They’re tasty and convenient. They can help you reach your body composition goals (when combined with the proper training and eating habits, of course). And they’re much more socially acceptable than scoffing down a tupperware box full of tofu at the gym.
But just how many protein shakes should you really drink a day? Is there an ideal time to drink a protein shake for muscle gains, weight loss or a good night’s sleep? Can you make a protein smoothie packed with fruit, oats and flax seeds and not post it on Instagram?
If you’ve got protein powder questions, we’ve got protein powder answers, so read on to get the scoop…
In this guide we’ll be covering:
- How many protein shakes a day?
- How often should you drink protein shakes?
- Is it bad to drink two protein shakes a day?
- Is three protein shakes a day too much?
- When is the best time to drink a protein shake?
- Do protein shakes make you gain weight?
- Do protein shakes make you gain muscle?
- Do protein shakes work for weight loss?
- Do protein shakes make you fart?
- Can protein shakes give you diarrhoea?
- Can you drink protein shakes without working out?
- Can I drink protein shakes before bed?
- Are protein shakes good for breakfast?
- Should I drink a protein shake before or after a workout?
- What is the best liquid to mix with protein powder?
- Can you live off protein shakes?
How many protein shakes a day?
The short answer is between one and three, depending on your own personal protein requirements (don’t worry, we’ll help you work out what this is in the next question below).
Everyone’s protein requirements are different because they’re based on factors like age, whether you’re male or female, your activity level and your goal - for example to maintain your weight, add muscle or lose a few pounds.
As a baseline, the average person needs around 0.75 grams of protein per kg of bodyweight for general good health, according to the British Nutrition Foundation. Athletes require more protein when they’re actively trying to build muscle, around 1.3 to 1.8g per kg of bodyweight (depending on who you ask).
If you want to lose weight you may have also been given a higher daily protein total to aim for as part of your nutritional plan. This is usually calculated at around 1.2 to 1.5g per kg of bodyweight, although amounts vary depending on your age, sex, activity level and also which calculator you happen to be using. Getting more protein is a key weight loss tool because it’s both satiating and helps to reduce any loss of lean muscle when you’re restricting calories.
Of course theoretically, you don’t need to drink protein shakes at all if your diet provides all the protein you need. But if you’re trying to build muscle or lose weight, or you’re finding it hard to get enough protein through a vegan diet, they’re a safe and easily digested way to meet your nutrition goals.
How often should you drink protein shakes?
Once you’ve worked out how much protein you need, you can figure out how many shakes are right for you (if any), and then how often you should drink them.
It’s best to space your protein out over the course of the day, as there’s a limit to how much your body can comfortably absorb at one sitting. Forget chugging down that 50g shake because between 20g to 25g seems to be the sweet spot. Sorry to be gross, but anymore than that will probably end up going straight down the toilet.
If you’ve done the maths and worked out you need 45g of protein a day, you may feel that’s easily achievable through wholefoods alone. And with so many vegan protein sources available to you, you’d be right! Or you might decide to have one protein shake a day for convenience at times when you’re too busy to prep a meal or snack.
If you’re aiming for a target of 80g of protein per day, perhaps as part of a weight loss plan, you could split this into 20g of protein from wholefoods at each meal, plus one 20g protein shake as a snack. On days when you’re struggling to get the protein-rich foods you need, two protein shakes a day could prove helpful.
However if you’re a burly gym bro lifting weights intensively you might discover you need more than 200g of protein each day to meet your goals. Two or three shakes a day could be the only practicable way you’ll hit your total for the day.
Find out how much protein you really need per day with our ultimate guide.
Is it bad to drink two protein shakes a day?
If your protein needs are low, or your diet is already providing lots of protein from the food you’re eating, smashing back two shakes a day may be an additional expense (and strain on your digestion) that you just don’t need.
But if you’re a bodybuilder or an endurance athlete, or you’re trying to lose weight, two shakes might be a convenient way to hit your protein goals. The key word to remember with protein powder is moderation - and that looks different for everyone.
Protein shakes should only represent a small percentage of the total calories in your overall diet with the rest made up of real food - the kind you can chew. But because they’re extremely filling, they can end up taking the place of other nutrients that you’re not likely to find in your shaker cup, like essential fats, fibre, antioxidants and vitamins.
Is three protein shakes a day too much?
If you’re a bodybuilder in a bulking phase where you’re eating 3,800 calories a day, three protein shakes a day only represents about 12% of your total calories. If the rest of your diet is made up of healthy wholefood, three protein shakes a day could be a convenient tool.
But if you’re only eating 1,600 calories a day, perhaps as part of a weight loss plan, three shakes a day represents around 30% of your total calories, crowding out some of the nutrient rich food in your diet.
Your shake could also be giving you a few unwanted extras alongside all that protein. Unless you select your protein powder wisely you could also be consuming your protein from a less than healthy source, such as highly processed soy. It could also be loaded with artificial flavours, heavy metals or sweeteners.
