Protein shakes contain a mixture of water, milk, and powder mixed with vitamins and minerals. All are designed to promote muscle growth to boost your metabolism. These beverages have long been used by bodybuilders after they exercise as well as fitness enthusiasts during competitions to build lean muscle mass. Recently, more people are opting to go on a protein shake diet. This is due to the perception that this type of meal replacement can lead to rapid weight loss, allowing people to achieve their desired figure within a short period. But what are the facts behind these claims? Is it true or just yet another fad diet that will only offer short-term results?
How Does The Protein Shake Diet Work?
A typical protein shake diet consists of a high protein and low carbohydrate diet, using these shakes as meal replacements. You will be replacing two or three meals per day by drinking one of these shakes that are purported to be filling and nutritious (15).
A standard protein shake diet meal plan may look like this:
- Breakfast- protein shake (200-300 calories)
- Snack- a high-protein or high-fat food under 100 calories, e.g., 1 cup of Greek yogurt
- Lunch- protein shake (200-300 calories)
- Snack- 1/2 cup blueberries
- Dinner- one full meal of your choice (400-500 calories)
When you’re on a 7-day protein shake diet, you’d repeat this eating pattern for each day. Your dinner meals should be high-protein and low carb.
The idea behind this method is that you consume fewer carbohydrates which means that your body will have no fuel for energy, so it must break down fat instead. Furthermore, those who go on this diet believe that protein suppresses hunger.
This then supposedly leads to a reduction in calorie intake, allowing people on such diets to feel more satisfied after consuming limited calories, thereby making them eat less overall.
Protein has many benefits for health and weight loss (17). The 7-day protein shake diet results may show some weight loss because it reduces calorie consumption and creates a deficit. However, to maintain these results, you’ll have to stick to the diet for much longer than a week.
Downsides Of The Protein Shake Diet
While following a shake diet program for a short period, like five days or a week, probably isn’t going to cause any harm, it might not be the most effective weight-loss method because you’ll lack vital nutrients, and the results are short-lived.
Protein Shakes Don’t Offer Sufficient Nutrients
Although these beverages are rich in protein, they don’t offer much else (15). You won’t be getting much in terms of essential vitamins and minerals, so you might feel tired or have other health issues that are related to vitamin deficiencies.
These drinks may lack fiber, which is important for good digestive function and regular bowel movements. Fiber can also slow down the absorption of sugar, so it will keep your blood sugar levels stable.
Results Will Be Short-Lived
The protein shake diet is extremely restrictive. It limits your intake of wholesome meals, and for most people, this may not be sustainable in the long term.
This means that if you go on a protein shake diet and then return to your normal eating habits, your weight will quickly go back up again. Another reason why this diet is not effective is that when you cut out these calories from your regular diet, those extra pounds were probably water anyway, thus the loss was temporary, and the water weight will come back as soon as you start eating regular meals again.
Benefits Of Protein Powder Weight Loss
When combined with an appropriate exercise regime and as part of a balanced diet, protein shakes can help you lose weight and belly fat via several different mechanisms:
Protein Changes Levels Of Weight Regulating Hormones
Your body regulates your weight in part by monitoring certain hormones, including leptin and ghrelin. Protein helps increase the level of leptin and reduce the levels of ghrelin (4). Leptin is considered the satiety hormone, meaning it sends a signal to your brain that you’ve had enough food so you can stop eating.
Digesting Protein Burns More Calories
Your body burns calories during digestion, and protein is the most thermogenic macronutrient. This means you burn more calories digesting and absorbing protein than you do with any other macronutrient.
The thermic effect of food (TEF) refers to how much energy your body uses up when digesting different types of foods. Proteins have the highest TEF at 20-30%, almost twice as much as carbs and fats (16). This means that when you eat 30-35 grams of protein at a meal, you burn up to 70-100 calories while digesting the protein.
On top of that, research suggests that eating lower amounts of dietary fat with a high intake of protein leads to greater TEF, which again helps reduce belly fat (5).
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Protein Boosts Metabolism
Consuming high amounts of protein stimulates your body’s metabolism (8). Protein increases the thermic effect of feeding, which stimulates increased calorie burn throughout the entire day, as well as during digestion and absorption (16).
