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How Many Protein Shakes a Day Is Needed? (From a Doctor)

Connor Sellers
Published by Connor Sellers
Fact checked by Donald Christman, BHSc FACT CHECKED

I always encourage my clients to adopt high-quality protein-rich foods and supplement them with protein powders.

But one of the questions I often get after recommending protein supplementation is, “how many protein shakes should I drink in a day?”

So, in this article, I decided to compile what I know about protein consumption from my decade-long experience as a fitness coach, and I consulted a registered dietician to build upon my knowledge and provide you with a guide.

Let's dive in.

Quick Summary

  • A regular person needs a dose of 0.8 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight daily, which determines how many protein shakes are needed.
  • The amount of protein varies depending on various factors, such as body size, which is why women generally need less protein than men.
  • Enough protein can help in muscle growth and weight loss, but the excess of it can lead to side effects such as diarrhea, stomach issues, and headache.

How Much Protein Shake Do You Need?

Two protein shake in a container

How much protein shake you might need depends on several factors like your daily nutrition, muscle size, as well as your fitness goals.

You don’t need a protein shake to survive. However, you need protein as an essential macronutrient.

And besides getting it from a normal meal, a convenient and efficient way to get it is from a protein powder.

The recommended protein intake is 0.8 grams of protein per kg of body weight daily [1]. But this amount varies depending on your body weight and activity level.

For instance, a sedentary office worker doesn't need as much protein as an athlete.

Let’s break it down roughly: 

  • For a regular gym goer, a healthy dose of 1.5 grams per kilogram of body weight is enough protein for a day. But if you constantly train or engage in intense workouts, you may need a little more to recover and build muscle mass.
  • If you regularly engage in HIIT workouts for fat loss, heavy strength training, or if you exercise more than twice a day, you may need about 2.0 g protein/kg/bw.

Also, studies have found that as adults grow old, they need to increase their protein intake to promote healthy aging and prevent muscle loss [2].

While the intake of protein supplements is beneficial in building lean muscle gains, losing weight, and promoting healthy aging, they should not serve as a replacement for a healthy diet.

To better understand the role of protein shakes as a supplement, let’s dive into why they’re important in the first place.

Why Bodybuilders Take Protein Shakes?

Making a protein shake

Bodybuilders take protein shakes before or after a workout because it's an efficient way of getting the necessary protein intake to boost recovery and performance.

They simply save you the hassle that comes with preparing a protein-powered meal to eat before and after a workout.

Not to say that a balanced diet is not necessary after a few scoops of protein powder.

It's just that it's much easier to prepare and drink protein shakes in precise amounts from a blender than to prepare a whole meal to satisfy all the protein needs.

See, after drinking protein shakes, it's much easier knowing that you already have an adequate protein intake for the day and don't have to look for meals to fill the deficit.

If you exercise more than twice a day or are just a gym regular looking to gain muscle, the need for protein is especially important, and a meal alone may not be enough

But that's where protein shakes come in. You can quickly get your fill with one or two scoops of protein shakes.

“Not only is a protein shake good for your muscles, but it can aid you in post-workout recovery.”

- Kiersten Hickman, Nutrition Journalist

I always recommend one or two protein shakes daily to my clients. But the dietician I spoke to recommends capping it to a maximum of three protein shakes a day and nothing more than that.

I also advise my clients to look for protein powders that contain all the essential amino acids. You can get that from dietary supplements of animal-based protein shakes like whey protein supplements or from a combination of the best organic vegan protein powders like soy protein and pea protein.

We’ve already established that taking a protein drink or a protein-rich meal is essential to build muscle and for weight loss. But there’s a caveat in regard to the maximum you should take.

13 Drawbacks of Too Much Protein Shake

A woman drinking a smoothie

Consuming too much protein can be harmful to your health [3].

Below are some of the adverse effects of excessive intake:

  • Gastrointestinal discomforts such as diarrhea, constipation, bloating, gas, and stomach upset
  • Hyperaminoacidemia (an excess amount of amino acid in the bloodstream)
  • Hyperammonemia (an excessive amount of ammonia in the blood)
  • Hyperinsulinemia (an excessive amount of insulin in the blood)
  • Irritation
  • Dehydration
  • Nausea
  • Liver and kidney injuries
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Seizures
  • Risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Death

But it's not just about the physical effects but what consuming protein in excess limits you from.

You see, proteins can make you feel full for long periods [4]. And when you take them in excess, they may limit your intake of other nutrients, such as vegetables and fiber, which are also vital for the body.

What's more? Taking more than the recommended amount of protein a day can jeopardize your fitness goals.

When you drink too many protein shakes, your body reaches a tipping point, after which it can no longer absorb proteins.

And unlike carbs which can be stored as glycogen in the muscles and liver, the human body does not store excess protein. It converts it into fat while the excess amino acids are excreted.

This is backed by a 2016 study that found a link between excessive protein intake and weight gain [5].

Thus, if your goal is to lose weight, exceeding your daily protein intake can result in the opposite of weight loss.

Related: Can Too Much Protein Cause Constipation?

FAQs

How Much Protein Is in a Protein Shake?

How much protein is in a protein shake depends on different brands’ specifications. Most brand formulas have 20-30g on average, which is the optimal range for maximum muscle protein synthesis.

For whey protein isolate, the purified form, it’s almost the same amount contained in one scoop of protein.

How Much is Too Much?

More than 50 grams of protein in a shake per day is probably too much. You risk having intestinal problems such as diarrhea, nausea, and even more serious health issues such as liver and cardiovascular diseases.

Incorporate Protein Smoothies in Your Diet for Optimal Muscle Gain

Protein from a fresh meal is enough to give you that muscle gain or fat loss you desire. But it takes time to prepare a meal. It can be difficult given the busy schedules of many fitness enthusiasts.

That's why we recommend trying out a product from this list of the best-quality protein powders. Combine it with a balanced diet for the best results.

We’ve thoroughly tested a vast number of supplements and have only included top products that yielded the best subjective and objective testing data results.

Be sure to check them out.


References:

  1. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5872778/
  2. http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/10.1139/apnm-2015-0550#.W3V2ATNKhEJ
  3. https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlehtml/2016/fo/c5fo01530h
  4. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18469287/
  5. https://www.clinicalnutritionjournal.com/article/S0261-5614(15)00091-6/fulltext
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