Using Protein Powder For Weight Loss: What You Need To Know

Protein powder or protein shakes have become a popular weight loss supplement. They are tasty and convenient. But do they really work? And what are the effects that drinking protein shakes will have on your weight loss journey? When should you drink protein shakes for maximum weight loss?

There are many questions when it comes to protein powder and its use in weight loss programs. But understanding the role protein plays in your body is a good place to start to get those answers.

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Your body needs protein

Protein is an essential part of daily nutrition and helps build and repair your bones, hair, blood, and muscles. Proteins are the building blocks that make tendons, organs, skin, and hormones. Every person needs protein to keep their body functioning.

The Recommended Dietary Allowance for proteins is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. A simple equation is to multiply your body weight in pounds by 0.36, or you can access this online calculator¹, which also considers your age and activity level. The average adult requires 46 to 56 grams of protein daily, which can usually come from a healthy diet. It represents approximately 10% of your daily calories.

Those who do not get adequate protein will feel the effects of feeling ill, tired, or hungry. This is common among the elderly, cancer patients, or severely malnourished groups, particularly in underdeveloped countries.

Are protein shakes good for losing weight?

Losing weight is about maintaining a calorie deficit. You must use more calories than you consume. Protein shakes can be very high in calories, and if ingredients are added, they may put you over your desired calorie intake.

Using protein shakes as a meal replacement rather than a supplement to your meal will help keep those calories in check. Make sure you read the labels of any ingredients you add to your shake. If you are already restricting your calorie intake, protein shakes may help you keep your protein levels up and actually increase your metabolism.

Weightlifters and those who do resistance training can benefit from the muscle-building and repairing properties of proteins.

Do protein shakes make you gain weight if you aren't working out?

Since weight loss is all about calories in and calories out, the key here is to determine how many calories you use in your day and consume less than that if you want to drop the pounds. Protein shakes come with variables too. If you are buying ready-made shakes, you can get all the nutritional information identified on the label. If you are mixing your own, calculate the calories for each ingredient you use in your shake.

As with any weight loss program, planning is important. Designing your nutrition with protein shakes in mind will keep you at your desired calorie intake and help you achieve your weight loss goals.

Diets high in protein have been known to be beneficial to weight loss, particularly in reducing belly fat. According to an article published by PubMed Central, clinical trials found that the reduction could be as much as 10%.²

How to use protein shakes for weight loss

Learn to read ingredient labels and determine what nutritional benefits you will get from drinking protein shakes. With pre-mixed shakes, you must be careful of the added ingredients, including calorie-dense additives such as sugar and other ingredients with little or no nutritional value.

Even if you are mixing your own protein shake with protein powder and your own ingredients, be careful that you are not ending up with a sweet-tasting milkshake when you’ve added sweetened milk, dried fruits, or nut butter. Measure your ingredients so that you can keep track of what you are consuming.

Unless you are in a rigid weightlifting program or are exercising to extremes, keeping track of your calories is essential for your weight loss. Your body needs protein for building and recovering your muscles, but excess protein consumption only adds to your caloric total.

Are there any side effects?

A nonprofit group called the Clean Label Project recently released information regarding toxins in protein powders. They found that many powders contain heavy metals, BPA, pesticides, and other contaminants. Some of their findings revealed large amounts of these contaminants. This may be due, in large part, to the processing practices that different manufacturers use.³

Since protein powders are considered a dietary supplement, the FDA leaves it up to manufacturers to evaluate the production of their product, which includes labeling. There are no FDA-required label guidelines, so manufacturers are not required to back up their claims. Whenever possible, choose a product that has been through a USP Dietary Supplement Verification Program.

Some protein powder users have been known to suffer gastrointestinal distress after use. This is particularly evident for those who have dairy allergies or lactose intolerance. These people should use protein powders that are plant rather than milk-based.

Some protein powders have as much as 23 grams of added sugar per scoop. Not only does this compromise weight loss, but it also can result in an unhealthy spike in blood sugar levels. 

How do you know which protein powder to choose?

The difference in protein powders is in the variety of protein sources that are used. The variety you choose is dependent on your individual taste and requirements. Most popular are whey and casein, but if you are vegan or follow a plant-based diet, you may want to try a plant-based protein source such as pea, hemp, or soy.


Whey⁴ is a protein powder derived from milk. It is probably the most popular and widely used, in part because it is affordable and accessible. It is easily and quickly digested by the body, allowing the benefits to act quickly. Many people consume their whey protein directly after a workout because of its ability to repair muscle tissue.


Casein⁵ protein is also derived from dairy but digests at a slower rate than Whey protein. Some people have a casein shake before bed, so their body has a chance to rebuild and repair muscle while they are sleeping. It is believed to increase your metabolic rate, leading to quicker weight loss.


Plant-based protein powders are perfect for those who cannot or do not want to include a protein powder derived from dairy. Some powders are a mixture of proteins from hemp, chia, pumpkin, soy, or peas. Vegans and those suffering from digestive issues from dairy products have various choices that will fulfill their needs.

Quick and Simple Recipes

This recipe from A Sweet Pea Chef is easy and has only 362 calories per shake.⁶

Banana Protein Shake


  • 1 c unsweetened almond milk

  • 1/2 c plain full-fat Greek yogurt

  • 1 scoop vanilla protein powder

  • 1 frozen banana

  • 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon

  • Ice as needed

This is a great breakfast item, and ingredients can be substituted to suit your tastes and what you have in the pantry.

If you don't like or don't have a frozen banana, try these handy substitutions:

  • Add additional ice cubes or frozen milk ice cubes. Use up to a cup to replace one banana.

  • Use 1/4 cup of frozen cauliflower rice. It acts as a low-sugar replacement for the banana.

  • Frozen zucchini works as a low sugar substitute and doesn't really alter the taste.  

  • Other frozen fruits work great as a substitute and also give you a variety of flavors. Try frozen berries or peaches.

If you want a variation of the sweet, fruity shake, Eat This, Not That!⁷ offers a great recipe for Zero Belly Smoothies with only 271 calories. With the addition of spinach and avocado, you will surely get your greens in.

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