Are Protein Shakes Bad?


If you consume protein shakes as a post-workout recovery aid, a meal replacement or just to add more protein to your diet, you are not alone. Protein shakes are part of a multibillion-dollar dietary supplement industry advertising their products as focused on promoting your health and wellness. If you are assessing the value of a protein shake in your diet, review the facts before making any decisions.

Please Note: It is always recommended to speak to a physician or registered dietitian before starting any dietary supplement regimen.

Types of Protein Shakes

Most protein shakes are created from powders produced by isolating and drying the proteins found in cow’s milk, such as whey and casein, or in soy or egg. These foods are chosen because they contain all of the amino acids needed to rebuild our body’s muscle and protein stores; they are often referred to as “complete protein sources.” Vitamins, minerals or other supplements may be added to the powder. Protein powders are mixed with water, milk or another liquid to form a protein shake.

Assessing Your Protein Needs

The USDA’s recommended daily allowance of protein for an average adult is 0.8 g per kg of body weight. To determine the recommendation for pounds, multiply your body weight by 0.36. Therefore, the average protein requirement for a 180-pound man is 65 g. You may have increased protein needs if you are elderly or physically active. Research indicates that elderly individuals may need at least 1 g per kg of body weight, while the American Dietetic Association recommends that most athletes need 1.2 to 1.7 g per kg, depending on sport intensity. Consuming 1 g of protein per pound of body weight is beyond the recommendations for any healthy person, including elite strength athletes.

Shake Protein Content

Now that you know your daily protein requirements, take a look at how much protein your shake provides. Most protein powders come with a spoon that provides 15 to 30 g of protein per scoop. Average serving sizes are considered to be one to two scoops. If you make your protein shakes with milk, be sure to add in the milk’s protein, about nine grams per cup. Pre-made protein shakes typically have from 20 to 40 g of protein per container. Therefore, the average 180-pound man can meet his estimated daily protein needs with about one to three protein shakes.

Food versus Shakes

However, you probably are not looking to consume all of your daily protein just from shakes. The foods you eat each day provide significant amounts of protein: about 27 g in a chicken breast, 14 g in a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and even 5 g in a cup of cooked spinach. In addition, whole foods provide extra nutrients, increased satiety and eating enjoyment most people cannot get from drinking a protein shake. Remember, protein shakes are considered supplements, not sole sources of nutrition.

Potential Health Risks

Excess protein is removed from your body by your kidneys. While high protein intake is generally considered safe for adults with normal liver and kidney function, according to the Mayo Clinic, there are some associated risks. If you consume protein at the expense of carbohydrates or fat, you may be missing out on essential nutrients your body needs to function optimally. Furthermore, overeating protein will not promote faster muscle growth; all excess calories are stored as fat no matter what the source. Finally, high protein intake has been linked with increased risk for dehydration and potential adverse effects on bone if there is not adequate calcium intake concurrently, according to the online “Journal of Nutrition.”

Do You Need Protein Shakes?

Add up the protein you get from the food you eat each day and compare it to your daily requirements before choosing whether to add a protein shake. Otherwise, you may be spending money on a product you do not really need and placing unwanted stress on your body. If you are unable to meet your protein needs due to skipped meals or intense sport competition, try adding additional meals or food to your diet so you are eating at least three meals a day. If your needs are still not met, then protein shakes may be an option. Eating a proper meal is best, but having a protein shake or supplement is better than skipping a meal completely.

About this Author

A professional writer since 2010, Jason Machowsky has a health and fitness background. He has been published at, specializing in nutrition and fitness-related topics. He has a Master of Science in applied physiology and nutrition from Columbia University and personal training experience at Equinox Fitness and New York Sports Clubs.