Can You Survive on Just Protein Shakes? (Dietitian's Take)

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD
Published by Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD | Medical Doctor
Last updated: January 26, 2024
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As a registered dietitian, I encounter a myriad of inquiries concerning nutrition and dietary practices. Occasionally, the most peculiar questions yield the most enlightening insights and explanations.

Recently, a client approached me with an intriguing query: could they rely solely on protein shakes for both gaining muscle mass and losing weight?

To provide an informed and comprehensive response, I collaborated with a personal fitness coach to delve into the nutritional advantages and potential drawbacks of such an approach.

Here's a summary of our findings.

Quick Summary

  • Surviving solely on protein shakes is not viable; they can support muscle building and weight loss but should not replace a balanced diet.
  • Protein shakes lack essential nutrients like vitamins and minerals, which are crucial for daily bodily functions.
  • Consuming only protein shakes can lead to a surplus of protein in the body, which is then excreted, indicating inefficiency and potential nutrient imbalance.
  • In my professional opinion, while protein shakes are beneficial for supplementing a diet, relying on them exclusively is unsustainable and could compromise overall health.

Is It Possible To Survive On Only Protein Shakes?

A lady holding glass of shake

From my own experience and research, no, it isn't possible to thrive on just protein shakes. I once tried it for a short period and quickly realized the importance of a balanced diet.

According to a research by WeekAnd, while a protein shake is a great way to deliver essential nutrients for weight loss and muscle building, there are many other vital nutrients that the body needs on a daily basis [1].

These include fat, carbs, vitamins, and minerals. Without getting these on a daily basis, your body will quickly have problems supplying organs and the immune system with nutrients to function properly.

When you drink only these shakes for an extended period of time, you’ll more than likely start feeling sick and fatigued.

As per a research by the National Institute of Health (NIH), without a daily dose of vitamins C and D, your immune system will struggle to fight infections [2].

Even when you don’t have an illness, your body is constantly dealing with unwanted bacteria and viruses, so you can’t afford to deprive it of the nutrients to fight those battles.

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What Happens If You Just Drink Shakes For A Week?

A 2022 research by WebMed notes that when you drink only protein shakes for a week, you will quickly notice fatigue and flu-like symptoms as your metabolism shifts from creating blood sugar from carbs to producing ketones from fat [3].

“Keto diets limit carb intake to under ≈50 grams a day and can reduce intake of easy-to-overeat, hyperpalatable foods."

- Kamal Patel, Co-founder & Editor at Examine.com

The other thing that will happen when you only drink protein supplements is that you’ll deprive your body of fat. And, according to reasearch from the OpenOregon Educational Resourses, even though certain types of fat have a bad reputation, there are healthy fats that are vital to the normal functioning of your body [4].

There are also serious health risks of nutrient deficiencies, including minerals and vitamins. These play a key role in everything from immune functions to muscle strength and gut health to detoxification.

There’s not a single organ in your body that doesn’t require certain minerals and vitamins that you won’t get from protein powders.

Benefits Of Maximizing Your Protein Intake

Close up shot of a man drinking from tumbler

Increasing your protein, whether through shakes or other sources, offers several advantages.

Muscle Growth

A 2010 research by BioMed Central notes that with a higher protein intake, you’ll have a more consistent supply of essential amino acids, which play a role in muscle protein synthesis [5].

That means that when you get enough protein, you’ll supply the critical building blocks for boosting muscle growth.

Using some of these amino acid supplements will speed up your muscle growth.

Muscle Recovery

The Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition notes that the same amino acids will also help to reduce post-workout soreness [6]. As a result, you’ll find that you experience less stiffness, especially when you go through a very tough training session where you’ve pushed yourself to the limit.

Weight Loss

And finally, NIH indicates that by going beyond your basic protein needs, you can significantly impact weight management [7].

High-protein diets have been shown to impact your resting metabolic rate and appetite, which are key to achieving your ideal body weight.

