Do You Really Need That Protein Shake?

How many times have you read in a fitness magazine or website that you should be loading up on protein in order to gain muscle mass and/​or lose weight? Do you swear by your daily protein shake to carry you through your workouts? Are you worried that if you ate only real, wholesome food throughout the day and missed your protein bar that you would feel incomplete and your waistline would start expanding?

As I work with clients on weight loss and building lean muscle mass, I regularly come across many of the above attitudes about protein. We can’t read or talk enough about protein – how much we eat, how we like it prepared, which protein shake is the best, and how can we make it with just the right ingredients to make it delicious. Protein is all the rage in the fitness and weight loss worlds – and for good reason. It is one of the key nutrients in the diet. It helps us to move, build and repair muscle, stabilize blood sugar levels, and is a necessary component of enzymes and hormones in the body. But how much do you actually NEED? Keep in mind that any excess calories you consume will turn to fat. Therefore, if you take in more protein than your body needs, it will be stored as fat –defeating your weight loss and muscle-​​building efforts. Most people eat much more protein than their bodies require, even for an avid exerciser. So let’s take a minute to figure out how much you actually need.

Step 1 – Take your weight in pounds and divide it by 2.2 (your weight in kilograms).

Step 2 – Multiply your weight in kilograms by 0.8–1.2. This is the number of grams of protein your body requires each day. Non-​​exercisers or very casual exercisers can use the lower end of this range, while regular exercisers and athletes can use the higher end of the range. For example, a 150-​​pound person weighs 68 kilograms. 68 x 0.8 = 54.4 and 68 x 1.2 = 81.6, so the protein requirements are between 54–82 grams of protein per day.

How do these numbers translate into real food? Every ounce of animal protein (fish, chicken, turkey, beef, etc) contains about 7 grams of protein. Therefore, 8 ounces of chicken has 56 grams of protein (8 ounces x 7 grams per ounce) and to reach the top end of the range above, 12 ounces of fish will do the trick (12 ounces x 7 grams per ounce). A typical restaurant portion of protein is at least 6–12 ounces, and most restaurant steaks are over 12 ounces! In addition, one egg has 7 grams, ¼ cup of cottage cheese has 7 grams, most 6-​​ounce yogurts have between 5–15 grams (greek yogurts tend to have more protein), and ½ cup of beans has 7 grams. Other foods like nuts, nut butters, seeds, and soy products are also good sources of protein. The moral of the story: If you include a healthy protein source at most of your meals and snacks, it is quite simple to reach your daily protein requirements with wholesome and nutritious foods! There can be a place for protein shakes and bars in a healthy diet, however they are usually in excess of our needs. Save some calories and cash by making wise food choices instead!

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  1. josh says:

    soooo this really confuses me because i spend at least 1 hour in the gym everyday at least 2–3 times a day thats at least 3–4 hrs a day total in the gym everyday, heavy lifting at night, compound lifts in the morning (lighter wieght of course kinda a kickstart) and Muay Thai practice in the afternoon a few hrs before heavy lifting, so if im only consuming 80-​​100grams of protien and i weight 170lbs how am i supposed to recover?????? there is no way my body would eat itself this article has to be talking about more sedentary people right????

  2. Hi Josh,

    Thanks for your comment. The 0.8g/kg recommendation is more for sedentary or inactive people, but the 1.2g/kg recommendation should suit most regular exercisers (such as those who spend an hour or so in the gym multiple times a week). It seems like you are above the level of a regular exerciser, since you spend many hours each day exercising and lifting weights. In that case (for strength athletes), you can use higher protein recommendations, in the 1.4–1.8g/kg range. For a 170# person, that would equate to 108–139 grams of protein per day. That should meet your body’s needs. In addition, you also need to make sure you’re getting enough fuel — calories, carbohydrates, healthy fats — in general, outside of your protein intake. I hope that answers your question.
    Best,
    Shana

  3. George says:

    I disagree! I have a feeling a few of the other fitness bloggers on this site might also.

  4. Hi George,
    Thanks for your comment. I know that there is a school of thought in the fitness world that the protein needs are alot higher than these recommendations, and I wrote this article specifically to debunk that myth. The information is based on sound nutrition science and comes from sports nutrition literature. Any protein consumed in excess of your needs will be stored in the body as glycogen and fat. That being said, if you are consuming protein above and beyond the recommendations, make sure your kidneys are healthy and tolerating the protein load through regular bloodowork.
    Best,
    Shana

  5. Jesse I Lewis says:

    great article I couldn’t agree more, and you know the writer has a peanut bar for a snack just cause its trendy, thats me anyway, all the reasons to ratioanally snack, also informative, got cottage cheese and beans on my side now, thanks for clearing it up, also a single egg is higher than I thought; originally that their balance with cholesterol wasn’t nearly so posotive. Thanks again for the article great write.

  6. tony says:

    4get about the protein shana is beautiful!!!! ;)

  7. steve says:

    So based on this article, should I be eating a whole food meal after lifting or a protein shake ?

