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Can You Survive on Just Protein Shakes? From a Dietitian

Anthony Diaz
Published by Anthony Diaz
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED
Last updated: August 2, 2022

As a personal fitness coach, I’ve been asked some crazy questions about training and dieting. But sometimes, the strangest questions have the most surprising answers and explanations attached to them.

One such question I was recently asked by a client is whether he could just drink protein shakes for both a bulking and weight loss phase.

So, I sat down with a registered dietitian to thoroughly go through the nutrition benefits and risks of doing this.

Here’s what our research revealed.

Quick Summary

  • Eating lots of protein-rich foods and protein powders can have a significant impact on muscle building and weight loss.
  • Most protein drinks don’t provide other vital nutrients like minerals and vitamins that your body needs on a daily basis.
  • Drinking too many protein shakes will also be wasteful, as the body will flush out too much protein.

Is It Possible To Survive On Only Protein Shakes?

A woman drinking protein shake

No, it isn’t possible to survive on only protein shakes.

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.

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?

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, and 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 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

Drinking protein shake in a tumbler

Whether you consume more protein shakes as a meal replacement or simply focus on boosting your overall intake, there are a few benefits you’ll gain.

Muscle Growth

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 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, 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

Making a fruit shake

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.

2. Eat More Whole Foods

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.

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.

Take The Balanced Approach To Your Daily Protein Shake

Protein powder should be a key part of an athlete’s diet plan. Whether the primary goal is muscle weight gain or burning fat in a cutting phase, protein will be your friend.

But that doesn’t mean you should risk the side effects of only drinking protein powder. You’ll quickly feel fatigued, and your body won’t do well.

Instead, balance a top-quality protein powder like one of the following with a balanced dieting approach:

We’ve tested a lot of these supplements and have come up with a list of the best products on the market. Take a closer look at which ones our testing revealed to be on the very top.


References:

  1. https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/6-essential-nutrients-functions-4877.html
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7696052/
  3. https://www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-1-diabetes-guide/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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