If you’re going to be shaking it up on the regular, it’s worth investing in the best protein powder you can find. Look for products with a clean ingredients list free from artificial additives, fillers and bulking agents, like the protein powders we sell here at Vivo Life. If you are choosing a flavoured option, keep an eye out for artificial flavourings and extra calories in sugar (we only use stevia for all our protein powders).
When is the best time to drink a protein shake?
Unless you’re an elite athlete, there’s no need to get too hung up on the best time to eat your protein. As long as you’re eating enough in any 24-hour period to support your goals, and your shakes fit easily into your lifestyle, it really is down to you.
If you’re trying to lose weight, eating a protein shake first thing in the morning could help with appetite control and stabilise your blood sugar over the course of the day - plus it’s quick and easy to make.
If you’re trying to gain muscle, you’ll want some protein in your system two to three hours before your workout, and some after. But while shakes are handy, this protein could just as easily come from the wholefood protein sources in your diet.
Do protein shakes make you gain weight?
Weight gain occurs when you regularly eat more calories than your body uses up through normal bodily functions (like digestion) and physical activity (both daily movement and planned exercise like gym sessions).
If your normal diet already provides the amount of calories you need to comfortably maintain your weight, adding anything on top without changing anything else in your diet could see you having to loosen your belt.
Protein shakes aren’t calorie-free. And, if you turn a protein shake into a smoothie by adding banana, oats and plant-based milk, you could be drinking something with more calories than a McFlurry. Some protein powders have a little added sugar, while others have a lot, so it’s worth studying nutrition labels carefully.
Do protein shakes make you gain muscle?
Sorry to break it to you, if you're not regularly training, protein shakes will not turn you into a sportswear model.
But protein shakes combined with resistance training are a match made in muscle-building heaven. Resistance training stimulates muscle protein synthesis. A good quality protein shake such as Perform Vegan Protein Powder gives you exactly the right amino acids you need to build them back bigger than before. Put them together and you get enhanced muscle growth, physical performance and recovery.
Do protein shakes work for weight loss?
High-protein diets are a great weight loss tool, and protein shakes can be your weight loss secret weapon because they help you meet your nutrition goals without adding lots of extra carbohydrate or calories to your daily tally.
Protein-rich foods not only tend to make people feel fuller, they can blunt the hunger hormones that lead to overeating. When you eat your protein-packed shake, your body lowers the amount of ghrelin it’s producing. When ghrelin levels are low, you stop feeling hungry and eat fewer calories.
Protein also has a higher thermic effect (20 to 30%) compared to carbs (5 to 10%) and fat (0 to 3%), meaning you burn more calories to process it.
Do protein shakes make you fart?
They do if the smells wafting from the weight section of the gym are anything to go by. But if embarrassing side effects are starting to make you rethink your own nutritional strategy, do you have to ditch the protein shakes altogether?
Not necessarily. First, have a look at how many shakes you’re consuming because it could be time to cut back, or at least space out the number of scoops of powder you’re having over the course of the day.
Powders are digested faster than whole-food proteins, so if you gulp down too much in one go, some of the protein molecules can make their way into the large intestine only partially digested, where they provide a feast for your gut bacteria. The result? That rotten egg smell, otherwise known as hydrogen sulfide.
Whey protein is a particularly whiffy culprit because, even if you’re not lactose intolerant, many people can’t comfortably digest such a hefty dose of dairy protein in one sitting.
Plant-based powders sidestep this problem as they don’t include lactose, but at Vivo Life we have another trick to help you beat the bloat (and avoid the bottom burps). Our protein powders are made from raw and fermented plant based protein sources, which are the easiest forms of protein for your body to digest.
Alongside this, we also add a herbal digestive enzyme complex made from peppermint, papaya, ginger and fennel to all the protein powders we make. This helps your digestive system to absorb all of the goodness much more efficiently.
Can protein shakes give you diarrhoea?
Protein shake giving you that dreaded gurgly feeling? Here’s why:
- You’re intolerant to something it contains - If you experience diarrhea every time you drink your protein shake, check to see if it contains soy or a dairy protein such as whey and casein. Both soy and lactose are extremely common food allergies. Most plant proteins, on the other hand, are hypoallergenic. Hemp protein, pea protein, and sprouted brown rice protein are easy to digest and won’t cause you the same discomfort.
- Your protein shake contains an artificial sweetener - faux sugars are known to have a laxative effect. Look for an unsweetened version, or ones sweetened with stevia like Vivo Life’s protein powders.
- You’re having too much protein in one shake - unlike wholefood sources of protein which require chewing, shakes are easy to consume quickly. Try sipping more slowly or cut back on the powder in your shake.
Our ‘does protein powder have side effects’ guide explains more about whether your protein powder is likely to be the cause of your discomfort.
