Protein is an essential macronutrient when it comes to losing weight and improving body composition.
The reason for this is that dieting increases the likelihood of muscle breakdown since muscle tissue is very "expensive" from an energy standpoint. Since energy (calories) is at a premium when dieting, the body will seek to eliminate any systems that aren't essential to sustaining life, thereby reducing the total amount of energy it needs each day to survive.
Consuming sufficient protein each day (1-1.25 grams per pound of body weight based on the current body of research <1>) helps protect against excessive protein breakdown by supplying the body with ample building blocks (amino acids) to repair, build, and preserve muscle tissue while dieting.
Protein shakes offer a quick, convenient, and affordable option to incorporate more protein into your diet.
And, they’ve also been shown to support weight loss.
How Do Protein Shakes Decrease Hunger and Appetite?
To lose weight, you need to be in a negative energy balance, whereby you consume fewer calories than you need to maintain your body weight. This is otherwise known as a calorie deficit.
Now, if you’ve spent any considerable amount of time dieting, you know that feelings of hunger are typical.
One of the best ways to help combat this hunger is by consuming a high-protein diet.
The reason for this is that protein is both highly satiating (meaning it makes you feel full), and it also helps reduce appetite.
More specifically, high-protein meals have been shown to reduce levels of the "hunger" hormone, ghrelin. <2>
Moreover, high-protein meals have also been noted to increase levels of appetite-suppressing hormones, including GLP-1, CCK, and PYY. <3,4,5>
Protein also helps you feel full for longer. <6>
Research notes that satiety scores are higher during meals with a high-protein/high-carbohydrate diet, as well as over 24 hours than with a high-fat diet. <7>
Other research has shown that increasing daily protein intake from 15% to 30% of total daily calories helps individuals consume 441 fewer calories per day. This calorie reduction came without test subjects consciously trying to limit their serving sizes. <8>
Another study in overweight men found that increasing protein intake to 25% of daily calories helped reduce cravings by 60% and late-night snacking by 50%. <9>
Protein shakes offer an easy way to increase your daily protein intake. Even as little as 20 grams of protein has been shown to decrease hunger. < 10>
Other studies note that consuming a post-workout protein shake can reduce the number of calories eaten at the proceeding meal. <11>
How Do Protein Shakes Boost Metabolism?
Our body has to expend energy to digest the food that we ingest.
Each macronutrient requires a different amount of energy.
Fat requires very little energy to digest, while protein requires considerably more.
This energy cost required to digest food is referred to as “diet-induced thermogenesis” or the “thermic effect of feeding” (TEF). <6>
In healthy individuals, diet-induced thermogenesis accounts for ~10% of total daily energy expenditure.
So, in the grand scheme of things, the amount of energy your body expends digesting food is relatively small compared to your resting metabolic rate (RMR) -- the amount of energy your body expends keeping you alive during the day if all you did was lay still.
Still, when you are dieting, every little bit helps, and since protein is more energy-intensive to breakdown for the body, consuming a higher protein diet can help increase your energy expenditure (while also increasing satiety and reducing hunger), providing a three-pronged means to support weight loss.
Studies show that consuming protein may boost energy expenditure up to 100 calories per day. <12>
Whey protein shakes are an easy way to increase your protein intake if you don’t have time to prep, cook, clean, and eat during the day.
Finally, whey protein also enhances the effects of resistance training, which means it helps build and retain more muscle.
Research notes that a high protein intake combined with weightlifting can help limit some of the metabolic slowdown and muscle loss that occurs when dieting. <13,14>
One study, in particular, found that subjects' metabolism decreased less on a weight loss diet that supplied 36% of total calories from protein than on a diet providing 15% calories from protein. <15>
The reason for this is that consuming adequate protein while dieting helps preserve muscle mass, and the more muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolism is.
When to Drink Protein Shakes
Protein shakes can be consumed at any time of day.
Many people opt to have their daily protein shake immediately after a workout. But, you can also have protein first thing in the morning as part of your breakfast, or as your final snack before bedtime.
When you drink your protein shake is entirely up to you, and what is convenient for your schedule.
If you follow an intermittent fasting diet, then you can choose to break your fast with a pre-workout protein shake or have it any other time of day.
How Many Protein Shakes a Day?
There is no limit to how many protein shakes you can have each day.
Most protein powders suggest consuming 1-2 servings per day.
However, the number of shakes you may (or may not) need each day is entirely dependent on what the rest of your diet consists of.
If you tend to not consume enough protein from whole foods like chicken, fish, pork, beef, or seafood, then you may need to supplement with protein powder more frequently to hit your daily protein macro goals than an individual who already consumes a high protein diet.
