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Protein Shakes For Weight Loss: How Can They Help?

It’s hardly a secret that losing weight can be tough.  And it can get pretty discouraging when it feels like you’re doing everything you can but still aren’t seeing the results you’re after.  

But did you know something as simple as replacing a meal or two per day with a protein shake can ultimately make all the difference between struggling to lose weight and watching the pounds fly off?  

That’s because research shows that increasing your protein intake (at the expense of other macronutrients) can help with everything from reducing your appetite and daily calorie intake to increasing your metabolism.  

But before we dive too deep into discussing how exactly protein shakes can help with weight loss, let’s first talk in a little more detail about what they actually are.

What Are Protein Shakes?

Aprotein shake is a drink that includes a mixture of protein powder and water, though in some cases it can contain other ingredients, as well.  While you can buy them pre-mixed and ready to drink, most people opt to buy protein powder and mix up their shakes themselves.  

In today’s day and age, there are all different types of protein powders; they come in all different kinds of flavors as well as from a variety of different sources, so there are options out there for just about everyone. 

While there are all sorts of benefits to be had from adding a protein shake or 2 into your daily diet, research has consistently demonstrated that doing so may be especially beneficial when it comes to losing weight.  

How Can Protein Shakes Help With Weight Loss?

Numerous studies over the years have explored how protein shakes can help with weight loss. 

And from improving your appetite control to increasing your metabolism, researchers have found all sorts of different ways in which upping your protein intake can help.

1. Lower Your Appetite and Food Intake

There’s plenty of evidence that drinking protein shakes can help you to better manger your hunger and cravings, which is crucial when it comes to losing weight.(1)

For example, research findings show that dietary protein helps to modulate your body’s production of ‘hunger hormones’ like ghrelin.  Ghrelin plays a primary role in triggering your appetite; when production is high, it sets off an internal ‘hunger alarm’ that ultimately increases your desire to eat.(2)

However, numerous weight-loss trials have demonstrated that drinking a protein shake can help to keep your levels of ghrelin suppressed post-meal.(3) And indeed, there is plenty of research to suggest that calorie for calorie, protein is more satiating than carbohydrates or fat.(4)

In general, findings from most trials suggest that study participants who increased their protein intake ultimately consumed fewer calories over the course of the day compared to those with moderate intakes (which also resulted in more weight loss).(5)

For example, in one such study where participants tried out both a standard high-carb diet and a high-protein diet (30% total calories), the research ultimately found that, on average, people consumed about 440 fewer calories per day when their protein intake was increased.(6)

2. Increase Your Metabolism

On top of helping to decrease your appetite and overall food intake, protein shakes can also help boost your metabolism, thus improving your ability to lose weight.(7)

It might surprise you to hear, but digesting food requires calories -- this is known as the thermic effect of food.  And compared to carbs and fat, your body needs to use up more calories to break down and metabolize dietary protein.(8)(9)

In simple terms, that ultimately means that increasing your protein intake can help you burn off more calories each day.  The more calories you’re able to burn off -- i.e. the higher your metabolism is -- the greater your chances are of losing weight.  

Now your metabolism isn’t going to go through the roof simply from increasing your protein intake, but adding a couple of shakes into your daily diet can certainly help put you in a better position to start burning more calories each day.  

3. Help You Lose More Weight

Because taking in more protein can helps to decrease your food intake and improve your metabolism, there is also plenty of evidence that increasing your protein intake leads to greater weight loss outcomes over time.  

In fact, numerous weight-loss trials comparing the effects of high-protein versus high carb diets have ultimately found that those on high-protein diets (25+% total calories from protein) lost significantly more weight.(10)(11)

For example, one 6-month study ultimately found that compared to participants on a high-carb diet, those who followed a high-protein diet lost 8.4 more pounds, on average, over the course of the trial (19.6 vs 11.2 lbs).(12)

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4. Mitigate Muscle Loss During Weight Cut

Not only can drinking protein shakes help you lose more weight, but it can also only help to assure that you’re primarily shedding fat and not muscle.

When your body is in weight loss mode, not only does it turn to your fat stores to meet its energy demands, it also potentially targets your muscles.  

Now when most people say they want to lose weight, what they really mean is that they want to lose body fat, not lean muscle mass.  

If you lose too much muscle during a weight cut, you may see some significant decrease in your weight, but your body composition may not improve all that much when all is said and done -- i.e. you may still be carrying around more fat than you’d like.  

However, research shows that increasing your protein intake while you’re trying to lose weight can be an especially effective tactic for maintaining your muscle mass and more exclusively targeting fat during your weight cut.(13)(14)

For instance, one study compared the effects of a high protein diet (25% total calories) versus a moderate-protein diet (15% total calories) diet on weight loss and body composition.(15)

After 6 months, the researchers ultimately found that while both groups lost significant amounts of body weight (close to 20 pounds), those who were on the high protein diet lost about 25% more fat and retained more fat-free mass in comparison to those on the moderate-protein diet. 

5. Prevent Subsequent Weight Regain

On top of aiding in the weight loss process itself, research also suggests that maintaining a higher protein intake after you’ve lost weight helps to prevent any subsequent weight regain.(16)

For example, one such study involving women who had just lost between 5 and 10% of their body weight ultimately found that those who kept their protein intake up around 20% over the course of a 6-month weight management program saw significantly less weight regain compared to subjects with only moderate protein intakes.(17)

How Much Protein Should You Consume Each Day?

Ok so that we’ve gone over how protein shakes can help with weight loss, let’s talk about how much protein you actually need to be consuming each day to reap the benefits. 

When it comes to the average recommendations, organizations like the NIH recommend that somewhere between 10 - 35% of your total calories from protein.

But when it comes to losing weight, we know that you don’t want to be at the low end of that recommendation.  

Based on most research findings, it appears that a protein intake that makes up at least 25% of your total calories is most effective when it comes to bolstering the weight loss process.

So for example, if need to take in 1,200 calories per day in order to lose weight and you’d like 25% of those calories to come from protein, here’s what the math looks like:

1,200 x 0.25 = 300 cal

300 cal / 4 (protein has 4 calories per gram) = 75g of protein 

So based on this example, in order to maximize your ability to lose weight, you’d be shooting to take in 75g of protein per day -- a relatively simple task that can be easily achieved by adding a couple of protein shakes into your daily diet.  

Wrap Up

From helping to reduce your appetite and cravings to increasing your metabolism, research shows that drinking protein shakes (and upping your protein intake in general) can help to improve the weight loss process in multiple ways.  

Findings from numerous studies suggest that those on high-protein diets, not only tend to lose more weight, on average, in comparison to those on more traditional diets, but they also tend to lose less lean muscle mass and regain less unwanted weight afterward.  

In most trials where significant results were observed, participants took in somewhere around 25% of their total daily calories from protein -- compared to more like 15% for the average dieter.  

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