Can you drink protein shakes without working out?
Protein shakes are ideal for muscle repair and recovery. But should you really drink them if you’re not training regularly?
There are many reasons why you might want a protein shake if you’re not working out.
- You’re trying to lose weight - protein shakes can be a great strategy when you’re trying to meet your macros, allowing you to reduce your calorie intake without feeling hungry and avoid any loss of lean muscle mass when you’re dieting.
- You’re busy - getting enough protein on a healthy vegan diet is easy, but there’s no getting around the fact that involves a bit of planning, shopping and meal prep. On days when you’re too busy to think, protein shakes are ideal.
- You’re recovering from illness - protein needs increase when you’re recovering from an illness or injury because your body relies on amino acids for repair. If you’ve got a low appetite, protein shakes can clearly be very helpful.
- You want to stay healthy as you age - As we age, we tend to lose lean muscle mass in a process known as sarcopenia. Protein shakes have been shown to have a beneficial effect on sarcopenic biomarkers (although exercise improved them even more).
Can I drink protein shakes before bed?
If you find protein shakes give you any kind of gastro-intestinal distress, it would be best to avoid them last thing at night - for your benefit, and for anyone you co-sleep with. But if they don’t, there might be some advantages for swapping your nightly cup of cocoa for a glass of the protein-rich kind.
One study found that protein can actually help you build muscle as you sleep, leading to greater gains, while another found that a low-protein diet was associated with a poor quality sleep. It could be because protein contains the snooze-related amino acid tryptophan, which increases the production of melatonin to promote a restful night’s sleep.
Are protein shakes good for breakfast?
Breakfast is usually our least sociable, most rushed meal of the day, making it an ideal time to get your shake on. Protein-rich breakfasts have been shown to help reduce your hunger later on, too.
If your normal breakfast choices are a bowl of cereal, a piece of toast or nothing, swapping it for a protein smoothie, perhaps with some additional fibre from fruit or oats, could be a much more healthy choice.
Or you could make sure you’re not missing out on anything you need by choosing an all-in-one blend that combines protein with essential micronutrients. Our WHOLE: Plant Based Nutritional Shake blends plant-based protein with essential fats, vitamins and minerals and herbs, making it a nourishing breakfast option.
Should I drink a protein shake before or after a workout?
If you’re looking to build muscle, you need protein in your system both before and after a hard workout, but this could just as easily come from the food you eat.
Pre-workout you need three things: water to keep you hydrated, carbs (such as a piece of fruit) for energy, and some form of amino acids. These are the building blocks of muscle tissue, so it is important you have them in your system before you train.
Aim to get 20 to 30g of protein two to three hours before you hit the gym, but they don’t necessarily have to come from a shake, although they are convenient and portable. A good protein-rich meal will also do the trick, and will also contain the carbs you need, too.
Training fasted, or it’s first thing in the morning and you just can’t face tucking into a black bean and quinoa taco? A supplement that contains BCAAs will help to prevent the muscle breakdown. SUSTAIN Plant Based BCAA & Coconut Water makes a great pre or during workout supplement.
Post workout, most literature seems to agree on a range dose of 20 to 30g of protein post-workout depending on your size, lean muscle mass, gender, genetics, etc. Perform Vegan Protein Powder with BCAAs makes an ideal post-workout protein shake as it has an optimal dose of protein. Blend it with fruit to get some carbs and you’re all set,
What is the best liquid to mix with protein powder?
Hmm, water or milk, water or milk? Well, the short answer is, just add whatever your tastebuds prefer! Some like their plant-based shakes with oat, hemp or almond milk because it gives it a creamier taste, making it more satisfying to drink.
Obviously if you mix your protein with milk you are going to be adding more calories, fat, carbohydrate and protein to whatever’s in your scoop. Just to give you an example, mixing plant-based protein with 250ml of soy milk would add 137 calories, 4.97g of fat, 12.75g of carbohydrate and 11.59 of protein. Clearly that’s ideal if you’re trying to add muscle, but might not be quite so good for your daily calorie goals if you were trying to lose it.
So, can you live off protein shakes?
In a word, no. Protein shakes should never replace real foods. They’re additional (and optional) extras that can be used to supplement your diet.
That’s because good health is more than just a case of hitting your protein macros. We’re not robots who need specific amounts of carbs, fats and protein that can be measured neatly by the colourful pie charts on our diet apps.
For example, eating beans provides prebiotic fibres for our gut bacteria. Nuts are full of brain-boosting essential fats along with antioxidants to balance the damage caused by free radicals. Leafy vegetables contain B-vitamins for our immune systems.
It’s always better to get the majority of your protein from a variety of sources and not just from a shaker cup. The key to good health is not to ask yourself whether you ate enough protein today. Instead we should all be asking, “Did I vary the proteins I ate today?” If you did, you’ll be well on your way to your best-ever health.