The Bottom Line on How Protein Shakes Help You Lose Weight
Consuming enough protein is critical to preserving lean muscle mass while dieting.
Furthermore, high protein diets also help you feel fuller and have fewer cravings, which can make it easier to stick to your diet.
For individuals who struggle to consume enough high-quality protein each day from whole food sources, protein shakes provide an affordable, hassle-free, and tasty option.
Do you need protein shakes to lose weight and/or belly fat?
Absolutely not. No supplement is "needed" to lose weight or build muscle.
Protein shakes are there to supplement your diet and training and help make the process easier.
So, if you’re not consuming enough protein to support weight loss or muscle gain, protein shakes can help you satisfy your needs.
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- Helms ER, Aragon AA, Fitschen PJ. Evidence-based recommendations for natural bodybuilding contest preparation: nutrition and supplementation. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2014;11:20. Published 2014 May 12. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-11-20
- Lejeune, M. P. G. M., Westerterp, K. R., Adam, T. C. M., Luscombe-Marsh, N. D., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2006). Ghrelin and glucagon-like peptide 1 concentrations, 24-h satiety, and energy and substrate metabolism during a high-protein diet and measured in a respiration chamber. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(1), 89–94. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/83.1.89
- Blom, W. A. M., Lluch, A., Stafleu, A., Vinoy, S., Holst, J. J., Schaafsma, G., & Hendriks, H. F. J. (2006). Effect of a high-protein breakfast on the postprandial ghrelin response. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 83(2), 211–220. https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/83.2.211
- Lomenick JP, Melguizo MS, Mitchell SL, Summar ML, Anderson JW. Effects of meals high in carbohydrate, protein, and fat on ghrelin and peptide YY secretion in prepubertal children. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2009;94(11):4463–4471. doi:10.1210/jc.2009-0949
- Hannon-Engel S. Regulating satiety in bulimia nervosa: the role of cholecystokinin. Perspect Psychiatr Care. 2012;48(1):34–40. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6163.2011.00304.x
- Westerterp KR. Diet induced thermogenesis. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2004;1(1):5. Published 2004 Aug 18. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-1-5
- Verboeket-van de Venne WP, et al. Long-term effects of consumption of full-fat or reduced-fat products in healthy non-obese volunteers: assessment of energy expenditure and substrate oxidation. Metabolism. 1996;45:1004–10.
- Weigle, D. S., Breen, P. A., Matthys, C. C., Callahan, H. S., Meeuws, K. E., Burden, V. R., & Purnell, J. Q. (2005). A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition , 82(1), 41–48.
- Leidy HJ, Tang M, Armstrong CL, Martin CB, Campbell WW. The effects of consuming frequent, higher protein meals on appetite and satiety during weight loss in overweight/obese men. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011;19(4):818–824. doi:10.1038/oby.2010.203
- MacKenzie-Shalders, K. L., Byrne, N. M., Slater, G. J., & King, N. A. (2015). The effect of a whey protein supplement dose on satiety and food intake in resistance training athletes. Appetite, 92, 178–184. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2015.05.007
- Monteyne A, Martin A, Jackson L, et al. Whey protein consumption after resistance exercise reduces energy intake at a post-exercise meal. Eur J Nutr. 2018;57(2):585–592. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1344-4
- Veldhorst, M. A. B., Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S., & Westerterp, K. R. (2009). Gluconeogenesis and energy expenditure after a high-protein, carbohydrate-free diet. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 90(3), 519–526. https://doi.org/10.3945/ajcn.2009.27834
- Soenen, S., Martens, E. A. P., Hochstenbach-Waelen, A., Lemmens, S. G. T., & Westerterp-Plantenga, M. S. (2013). Normal protein intake is required for body weight loss and weight maintenance, and elevated protein intake for additional preservation of resting energy expenditure and fat free mass. The Journal of Nutrition, 143(5), 591–596. https://doi.org/10.3945/jn.112.167593
- Hunter, G. R., Byrne, N. M., Sirikul, B., Fernandez, J. R., Zuckerman, P. A., Darnell, B. E., & Gower, B. A. (2008). Resistance training conserves fat-free mass and resting energy expenditure following weight loss. Obesity (Silver Spring, Md.), 16(5), 1045–1051. https://doi.org/10.1038/oby.2008.38
- Whitehead, J. M., McNeill, G., & Smith, J. S. (1996). The effect of protein intake on 24-h energy expenditure during energy restriction. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders : Journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 20(8), 727–732.