Protein helps you build muscle (7). Muscle is metabolically active tissue that also burns calories around the clock even when you’re not working out. So if you are trying to lose weight, it can be especially beneficial because more muscle requires more energy (calories) to maintain itself (9). This is known as the nutrient-partitioning effect of protein.
If you have more lean muscle mass, this means a higher metabolic rate, so by increasing your intake of protein-rich foods, your body composition will change in favor of lean muscles instead of excess body fat.
Protein Reduces Appetite
Protein also helps with appetite control by increasing leptin, and, therefore, making you feel full longer after eating. Studies show people who consume higher amounts of protein are less likely to overeat or continue to eat after satiety signals from their stomach that they’re full have been triggered (14).
Lowering your appetite is essential because it enables you to lose weight without struggling with hunger pangs all day long. When researchers compared low-carb versus low-fat diets in overweight or obese people, they found that those following a low-carb diet had greater reductions in body weight compared to the low-fat group (3).
Protein Prevents Loss Of Lean Muscle During Weight Loss
Once you start burning more calories with exercise and cutting back on carbs (which will inevitably cause muscle loss), eating enough protein becomes absolutely essential if you want to maintain lean muscle mass.
Increased consumption of protein has been shown to improve body composition and prevent the loss of lean tissue during periods of weight loss, especially when combined with adequate amounts of resistance training (11).
Healthy Alternatives To The 7-Day Protein Shake Diet
Weight loss is all about reducing calorie consumption to create a deficit. Contrary to popular belief, healthy weight loss doesn’t have to be extremely restrictive. Rather than an extreme liquid diet that won’t have lasting results, here are some healthy weight loss options:
Intermittent fasting promotes weight loss and overall health by eliminating excess glucose in the bloodstream, promoting autophagy (cleaning up of damaged cells), and reducing inflammation (12). Studies have shown that intermittent fasting also increases levels of Human Growth Hormone (HGH), which promotes muscle gain (10).
Unlike extremely restrictive diets, intermittent fasting is flexible enough to become a lifestyle. There are many variations of IF, including 20/4, 18/6, and 16/8, that can help one lose weight without feeling deprived.
Carb cycling is a method of weight loss that includes low-carb phases along with higher-carb days. The purpose behind carb cycling is to trick your body into thinking it’s always in the “fed state” because you are constantly changing up the number of carbs you eat.
The best way to implement carb cycling is by eating between 50-100 grams of carbohydrates for 5 consecutive days then increasing to 150 grams or more on training days (for example, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday) (6). Keep protein intake consistent at 1 gram per pound of body weight. On lower carbohydrate days, increase fat intake slightly as well as vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, kale, etc.
You can include your protein shakes in a carb cycling meal plan. Maintaining an overall high protein diet will also help promote weight loss through muscle gain and satiety (not feeling hungry).
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Intuitive eating advocates that you listen to your body and eat when you’re hungry (13). Oftentimes, dieters feel guilty for not sticking to a rigid meal plan, but in reality, it’s better to listen to your body than try and override its natural instinct. Intuitive eating is also about listening to hunger cues and learning how they relate to emotions such as boredom or stress.
While intuitive eating isn’t necessarily a weight-loss option, it can help maintain a healthy weight once the desired number on the scale has been reached by giving one freedom over food choices without restricting certain foods or calories.
Protein Shake Recipes
Raspberry Chocolate Smoothie (2)
This decadent-tasting smoothie is loaded with healthy ingredients, including cocoa powder which provides flavonoids that are both brain and heart-healthy. This smoothie also has other healthy ingredients like raspberries, a source of immune-boosting vitamin C, and spinach, an energizing B vitamin. You can add a plant-based protein like sprouted rice or pea protein to help post-workout muscle recovery.
- ½ banana
- 1 handful spinach
- ½ cup raspberries
- 1 tablespoon almond or cashew nut butter
- 2 tablespoons raw cocoa powder
- 10 oz unsweetened almond, hemp or coconut milk
- 1 scoop or serving plant-based protein powder
Blend all the ingredients
Nutrition: 391 calories / 15 g fat / 38 g carbs / 12 g fiber / 12 g sugar / 34 g protein
Peach Oat Cobbler (2)
This peach oat cobbler is a light and airy drink that will leave you feeling full but not heavy. It’s perfect for those who want something sweet without all of the guilt. The recipe is chock-full of nutrients including calcium and vitamins A, B5, B6, D3, E & K2.
