Following a protein shake diet encourages weight loss by curbing appetite and reducing the total calories a person consumes in a day. Although these diets can be effective in the short term, health professionals do not recommend living alone or primarily with meal replacement shakes.

Protein helps build muscle and plays a vital role in cellular function throughout the body.

Protein needs will vary from person to person based on your weight and activity levels. Overall, the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans suggest that men 18 years and older consume 56 grams (g) of protein per day, and that women consume 46 g.

A person can easily obtain this amount from the diet by consuming beans, lentils, nuts, meat, eggs, and dairy products.

Protein shakes aim to provide as much protein as these foods, but with fewer calories, that’s the secret. Some can even provide more protein than other foods. The idea is that replacing meals with protein shakes can enhance weight loss and muscle gain.

In this article, we explain how the diet works, ways to safely follow it, and what protein shakes can do to benefit overall health.

How does the protein shake diet work?

Protein shakes offer more than just protein. Manufacturers generally fortify them with a variety of vitamins and minerals. They can also contain fruits, vegetables, and other nutrients.

A 2016 meta-analysis linked protein consumption with a greater feeling of satiety. Therefore, people who include enough protein in their diets may have fewer cravings and eat less. Some may choose to obtain this protein through shakes.

Protein benefits

Most protein-rich foods provide a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Several of these nutrients, including the B vitamins iron, choline, and zinc, are more difficult to obtain in adequate amounts from other sources.

Other vital nutrients that some protein-rich foods provide significant amounts include:

  • Vitamin E;
  • magnesium;
  • Omega-3 fatty acids.

How does protein work in the body?

Protein supports numerous vital functions in the body, including building and repairing bones, muscles, and skin.

It also helps the body create hormones and enzymes and metabolize vitamins. It is an essential part of a balanced, nutrient-rich diet that promotes good health.

What can a person eat on a protein shake diet?

Several companies offer diets that mainly include protein shakes. For this reason, the requirements and offerings for each program vary. Some diets are more extreme and encourage participants to eat protein shakes alone or primarily.

However, the most balanced protein shake diets include protein shakes as part of a diet rich in other food sources.

For example, the diet might recommend replacing one or two meals with a protein shake, then eating one or two different meals that also provide nutritional benefits, as well as snacks.

A well-balanced diet should always include an adequate amount of protein, nutrient-dense carbohydrates, and healthy fats.

Risks and side effects

Meal replacement shakes should not completely replace healthy, balanced diets. This is because it is difficult to get all the nutrients from a single food source.

Also, a body that does not receive enough nutrients can experience problems with metabolism. This can delay or interrupt a weight loss plan. In fact, a 2015 study found that people who eat a varied diet are less likely to be obese.

Some protein shakes also use large amounts of sweetener to enhance flavor, which can lead to spikes in blood sugar.

Avoid excessive consumption of protein powder

It is also important to avoid consuming too much protein powder in one day. A 2013 review of studies found that consuming more than your daily protein requirement can lead to kidney and bone problems, as well as increase your risk of cancer.

Consumer Reports analysis also found that some protein drinks have unsafe levels of contaminants. Three of the beverages tested had high levels of the following contaminants, among others:

  • mercury,
  • arsenic,
  • cadmium.

People who drink three servings of these beverages each day could experience serious health consequences.

In eight other of the tested beverages, lead levels were high enough to necessitate a consumer warning in California.

As nutritional supplements, protein shakes are subject to fewer regulations than drugs in the United States. Consumer Reports argues that the marketing materials for these products can also be misleading. Instead of protein shakes, they recommend eating protein-rich foods like milk, lean meats, and eggs.

Protein shakes that can be found

Protein consists of amino acids, and the best proteins are “complete.” This means that they contain all nine essential amino acids.

Most protein shakes use one or more of the following six varieties:

  • whey protein;
  • casein protein;
  • egg white protein;
  • soy protein;
  • vegetal protein;
  • meat protein.

To get the most out of a protein shake diet, it’s best to speak with a doctor or registered dietitian first. People should only have one or two protein shakes a day and only for a short period of time.

It is also best to choose a protein shake that complies with part of a healthy diet. For example, a person who doesn’t eat a lot of vegetables might choose a meal replacement protein shake that contains vegetables.

The best way to enhance weight loss when following a protein shake diet is by eating nutrient-dense, low-calorie foods between shakes. Eggs, lean meats, lentils, fruits, and vegetables are great foods to complete a protein shake diet.

By Dr. Eric Jackson

Dr. Eric Jackson provides primary Internal Medicine care for men and women and treats patients with bone and mineral diseases, diabetes, heart conditions, and other chronic illnesses.He is a Washington University Bone Health Program physician and is a certified Bone Densitometrist. Dr. Avery is consistently recognized in "The Best Doctors in America" list.

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