on the market, it may seem overwhelming to choose the right one to meet your goals. Some contain tons of added sugars, artificial sweeteners, or other sketchy fillers. Dietitian Jillian Kubala, MS, RD, told POPSUGAR to pay attention to the ingredients and nutrition information when picking a protein powder.
"Look for protein powders with no sugar added or ones that are sweetened with stevia," she said. "Avoid protein powders with artificial flavors, colorings, and preservatives. Pea protein, whey protein, collagen peptides, brown rice protein, and hemp protein are all excellent choices. The fewer the ingredients, the better."
When to Drink Your Protein Powder
For people looking to put on muscle and not necessarily lose weight, it might make sense to drink a protein shake after a workout in addition to your other meals throughout the day to get in those extra calories and grams of protein. For people looking to strictly lose weight, the timing may be a little different.
"If you tend to opt for things like chips or cookies, maybe a protein shake is a better and easier option that actually provides some nutrients to your diet, rather than empty calories," dietitian Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD, told POPSUGAR. If protein powders are replacing an unhealthy snack, then they could help boost your weight-loss efforts; Jillian said they can keep your hunger levels in check and keep you on track.
However, eating in a calorie deficit is still important for weight loss. If you are drinking a protein shake after every workout but still eating meals and snacks as you normally would, you could be ingesting a couple hundred extra calories a day, which could stall your progress. Just be mindful that your protein shakes are still fitting into your allotted calories for the day, a number that should be decided with help from your doctor or dietitian.
Should You Replace a Meal With a Protein Shake?
The dietitians we spoke to were mixed on this. Although protein powders on their own may not have enough calories and nutrients to fill you up, you can make a meal out of them. Jillian suggested creating a protein shake with additional ingredients, such as fruit and leafy greens, to make it a more complete meal.
"Protein shakes can be a great way to increase protein in your diet, especially when you're short on time," she said. "A great way to use protein powder is to make a quick, filling breakfast shake that you can take on the go." If you typically don't eat breakfast or only grab something small, having a protein shake as a meal replacement might make sense.
For other meals, however, protein shakes don't typically provide enough nutrients.
"I don't advise replacing an entire meal with a protein shake because they sometimes lack the other nutrients that can be found in fruits and vegetables, like vitamins, minerals, and fiber," Natalie said. "Instead, it's better to have them as the protein in your meal, if that makes sense for you. For instance, have a protein shake at breakfast with a side of fruit. For lunch, if you don't have time to grab a sandwich, have a protein shake with a side salad."
What to Add to Your Protein Shake
Not only are protein shakes by themselves with water pretty boring, but they also typically don't provide enough nutrients if you are looking to have one for breakfast or as part of a meal. Jillian recommends blending your protein powder with one cup of frozen berries, one cup of greens (such as kale or spinach), and unsweetened almond milk. Other add-ins could be nut butter, chia seeds, flaxseed, and unsweetened coconut.
If you're looking for protein shake inspiration, check out our gallery of 23 protein-packed smoothies to stay full.