3 Tips For A More Balanced Approach

A woman holding a protein shake outside

A more balanced approach would be to integrate a high-quality protein powder, such as one of the options listed below, with a well-rounded diet:

Here are three simple tips to get the right amount of other nutrients.

1. Switch To Meal Replacement Shakes

Rather than focus on protein shakes, you could introduce dairy-free meal replacement shakes that deliver a broader range of macro and micronutrients. It’s a much better way to get a boost of protein and other critical nutrients to stay healthy in the short term.

If you're a vegan, there are plant-based meal replacement shakes that you can go for.

2. Eat More Whole Foods

According to Everyday Health, whole foods should be part of every balanced diet [8]. These are unprocessed foods as nature intended them to be, and ideally, they would involve minimal preparation to eat.

Try adding more raw fruit and veg to balance those protein shakes and avoid messing with your overall health.

3. Count Your Macros

You need to get ​​enough calories from protein, carbs, and fat, and the best way to ensure that is to count your macro intake and keep a food journal.

Apps like Noom offer a simple way to enter your daily meals, and it will calculate the grams of protein, carbs, and fat.

Make sure this is reasonably balanced, but you can skew it towards a higher protein intake.

Other Sources Of Protein

Seeds as Protein Sources

Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are nutrition powerhouses, boasting high protein content and a wealth of healthy unsaturated fats.

These seeds are versatile, serving as a delectable addition to salads, enhancing both taste and nutritional value. Additionally, they make for convenient, on-the-go snacks, providing a satisfying and wholesome option.

The combination of protein and unsaturated fats in seeds not only contributes to satiety but also supports heart health and overall well-being.

Pulses as Protein Sources

Pulses, which encompass beans, peas, and lentils, are nutritional powerhouses.

They are not only abundant in protein, making them an excellent choice for vegetarians and vegans, but also offer a substantial dose of dietary fiber, aiding in digestion and promoting fullness.

Pulses are a good source of iron, essential for oxygen transport in the body.

Their versatility allows them to be seamlessly integrated into a variety of dishes, from soups and stews to salads and side dishes, providing a substantial nutrient boost while enhancing the flavor and texture of meals.

Quorn as a Meat Substitute

Quorn is a unique source of complete protein derived from mycoprotein, a type of edible fungus.

This versatile ingredient serves as an excellent meat substitute in a wide range of dishes, catering to vegetarians and individuals seeking sustainable protein options.

It not only offers a protein content similar to meat but also provides dietary fiber, making it a nutritious choice.

FAQs

Should You Drink Protein Shakes Every Day?

Yes, you could drink protein shakes every day as long as they are part of a carefully planned diet. The protein powder can help you get a boost without needing to eat an extra meal, and it will be particularly helpful on your workout days.

Is A High-Protein Diet Bad For You?

No, a high-protein diet isn’t bad for you. Research has shown that it can be a significant benefit to help you lose weight by balancing your blood glucose and helping with hunger cravings as well.


References:

  1. https://www.weekand.com/healthy-living/article/6-essential-nutrients-functions-18002028.php
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7696052/
  3. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/what-is-ketosis
  4. https://openoregon.pressbooks.pub/nutritionscience/chapter/5a-function-of-fats/
  5. https://nutritionandmetabolism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1743-7075-7-51
  6. https://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-9-20
  7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/25926512/
  8. https://www.everydayhealth.com/diet-nutrition/whole-foods-diet/
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About The Author

Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Harshi Dhingra, MBBS, MD is a published peer-reviewed author and renowned physician from India with over a decade of experience. With her MBBS from Bharati Vidyapeeth and an MD from Rajiv Gandhi University, she actively ensures the accuracy of online dietary supplement and medical information by reviewing and fact-checking health publications.
Learn more about our editorial policy
Dr. Kristy June Dayanan, BS, MD is an author with a BS degree from University of the Philippines and an MD from University of Perpetual Help System. Her ability to simplify medical science complexities and dietary supplement jargon for the average reader makes her a valued medical fact checker and reviewer.
Learn more about our editorial policy

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