    • Shana Maleeff says:

      Hi Steve,
      Either is fine — as long as it contains whole foods and the right amount of protein. I would say whole foods if possible, but if you\‘re in a rush or need convenience, a protein shake is fine.
      Thanks,
      Shana

  8. Spence says:

    Shana, what is interesting is my body was telling me exactly what you wrote in the article. Although I lift weights four days a week, I didn\‘t feel right eating my body weight in protein, which was recommended by several sources. Having a muscular build at 5\‘9 and 180Ibs, I naturally eat about 100 grams of protein a day. Yet, I was chugging down more protein (and wasting money on shakes) because of what other body builders recommended. I decided to listen to my body, and also get all my protein from food. There has been no decrease in my muscularity. So, I searched the web to see if there was anything to support what I found to be true for me. It\‘s nice to read this article from someone with your credentials. Best!

  9. Waldo says:

    Started working out to lose weight.
    Want to get lean not buffer.
    i have one question, i go to the gym almost everyday morning about an hour each day and sometimes i go jogging or play soccer the afternoon. I\‘m 5\‘9\” and i weight 203 last time i check( about 92 kilograms) so even though I\‘m overweight, do i need 73–110 gr of protein per day? i just think that a lot of protein.

  10. Max says:

    I am working out every day, but instead of lifting, I do many body weight workouts. But mainly I am doing lots of running and swimming, (run 3–9 miles and swim hard laps). I am in highschool and am very athletic. (135lbs 5\’10) I take protein more so to recover rather than to build hard core muscle. Although I am not doing heavy muscle workouts alone but do LOTS of cardio, should i take more protein than normal?

  11. josh says:

    the problem with the blanket formulas provided here is they do not take in to account a persons body composition, this is totally different from body weight, lets take two 90kg subjects for example and lets say subject 1 has 4% body fat but weighs 90kg and subject 2 has 30% bodyfat and weighs 90kg. i can guarantee the person with 4% bodyfat will have much more muscle, and as muscle is an active tissue, this will increase their need, in addition to this, when training like a bodybuilder or strength trainer you may need more than the figures quoted, i really dislike blanket formulas because they simply don\‘t take in to account were all human and all different!

    i know from personal experience myself training very hard 5 days a week cycling to and from work and the gym and then working out very intensely for 1hour and 30 mins and weighing in at 87kg with 10% body-​​fat, i need about 180-​​200g per day of protein, if i don\‘t get this i notice loss in strength & performance, ive played around with my nutrients quite a bit to establish how much i need, so going by your formula id need at a absolute maximum 156g which isn\‘t sufficient as ive been at that level before, so from personal experience i can confidently say this doesn\‘t work for everybody!

  12. tyler says:

    this is entirely true your body can only consume so much protein. past a certain point it becomes detrimental to your health. if people wish to ignore the advice listed here and destroy their kidneys and actually get fatter so be it. i go by the .9 grams per pound 150 grams for a serious athlete of 175 pounds. plus protein shakes are pure high calorie nonsense, eat a balanced diet cause nature knows better than an industry that feeds off misinformation.

  13. prash says:

    Have anyone heard of sunwarrior protein shake. I was skeptical about protein shakes until i started using this brand. Its a brown rice protein and pure vegan. Worth trying it.

  14. Zen says:

    I agree about the protein but, we don\‘t need to convert it.
    Just do like this 1gram of protein multiply by your weight in pounds. So a 150lbs weight X 1gram protein = 150 grams of protein a day.
    Consume with carbs too. Low carbs for cutting and high carbs for gaining.
    Hope it helps.

  15. Jeremy says:

    To all you guys out there who are victims of these protein shake company scams. I\‘ve packed on 20 lbs of muscle in 1 year by consistency with lifting, choosing the right foods, and keeping up my intensity on my work outs. I eat the right foods and have never touched a protein or creatine shake.

    • Roxy says:

      Jeremy, twenty lbs of muscle in a year (I\‘m assuming without growth hormone or steroids) is an immense gain and can primarily be attributed to wonderful genetics alongside a bit of hard work.

      The average person would be lucky to amass five lbs of lean muscle in a year, and that\‘s trying very hard.

      The lesson here is that you can have too much protein, but more importantly is how much you consume per day, as opposed to per week

      If you workout on Tuesday you\‘ll want a bit of extra protein (from shakes for example) and also the following day during recovery.

      If you do not workout the day after that, taking shakes equates to unnecessary excess since the body only takes a day or two to repair muscle.

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Shana Maleeff

Shana Maleeff, M.A., R.D., ACE-GFI, received a B.S. in Nutrition from Penn State University and an M.A. in Nutrition Education from Immaculata University in Pennsylvania. She works in the New York and New Jersey Metropolitan areas counseling clients on nutrition, exercise, medication adherence, and stress management to help them with weight management and treatment/prevention of heart disease and diabetes. Shana is the creator of the groundbreaking weight loss program "The 21 Diet and Exercise Weight Loss Solution". Previously, she worked as a hospital dietitian and as an adjunct professor of nutrition at Philadelphia Community College.

Shana takes a special interest in fitness and works as a group fitness instructor at Crunch Fitness and Equinox gyms in Manhattan. She currently resides in New York City and enjoys living a healthy lifestyle.

Learn more about Shana at www.FoodandFitnessPro.com or email her at Shana@FoodandFitnessPro.com.

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