The ingredients are simple–peaches (fresh or frozen), vanilla protein powder, oats and almond milk–but they combine to make a satisfying breakfast or afternoon snack on a cold day. Give this recipe a try if you’re looking for something warm that won’t weigh you down.
- ½ peach
- ½ frozen banana
- 2 tablespoons rolled oats
- ½ cup unsweetened almond milk
- 1 teaspoon ground flaxseed
- 1 scoop vanilla plant-based protein powder
- Water to blend (optional)
- Blend all the ingredients
Nutrition: 277 calories / 4 g fat / 33 g carbs / 6 g fiber / 14 g sugar / 28 g protein
Cherry Vanilla Smoothie (1)
This cherry-vanilla smoothie recipe will help you recover from a tough workout. The cherry juice can relieve post-exercise pain in athletes, while the pomegranate juice can accelerate muscle recovery. Blend up this smoothie for an easy way to refuel after working out!
- ¾ cup ice
- ¼ cup fresh or frozen pitted tart cherries
- ¼ cup pomegranate juice
- 1 scoop vanilla protein powder
- 1 tbsp chopped walnuts
- 1 small cooked, peeled beet (or raw beet, scrubbed and chopped)
- Blend all the ingredients
Nutrition: 233 calories/ 25 g protein/ 20 g carbs/ 2 g fiber/ 6 g fat
Superfood Shake (1)
“Eating the rainbow” is a great rule of thumb for those who want to get the most out of their fruits and veggies. This superfood shake is full of nutritious berries, beets, and seeds that will boost your nutrient intake while keeping hunger at bay.
- 1/2 cup frozen cherries
- 8 oz water
- 1/2 cup chopped raw beets
- 1/2 cup frozen strawberries
- 1/2 cup frozen blueberries
- 1/2 banana
- 1 scoop chocolate whey protein
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseed
- Blend all the ingredients
Nutrition: 329 calories/ 28 g protein/ 4 g fat/ 52 g carbs/ 11 g fiber
The Bottom Line
The 7-day protein shake diet is not a long-term solution for weight loss. It is however a great way to jumpstart your weight loss if you need some discipline in your life or if you are looking for a protein boost as part of a balanced diet. A more sustainable approach to losing weight and maintaining your ideal weight is by learning healthy eating habits and staying active.
If you want to do even more for your body, why don’t you supplement a healthy diet with some exercise? Check out this 20-min Full Body Workout at Home.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- 25 Healthy High-Protein Smoothie and Shake Recipes (2021, menshealth.com)
- 25 Weight Loss Smoothies to Help You Lose Fat – Eat This Not That (2021, eatthis.com)
- A high-protein diet for reducing body fat: mechanisms and possible caveats (2014, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- A high-protein diet induces sustained reductions in appetite, ad libitum caloric intake, and body weight despite compensatory changes in diurnal plasma leptin and ghrelin concentrations (2005, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- A Randomized Trial of a Low-Carbohydrate Diet for Obesity (2003, nejm.org)
- Carb Cycling: What Is It, and How Does It Work? (2020, webmd.com)
- Dietary Protein and Muscle Mass: Translating Science to Application and Health Benefit (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Effect of protein overfeeding on energy expenditure measured in a metabolic chamber (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Exercise, Abdominal Obesity, Skeletal Muscle, and Metabolic Risk: Evidence for a Dose Response (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Fasting enhances growth hormone secretion and amplifies the complex rhythms of growth hormone secretion in man. (1988, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Increased protein intake reduces lean body mass loss during weight loss in athletes (2010, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Intermittent Fasting: Is the Wait Worth the Weight? (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Learning to eat intuitively: A qualitative exploration of the experience of mid-age women (2019, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Protein-induced satiety: effects and mechanisms of different proteins (2008, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- Protein shakes: Good for weight loss? (2020, mayoclinic.org)
- Thermic effect of a meal and appetite in adults: an individual participant data meta-analysis of meal-test trials (2013, ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)
- The role of protein in weight loss and maintenance (2015, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov)