How many protein shakes can I drink a day? A question, I get asked quite a lot.
It makes sense, as an excess of some supplements, can have some negative health effects. (1) However what makes protein powder, different to conventional supplements, is that it’s not a supplement. Protein powder is actually a food or an ingredient, which just happens to be high in protein.
In theory, if your goal is fat loss or muscle gain, you can drink as many shakes as you want.
However, there are times, when getting the bulk of your protein intake, from shakes alone, may not be ideal. There are also times, when being able to knock back a few shakes, each time, will be a godsend.
There are times, when having multiple protein shakes per day will be great, due to:
- Low-calorie number per shake
- Ease of storage
- Protein quality
- Amino acid availability
However, there are some reasons, making the bulk of your protein from shakes, may need to be reconsidered:
- Hunger and satiety
- Nutrition variety
Protein shake misconceptions
One reason people may ask “How many protein shakes can I drink a day?”, is because of the pre conceptions they have towards them.
There’s still this notion, that is, they are bad for you. Some people liken them to steroids. All young guys in the gym would be walking around with 20″ biceps if that were true.
But I do understand. It’s all in the marketing. When you see bodybuilders on steroids. They tend to be the ones chugging a shake, straight after a workout.
You put two and two together and associate protein shakes with bodybuilding bros. I’ve been there myself. Go to the gym, do my workout, as soon as I finish, I’d run to the water fountain to make my post-workout shake.
When in actuality, the only purpose of a protein shake is to help you meet your protein goal a little easier. Or for some others, they’ll combine it with a low protein meal, just to make their meal that little more complete.
Remember protein shakes are perfectly safe.
How are protein shakes made?
Whey protein powder is the byproduct of cheese production.
These are the steps outlined in producing whey protein:
- Milk gets made into cheese
- Cheese gets separated into solids (curds) and liquids (whey)
- Liquid whey gets taken to another plant. Fats, liquids and lactose gets removed
- The powder gets flavours added to it.
As you can see, it’s not quite steroids.
It’s powdered food, or as I call it, evaporated cheese water.
Not harmful at all. After I explain how the powder is made, it tends to alleviate people’s fear around it. Nobody is scared of cheese, so nobody should be scared of protein powder.
How many grams of protein in a shake?
A scoop of whey protein powder weighs around 30g. That is not 30g of pure protein, though. That is something get many people get wrong.
Protein powder still has a little bit of fat and carbohydrate.
- 1 scoop of 30g whey powder has 23.5g of pure protein
- 2 scoops of 60g of whey powder has 47g of pure protein
Why use protein shakes?
There’s an argument from some people, who claim, you’re better off getting your protein from “real food”. The thing is, it’s not that simple. Whilst yes you can get all the protein you need, from food. There are a few reasons, a shake can be just as, if not more, beneficial.
Someone looking to build muscle, or maintain lean muscle (during fat loss) needs at least 1.6g of protein per kg of bodyweight. (2)
For an 85kg person that’s a lot, 136g. In pure food terms that is:
- 5 eggs
- A chicken breast
- Can of tuna
- 300g of Skyr Yoghurt.
If you can eat all that in food thats great. If you prefer to, you don’t need powder.
But not everyone has the time or the money to buy and cook all this food every day. By having 2 shakes instead, you could save yourself time on cooking a meal. You could get the same protein without the chicken and eggs, for example.
On days, you’re short on protein. Instead of cooking, whack a few scoops in a bottle and you are all good.
Low-calorie number per shake
This means you get more protein and fewer calories than you would for most foods. So you can save your calories on more exciting foods like bread and sweets.
I’ve made a chart below showing you the amount of protein per 200 calories for certain foods. As you can see whey is very low in calories and high in protein.
Put it in the cupboard and it can stay for years. Not so much the case with regular food.
For protein per kg. Protein powder has to be one of the cheapest high protein foods going.
If you get the right flavour, you basically get a milkshake. But a milkshake with the anabolic benefits of a chicken breast.
Protein powder also can make a great ingredient in some foods.
Vanilla whey powder is a great sweetener to add to porridge oats, whilst bumping up the protein. Make sure to add the powder after the oats have cooked. Otherwise, it won’t taste pleasant
There’s an argument, that the protein quality from “real food”, is better. However, this is not true. In fact, whey is the most bioavailable source of protein. (3) This is a fancy way to say, when consumed, the intestines absorb more of its protein compared to other foods. With a lot of foods, your body doesn’t absorb all of the protein, once eaten. However, with protein powder, your body absorbs nearly all of it. This means it’s one of the most efficient sources of protein
It’s got a higher protein bang for buck than any other food.
Amino acid availability
The body can’t produce all the essential amino acids it needs to build and repair muscle tissue.
So we need to get a fair chunk of it from food. A lot of protein in food, does not contain all the essential amino acids.
Whey protein, like animal proteins, does contain all the essential amino acids. Whereas a lot of plant-based foods don’t. This is why a combination plant protein is needed to mimic animal-based protein. If you only eat plant-based foods. (4)
The most important amino acid for muscles is “Leucine”.
Leucine triggers the anabolic muscle response. In other words, it signals to the muscles that it needs to repair or build. (5)
Think of Leucine as the light switch. You have all the wires and the light, but for the light to come on, you need to flick the switch. Whey protein is rich in Leucine, which means it’s great for the muscles.
Can I get all my daily protein from powder safely?
You can, yes. If you are aiming for 136g of protein a day, you could have 175g of whey powder a day. Which would be 6 shakes. But before you go consuming six shakes a day. I’m going to tell you why you might want a rethink.
Though you can safely consume 6 protein shakes a day, if you wish, there are a few reasons, I’d such suggest you have a rethink, due to:
- Nutrient variety
There’s an argument, solid food will keep you fuller for longer. When aiming to lose weight, eating solid food, might be better in keeping you full. There’s also some evidence to suggest chewing might help with hunger. (6)
Evidence currently suggests that chewing may decrease self-reported hunger and food intake, possibly through alterations in gut hormone responses related to satiety.(Kergoat et al, 2015)
It doesn’t mean you can’t drink more than one shake. It just means if you have a large appetite, it may be a good idea to make sure the bulk of your dietary protein is solid food.
I can’t state how important dietary variety is. Your body loves variety. (7)
Protein shakes, yes are a godsend.
But chicken, eggs, red meat, beans, pulses, soy, other dairy and fish, have a lot of vitamins and minerals. Therefore, if you replace all these protein sources with just powder, you may miss out on a lot of amazing vitamins and minerals. (8)
Meat is a valuable source of high biological value protein, iron, vitamin B12 as well as other B complex vitamins, zinc, selenium and phosphorus(Pereira & Vicent, 2012)
You’d be doing your body a disservice to miss out on all those nutrients.
Some people handle dairy better than others. A high amount may cause bloating or gas. If that’s you, change to a high quality plant powder.
You can technically have as many as you like. From experience, powders work best when supplementing an already nutritious diet.
If I was looking to start out, I’d look to my current diet and find ways I could boost the protein. Have a chicken sandwich, instead of a cheese sand-which at lunchtime, for example. Once you’ve improved your diet, then supplementing is great.
Protein powder is food at the end of the day. But with food whether it’s solid or powder, variety is key.
Overall 1-2 scoops a day is great. Don’t worry if you have more some days, but make sure you are getting plenty of dietary variety.
Josh is a Registered Associate Nutritionist, with the Association for Nutrition (AFN). He completed his degree in Nutrition at the University of Roehampton in 2021. He passed with a First Class with Honours.
Josh is also a tutor for up-and-coming Personal Trainers, where he teaches a Level 4 Advanced Nutrition course. This is for Personal Trainers looking to upskill their nutrition knowledge. This is done at Norfolk Health & Fitness.